Coffee or soda? People prefer drinks that make them feel good

What makes one person happy swigging dark roast coffee or beer, while others opt for the sweet taste of a cola?

Scientists at Northwestern University say they have found that taste preferences for bitter or sweet beverages aren’t based on variations in our taste genes at all, but rather genes related to the psychoactive properties of these beverages.

“The genetics underlying our preferences are related to the psychoactive components of these drinks,” said Marilyn Cornelis, assistant professor of preventive medicine at Northwestern’s 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.”

Her research, which was published May 2 in Human Molecular Genetics, was also reported online by EurekAlert, a publication of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Her study highlights important behavior-reward components to beverage choice and adds to our understanding of the link between genetics and beverage consumption – and the potential barriers to intervening in people’s diets,” Cornelis said.

Her research fond one variant in a gene, called FTO, linked to sugar-sweetened drinks.  People who had a variant in the FTO gene — the same variant previously related to lower risk of obesity — surprisingly preferred sugar-sweetened beverages.

“it’s counterintuitive,” she said. “FTO has been something of a mystery gene, and we don’t know exactly how it’s linked to obesity. It likely plays a role in behavior, which would be linked to weight management.”

According to Victor Zhong, a postdoctoral fellow in preventive medicine at Northwestern, it is the first genome-wide association study of beverage consumption based on taste perspective.
“It’s also the most comprehensive genome-wide association study of beverage consumption to date,” he said.