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Salty Food in Our Genes

Basket of Pretzels

A new study has discovered that a taste for salty food can be blamed on our genes.

People whose genetic makeup allows them to taste bitter flavours more will be almost twice as likely to consume lots of salt in their diet.

Unhealthy Gene

The gene in question is TAS2R38, and those with a certain variant of it are more likely to eat in a certain way. They will avoid healthy foods like broccoli and other dark leafy greens, despite the benefits that these can provide. This is because they are very sensitive to the bitterness in their taste. They will prefer to eat less bitter foods.

Crisps in a crisp packet spilling out

However, the latest round of research has turned up another eating habit for those with the same variant.

The research, which was presented at an American Heart Association meeting, found a huge difference in sodium consumption. People with the variant are 1.9 times more likely to consume more than the recommended daily levels of sodium than those without it.

The current UK guidelines are to have no more than 4.5g of sodium a day. This is about the same as a teaspoon full of salt.

A Dangerous Effect

While people carrying the gene may enjoy the taste of salt more, research warns that they should try to avoid consuming it where possible.

When you eat too much sodium, which normally comes from processed or pre-packaged foods as well as restaurant dishes, it can result in a number of health conditions. These include heart attacks and strokes, caused by high blood pressure.

The genetic variation may have an interesting impact on chef jobs. Those who enjoy the taste of salt more may be adding more than is necessary to dishes. This could mean that restaurant meals are being made unhealthy to a degree that is not needed.

"Genetic factors that influence taste aren't necessarily obvious to people, but they can impact heart health by influencing the foods they select,” says Jennifer Smith, the lead researcher on the project. She is a PhD student at the University of Kentucky’s College of Nursing. "There is some research suggesting that individuals who taste bitter more intensely may also taste salt more intensely and enjoy it more, leading to increased sodium intake.”

There is also the possibility that individuals who are eating too much salt are doing so in an effort to mask the bitter flavours that they can taste more strongly.

Salt’s Role in Food

There has already been some concern that food in restaurants needs to be more balanced. If you are looking for food vacancies, this may play heavily on your mind: it seems that restaurant food is one of the worst sources of sodium available.

Analysis done on high street restaurants, cafes, and fast food chains discovered that more than half of the meals served tend to be high in sodium. Some even offer more than the recommended daily limit in just one serving. Celebrity chef restaurants were analysed and amazingly, it was Jamie’s Italian that had the highest salt content. This is astounding, when considering that the chef is known for his views on healthy meals, particularly for children.

Pizza Hut also scored badly with 93% of their meals having a high salt content, and there were some other big names on the list of the top five worst meals. These included Wetherspoons, Wagamama, Carluccio’s, and The Savoy Grill. Domino’s Pizza and Burger King also scored badly, while McDonald’s and Subway surprisingly came on the lower end of the salt scale. Adding further salt to any of these meals would be a bad mistake for health.