Sweets on the table

Food preferences - who to blame for my sweet tooth

BioCertica Content Team

Written by: Jonine Moller, M.Sc. in Sports Science

Taste perceptions and food preferences influence what you eat and what your eating habits are. Your eating habits play a large factor in your health and ability to manage your weight.

Trying to explain what people eat seems simple, but in fact, it isn't very easy. Many factors need to be considered, and many factors influence other factors.

The consumption of unhealthy foods is an enormous problem worldwide. The fast-food industry receives a lot of blame for the deterioration of public health. This is because most fast foods are high in fats, sugars, calories but low in nutritional value. Foods that are high in fat and sugar are usually enjoyed by most [1].

The biggest problems with unhealthy and fast foods are that they are very readily available, convenient, and taste great. This motivates people to be more inclined to choose these options over and above more raw, whole, healthier food.

Environmental factors play an essential role in determining people's dietary habits. These factors include culture, financial status, physical environment, education, family structure, and more [2].

Food perceptions in children are extremely important. Preferences for certain foods are cultivated during childhood and determine what children tend to eat when they are grown up [2].

A lot of factors such as food advertising, taste, fun appeal, education and parental and peer influences all influence children's food preferences [3]. It seems that babies who are breastfed are more likely to accept eating new fruit and vegetables [2].

It is hypothesized that eating a greater variety of foods while breastfeeding helps a baby to accept eating more foods when weaning [4]. The earlier children are exposed to different tastes and food groups; the less likely they are to be particular about not eating certain foods [4, 5].

Yes, environmental factors influence our food choices and dietary habits, but genetic factors are also a part of the equation [1, 4]. The genetic factors are, however, not separate from the environmental factors. The environmental factors influence the gene-diet interactions.

Preference for meat or fish by children has been found to be highly determined by genetic factors. Food texture may play a large role in the preference for or against certain food groups. Inherited traits might also influence texture preference.[4]

A well-determined genetic factor influencing taste preference is related to bitter taste receptors [4, 6]. It was found that genes determine the intensity at which people's taste buds perceive bitter compounds [6, 7].

The genes involved in the perceptions of taste are those in the TAS2R (Taste 2 receptor genes) family. The dominant variation of the genes increases your taste receptor cells' sensitivity to bitter tastes [8].

Sweet and bitter tastes often determine whether foods are enjoyed or rejected. Most people prefer sweet-tasting foods, while bitter tastes often cause rejection of foods [6]. These include cruciferous vegetables are among the foods that have a bitter taste. This may explain why certain people have a greater dislike for these vegetables.

Genetic factors influencing food preferences and habits go further than a genetically determined sense of taste. A variant of the ALDH2 gene has been strongly associated with the liking of sweet tastes [9]. It is thus likely that having a sweet tooth might be, at least in part, related to the ALDH2 gene.

The preference of sweet tastes is hypothesized to be a genetic adaptation to drive consumption of carbohydrate foods [9]. Genes may thus influence how much carbohydrates we intuitively tend to want to eat.

A lot of research is still needed to establish precisely how large the genetic role in carbohydrate consumption is. This is due to the fact that sugar is a highly addictive substance [10; 11; 12].

Sugars are the building blocks of carbohydrates. They are also frequently added to foods to act as a preservative, taste enhancer, and texture modifier [13]. Because of all the above, sugar's availability is very high.

The difficulty of avoiding it, its addictive nature, and hormonal effects [14] may cause sugar to be a large role-player in the over-consumption of food. In other words, genetics may not be the only factor to blame. If you have a sweet tooth, you may need to do more to limit your sugar intake.

Knowing where your food preferences come from is crucial for you to empower yourself to choose more wisely. Food choices are critical in determining your health. Healthy eating habits and healthy food choices are a non-negotiable part of a health-promoting lifestyle.


[1] Wardle, J., & Cooke, L. (2008). Genetic and environmental determinants of children's food preferences. British Journal of Nutrition, 29(SUPPL.1), 15–21. https://doi.org/10.1017/S000711450889246X

[2] De Cosmi, V., Scaglioni, S., & Agostoni, C. (2017). Early taste experiences and later food choices. Nutrients, 9(2), 1–9. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu9020107

[3] Atik, D., & Ozdamar Ertekin, Z. (2013). Children's perception of food and healthy eating: Dynamics behind their food preferences. International Journal of Consumer Studies, 37(1), 59–65. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1470-6431.2011.01049.x

[4] Harris, G. (2008). Development of taste and food preferences in children. Current Opinion in Clinical Nutrition and Metabolic Care, 11(3), 315–319. https://doi.org/10.1097/MCO.0b013e3282f9e228

[5] Nicklaus, S., & Schwartz, C. (2019). Early influencing factors on the development of sensory and food preferences. Current Opinion in Clinical Nutrition and Metabolic Care, 22(3), 230–235. https://doi.org/10.1097/MCO.0000000000000554

[6] Drewnowski, A., Henderson, S. A., Levine, A., & Hann, C. (1999). Taste and food preferences as predictors of dietary practices in young women. Public Health Nutrition, 2(4), 513–519. https://doi.org/10.1017/s1368980099000695

[7] Reed, D. R., Bachmanov, A. A., Beauchamp, G. K., Tordoff, M. G., & Price, R. A. (1997). Heritable variation in food preferences and their contribution to obesity. Behavior Genetics, 27(4), 373–387. https://doi.org/10.1023/A:1025692031673

[8] Smith, A. D., Fildes, A., Cooke, L., Herle, M., Shakeshaft, N., Plomin, R., & Llewellyn, C. (2016). Genetic and environmental influences on food preferences in adolescence. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 104(2), 446–453. https://doi.org/10.3945/ajcn.116.133983

[9] Kawafune, K., Hachiya, T., Nogawa, S., Takahashi, S., Jia, H., Saito, K., & Kato, H. (2020). Strong association between the 12q24 locus and sweet taste preference in the Japanese population revealed by genome-wide meta-analysis. Journal of Human Genetics, 65(11), 939–947. https://doi.org/10.1038/s10038-020-0787-x

[10] DiNicolantonio, J. J., O'Keefe, J. H., & Wilson, W. L. (2018). Sugar addiction: is it real? A narrative review. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 52(14), 910–913. https://doi.org/10.1136/bjsports-2017-097971

[11] Fortuna, J. L. (2010). Sweet Preference, Sugar Addiction and the Familial History of Alcohol Dependence: Shared Neural Pathways and Genes. Journal of Psychoactive Drugs, 42(2), 147–151. https://doi.org/10.1080/02791072.2010.10400687

[12] Wiss, D. A., Avena, N., & Rada, P. (2018). Sugar addiction: From evolution to revolution. Frontiers in Psychiatry, 9(NOV). https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyt.2018.00545

[13] Koivistoinen, P., & Hyvönen, L. (1985). The use of sugar in foods. International Dental Journal, 35(3), 175–179. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/3863796

[14] Ludwig, D. S., & Ebbeling, C. B. (2018). The carbohydrate-insulin model of obesity: Beyond "calories in, calories out." JAMA Internal Medicine, 178(8), 1098–1103. https://doi.org/10.1001/jamainternmed.2018.2933

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