The drinks you go to have nothing to do with your taste buds, just as you think you like the taste of a hoppy IPA, the smokiness of a dark roasted coffee, or the tongue-crawling sweetness of a citrus soda.
No, according to researchers at Northwestern University in Chicago, your drinking preferences may be the result of the “reward” you feel when you drink them.
A team of scientists with the Feinberg School of Medicine wanted to better understand taste genes and clarify their preferences for beverages.
To do this, they asked more than 335,000 people in the UK Biobank – a pool of research participants who participate in studies that look at the long-term effects of genes and the development of diseases – to take into account their drink consumption in a 24-hour diet.
Drinks were divided into two categories: bitter drinks, including grapefruit juice, coffee, tea, beer, spirits and red wine; and sweet drinks, including sugar-sweetened drinks, artificially sweetened drinks and non-grapefruit juices.
The researchers then used those drink classifications to conduct a genome-wide association study with people who tend towards bitter drinks and people who prefer sweet drinks.
To their surprise, the results of the genome study indicated that beverage preferences had nothing to do with taste genes, which they originally expected to discover.
Instead, the study showed that what you prefer to drink – bitter or sweet drinks – is related to the psychoactive properties that these drinks deliver when you consume them.
In other words, you are attracted to certain drinks because of the way they make you feel, not the way they taste.
“The genetics that underlie our preferences have to do with the psychoactive components of these drinks,” says Marilyn Cornelis, assistant professor of preventive medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. “People like the way coffee and alcohol make them feel. That’s why they drink it. It’s not the taste.”
And if you don’t like certain flavors, or if drinking a stout looks more like a punishment than a reward, then maybe that’s because your brain doesn’t interpret it as a treat.
“There are reward centers in the brain that light up when certain substances or chemicals are absorbed into the body,” says Liz Weinandy, MPH, RDN, an ambulatory dietitian at Ohio State University’s Wexner Medical Center. “Some people respond to these compounds faster than others. This is the psychoactive property that a substance releases into the body. In other words, substances in foods and other substances such as some drugs produce certain cognitive and mood changes in our body.”
Weinandy continued: “For example, it makes sense for people to love coffee for the sharpness and increased alertness it gives them. In sport, it can improve physical performance, and for most people it can increase cognitive performance. Sugar can also relieve brain reward area and give people a temporary feel-good sensation. This is why people start craving certain substances and especially sugar, which is said to be habitual. ”
The lead author, Victor Zhong, postdoctoral in preventive medicine at Northwestern, said this is the first genome-wide association study that looks at drink consumption based on taste perspective.
“It is also the most comprehensive genome-wide association study of beverage consumption to date,” he said in a statement.
Can you use your preferences to change your diet?
This study, published in Human Molecular Genetics, opens the possibility for new intervention strategies, or finding ways to replace what our DNA says to make healthier choices.
Finally, sugary drinks are closely linked to many diseases and health problems, including obesity and diabetes.
Alcohol intake is responsible for 1 in 20 Trusted Source deaths, or 3 million people worldwide annually, according to the World Health Organization. It is also bound to a number of diseases and health problems.
“Absolutely, we can use this information to better adjust food and beverages in our diet to improve our health,” Weinandy said. “We may want to think about certain foods and beverages because they give us a head start, but we also need to make sure that they are not overused or misused.”
For example, Weinandy says that caffeine in coffee can be a boost, a tool that you can use to perform better on a particularly slow afternoon. But if you drink it too much, it loses its effect on the body, and if you flavor it too much with aromas or sweeteners, you can introduce new problems.
“What we need to be careful about is that we add a lot of sugar because we know that sugar is generally not good for us because of the excess calories and inflammation,” she said. “We also need to be aware that if we often drink a lot of caffeine, it can have negative effects, such as disturbing sleep.”
it comes down to
With this study, researchers have determined that beverage preferences come from a ‘reward center’ in the brain, not from taste receptors. Although you can’t do anything to change your genes, you can do a lot to counteract them.
Start by looking for alternative ways to “reward” yourself. When you are looking for coffee or soft drinks to get a nice buzz, you opt for a physical activity that produces adrenaline. Even though a brisk walk might be all that is needed.
And if you were to take alcohol to calm your nerves at the end of a long day, call on the same bitter receptors and surprise them with a cup of hot decaffeinated tea.