Bitter Sweet Genes – Do You Have the Cookie Jar Gene?
Have you ever wondered why some people can have a bowl of candy on their desk or a plate of cookies in the break room and not be phased by it, while others will be endlessly drawn to keep returning to the beckoning call of the sweets until they are all gone?
This may shock you, but it isn’t your willpower that’s the issue here, it’s your genetics.
There are specific genes that can turn off your ability to control your appetite and make some of us powerless around sweets. These same genes are also responsible for the extremely bitter taste of coffee and an aversion to brussels sprouts, which some of us experience.
One of the most impactful genes in this area is known as TAS2R38, which is responsible for our perception of sweet and bitter tastes. Often nicknamed “the taster gene” or “the cookie jar gene”, TAS2R38 determines whether or not we are a “taster” or “non-taster”. Let me explain…
In genetics, we look at specific coded locations on our DNA. Each location has two variants – one from your mom and one from your dad. These are represented by the letters A, C, G, T. These letters are referred to as alleles.
For the TAS2R38 gene, if you have two G alleles (GG) – one from your mom and one from your dad, then you are likely a “taster”, which means you will experience a stronger sense of bitter when eating things like brussels sprouts and grapefruit.
So, if you are a coffee drinker, you probably like to add lots of sugar or stevia or cream to mask the bitter taste. This does not mean that you will dislike bitter foods, only that you have a strong perception and ability to experience the bitter taste. Tasters also tend to salt and season their food more than others. As well, being a taster means that sweets are perceived as super sweet (too sweet), and you therefore likely have pretty good control around sugar, which means you have the ability to stop eating it even when there is more lurking around you.
The downside of being a “taster” is that you are less likely to choose broccoli or kale over French fries and you may consume less naturally bitter, nutritious foods. But the upside is, you have more control around sugar!
Now, on the other hand, if you have two A alleles (AA) on the TAS2R38 gene, then you are considered a “non-taster”. Non-tasters tend to enjoy brussels sprouts and broccoli, and don’t over-sugar or salt their foods. However, being a taster can be problematic in the presence of sweets or sometimes even fatty foods. This means when you go to the cookie jar (or the chip bag), and have one serving, you tend to go back and have more and more until that cookie jar is empty! Unfortunately, you don’t ever feel full. So, you just eat and eat…
This is because the sweet taste actually turns off the biofeedback mechanism that tells your brain that you are full or satisfied, and instead you keep eating! Oh no!
What I’m saying here is that it’s not a matter of your lack of willpower if you’re carrying this gene, because this is a gene that is actually responsible for controlling your inhibitions for eating!
Think about that for a second. Your cravings for sugar and fatty foods, your “lack of willpower” may not be a lack of willpower at all, but a part of your genetic programing.
Wouldn’t that be something useful to know? Whether you are genetically more predisposed to eating sugary and fatty foods or not?
And once you know that information, what can you do?
Don’t worry, if you have the “cookie jar” AA variant, you can still have your slice of cake and eat it too. Just make sure that you do not have access to an unlimited supply of it!
Remember, when the gene is turned on, once you start eating, you may not be able to stop. When you do want to treat yourself, purchase a single serving, not a whole box. That way you can only have one. If you have other people in the house, ask them to keep their stash out of your sight.
Another helpful tool is a herb called Gymnema Sylvestre. One of the primary active components in this plant is gymnemic acid, which helps suppress sweetness.
When it’s consumed prior to a sugary food or beverage, gymnemic acid blocks the sugar receptors on your taste buds, which in turn prevents the appetite disinhibition effect of the TAS2R38 gene from taking over.
Research shows that Gymnema sylvestre extracts can reduce the ability to taste sweetness and thus make sweet foods less appealing.
Although this herb may not work for everyone, it is worth a try.
One thing I didn’t mention above is that the only options are not AA and GG alleles. In other words, there’s a chance you could possess AG alleles, which would be a combination or somewhere in between, and the effects may be more moderate or mixed.
The real point here is that understanding your genetics gives you permission to be who you are and the tools to take control of your health and your life. The science of epigenetics opens up so many opportunities to understanding your body and mind and how to work with your biology rather than fight against it.
If you’d like to learn more about how to do your own epigenetic testing and learn about your genetic predisposition in the areas of nutrition, sleep, supplementations, athletic performance, hormones, and detoxification, CLICK HERE