Inherited taste could explain why people eat excess salt


People could be eating too much salt because they’ve inherited a taste for it, according to a US study.

Those with a specific gene - TAS2R38 – are more sensitive to bitter flavours of healthy foods like broccoli and dark leafy greens.

This can cause them to eat twice as much salt as those without the gene, the study from the University of Kentucky college of Nursing found.

Salt and heart disease

Consuming excess levels of sodium is a known risk factor for high blood pressure. This can cause heart attacks and strokes.

The rise in salt consumption has been blamed on people eating more high-salt processed, pre-packed and restaurant food.

On average, adults in the UK eat about 8.1g of salt (3.2g sodium) a day, according to NHS figures. 

To reduce the risk of high blood pressure, the NHS recommends adults shouldn’t eat more than 6g of salt (2.4g sodium) a day.

Salt masking other flavours

Lead researcher Jennifer Smith, a PhD student, says genetic factors influencing taste aren't necessarily obvious to people, but can impact heart health by influencing the foods people select.

There is some research that suggests individuals who taste bitter more intensely could also taste salt more intensely and enjoy it more, she added.

Another theory is that people use the salt taste to mask the bitterness of foods.

By identifying which gene variant a person has, it could help them make better food choices through education that is personally tailored to them, Ms Smith claims.

As part of the study, the dietary habits of 407 people were analysed. The people had an average age of 51 who had two or more heart disease risk factors.

The scientists took account of factors that might affect taste and diet, such as age, weight, smoking status, and use of blood pressure medicines.


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