Genetics of Love of Salt

saltSalt is among the biggest villains, and biggest heroes, of the culinary world. Too much salt is bad for you (though just how bad is, I take it, controversial.) Salt is also delicious. Hence, of course, the problem.

And it seems that both halves of this problem apply to different people differently. Dietary salt poses a greater health risk to some people than to others. And now there’s evidence that salt has a differential impact on different people’s palates, too.

See this story, by Richard Knox, for NPR: For Supertasters, A Desire For Salt Is Genetic

“Salt is looming as the biggest bugaboo in the intensifying campaign to get Americans to adopt healthier eating habits. So here’s something to think about: some people just can’t help going after salt-drenched foods.

These people are so-called “supertasters.” They’re among the 1 in 4 people (at least among Caucasians) with a genetic makeup that heightens their taste perception….”

This is interesting in a number of ways. First, it implies that food manufacturers’ (and cooks’) decisions about salt content are going to affect different people differently. Second, it implies that efforts to regulate salt content (including government actions simply to discourage over-use of salt) are likewise going to affect different people differently. Finally, this new bit of science may portend a time when foods are manufactured, and marketed, to different sub-groups based on genetic profiles. We already have a growing body of science (called pharmacogenomics) aimed at tailoring pharmaceuticals to people’s individual genetic profiles. Will we soon have a parallel field tailoring our food in the same way? What will this mean for the way food is marketed, and in particular for how it is labelled?

[Addendum: I should point out that there’s already a related field called nutrigenomics. But that field is primarily concerned with the relationship between genetics and nutrition. What I’m hypothesizing about in the final paragraph above concerns the relationship between genetics and the taste of food.]

(Thanks to Samantha for pointing me to this story.)

About Chris MacDonald

I'm a philosopher who teaches at Ryerson University's Ted Rogers School of Management in Toronto, Canada. Most of my scholarly research is on business ethics and healthcare ethics.
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  1. Pingback: Ethics, Evidence, and Salt | The Food Ethics Blog

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