Move Over, Sweet Tooth: Introducing the Salt Tooth

Salty chips
(Image credit: Brent Hofacker/

You've heard of a sweet tooth, but what about a salt tooth? Some people carry a gene that may give them more of a taste for salt, a new study finds.

People in the study who had a certain variation of a gene called TAS2R48 were more likely to eat too much sodium than those who did not have this variant, according to the study, presented today (Nov. 13) at the American Heart Association's Scientific Sessions meeting in New Orleans.

"By identifying which gene variant a person has, we may be able to help them make better food choices through education that is personally tailored to them," Jennifer Smith, a Ph.D. student in nursing at the University of Kentucky College of Nursing and the lead author of the study, said in a statement. However, more research is needed to fully understand how people's genes impact how much sodium they eat, the researchers noted.

The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends that people limit the sodium in their diet to 2,300 milligrams (mg) per day. Too much sodium can raise a person's risk for high blood pressure, the AHA says. [Beyond Vegetables and Exercise: 5 Ways to Be Heart Healthy]

Those in the study how had the gene variation were nearly twice as likely to exceed the limit of 2,300 mg, compared with the people who didn't have this variation, the researchers found.

This is not the first time the TAS2R48 gene has been linked to a person's sense of taste.

Previous research has suggested that the particular variation of the gene that the researchers looked at in this study also enhances a person's perception of bitterness, according to the study. This may be why people with the gene tend to avoid foods such as broccoli and dark, leafy greens, the authors said.

"There is some research suggesting that individuals who taste bitter more intensely may also taste salt more intensely and enjoy it more, leading to increased sodium intake," Smith said.

"Another theory is that they use salt to mask the bitter taste of foods and thus consume more sodium," Smith said.

In the study, the researchers looked at food diaries from more than 400 people who were participating in a study aimed at reducing heart disease risk in people living in rural Kentucky. As a part of the study, the people also had their DNA analyzed. All of the people in the study had a heightened risk for heart disease.

Other aspects of the people's diet — such as how much saturated fat, sugar and alcohol they consumed — were also examined in the study. The researchers found that variations in the gene had no effect on these parts of the diet.

The findings have not been published in a peer-reviewed journal.

Originally published on Live Science.

Sara G. Miller
Staff Writer
Sara is a staff writer for Live Science, covering health. She grew up outside of Philadelphia and studied biology at Hamilton College in upstate New York. When she's not writing, she can be found at the library, checking out a big stack of books.