- People with a specific gene may be more sensitive to the bitter taste of heart-healthy vegetables like broccoli, kale, cabbage, and Brussels sprouts.
- A new study found that these so-called “supertasters” are 2.5 times more likely to eat fewer veggies than people without the gene.
- Many of these bitter greens are very nutritious, so researchers hope they can eventually develop ways for such foods to be more palatable to supertasters.
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If you’re not a fan of eating your greens, you might be able to blame your genes for your aversion to kale and broccoli.
Research shows a certain gene variation, known as a “supertaster” gene, can make people significantly more sensitive to bitter tastes, caused by compounds in cruciferous vegetables like broccoli and leafy greens like kale.
A new study, presented November 11 at the American Heart Association’s annual meeting, found that can make people much less likely to eat those foods, despite their nutritional benefits.
To come to their conclusion, researchers from the University of Kentucky School of Medicine looked at the responses from 175 people who reported how often they eat certain foods. Compared to people without the supertaster gene, those with it were 2.5 times more likely to rank in the bottom half of participants when it came to how many vegetables they ate.
Previous research had identified that several variations of the supertaster gene could make people more or less sensitive to flavours. This study goes a step further by exploring how the gene affects peoples’ decision-making at the dinner table, according to Jennifer L. Smith, study author and a postdoctoral fellow in cardiovascular science.
“We’re talking a ruin-your-day level of bitter when they tasted the test compound,” Smith said in a press release. “You have to consider how things taste if you really want your patient to follow nutrition guidelines.”
On the other hand, it isn’t just super-healthy produce supertasters are sensitive to – previous research has shown that other bitter flavours like dark chocolate, coffee, and sometimes beer also prompt a negative reaction, Smith added.
Dark green veggies are some of the most nutrient-dense foods in the produce aisle
It may seem odd for cardiologists to study people’s food preferences, but diet is a major factor in heart health. Evidence shows that eating plenty of veggies can significantly reduce the risks of early death by cancer, heart disease, and other chronic illnesses.
And some of the best vegetables for you may, unfortunately, be the worst-tasting for people sensitive to bitter flavours, including cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, kale, cauliflower, bok choy, and arugula. Those foods are packed with fibre, as well vitamins A and C, and other micronutrients linked to better health.
Despite their health benefits, supertasters seem to avoid bitter veggies altogether; the researchers also found the group didn’t rely on salt and sugar any more than non-supertasters. “We thought they might take in more sugar and salt as flavour enhancers to offset the bitter taste of other foods, but that wasn’t the case,” Smith said.
“Down the road we hope we can use genetic information to figure out which vegetables people may be better able to accept and to find out which spices appeal to supertasters so we can make it easier for them to eat more vegetables,” she added.
Until science figures out it, try experimenting with spices and flavour combinations to make your veggies more palatable, get creative with plant-based entrees, or prepare meals and snacks in advance to make sure healthy foods are within reach.