Hate vegetables? Blame your parents

Photo: Tomwang112 (iStock)

For years I blamed myself for not liking vegetables. It was my fault for continuing to eat like a child even though I was well into adulthood. The only time in my life I ever consistently ate vegetables was the summer I was eight years old and our garden actually yielded produce instead of weeds. I’ve tried to recreate that period by spending too much money on vegetables at farmers markets, which I then put in my refrigerator and forget about until they’ve gone bad because, really, I just can’t get excited about them.

But now a study from the University of Kentucky assures me this is not my fault. It’s genetics. So it’s my parents’ fault! How convenient! It’s so nice to be able to blame them for all my many deficiencies as a human being.

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Sensitivity to bitterness in food comes from two variations of the gene TAS2R38, AVI and PAV. Everyone has two copies of the gene. People who have two copies of the AVI variation don’t perceive bitterness in certain chemicals. But if you have one or two PAV variations, you do.

The study, which will be presented this weekend at the American Heart Association’s Scientific Sessions conference in Philadelphia, surveyed 175 people (average age 52, 70% female) about their eating habits and discovered that those with the PAV variation of the gene were more than two-and-a-half times more likely to rank in the bottom half of the study in terms of the number of vegetables eaten. Surprisingly, though, they didn’t eat more sugar, salt, or fat than the AVI people.

“We thought they might take in more sugar and salt as flavor enhancers to offset the bitter taste of other foods, but that wasn’t the case,” researcher Jennifer L. Smith said in a press release. “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.”

Hallelujah, my brothers and sisters in bitterness. In the meantime, here are some recipes from The Takeout that are supposed to make vegetables taste better:

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About the author

Aimee Levitt

Aimee Levitt is associate editor of The Takeout.