Study reveals genetic link to diet

Our diet is largely determined by genetic factors, according to a study from King’s College London. In particular, garlic lovers, coffee drinkers and those who eat plenty of fruit and vegetables are likely to have inherited their tastes from their parents.

This study, the most comprehensive of its kind, has shown conclusively that dietary choices are largely influenced by our genes. Previously, more emphasis has been placed on the social and environmental factors which determine what we eat. This research shows that we may have less choice over what we like to eat than we previously thought. Often we enjoy a similar diet to that of our parents. This study shows that this is likely to be determined by our genes, rather than simply being a result of the environment in which we were brought up.

To examine the contribution of genetic factors to food choice, researchers studied the dietary habits of 3262 UK female twins. By studying twins, researchers were able to study the dietary patterns of identical twins and compare them with non-identical twins. This allowed them to determine the extent to which genes play a part in determining our dietary choices.

Throughout the course of the study, five distinct dietary patterns were identified: ‘fruit and vegetable’, ‘high alcohol’, ‘traditional English’, ‘dieting’ and ‘low meat’. Most people will fall into one of the five categories identified.

Lead researcher Professor Tim Spector, from the Twin Research Unit, at King’s College London, said: ‘This research has revealed some fascinating findings. For so long we have assumed that our up-bringing and social environment determine what we like to eat. This has blown that theory out of the water, more often than not, our genetic makeup influences our dietary patterns.’

The study is also vital in terms of illness and disease. It has been long-recognised that certain illnesses and diseases are linked to diet. Heart disease, for example, is strongly associated with a diet high in saturated fats. By establishing why we eat what we eat, this study goes some way towards determining the causes of some illnesses.

Another key issue is that campaigns aimed at promoting healthy eating, such as the Government’s ‘5 a day’ campaign, may need to be re-thought in light of these new findings. If diet is less about choice, and more about genetics, such campaigns may have less of an affect than is intended.

Notes to editors

The paper Dietary patterns and heritability of food choice in a UK female twin cohort was published in the October issue of Twin Research and Human Genetics, issue 10.5. This issue is now available online, at:

The five dietary patterns identified in the study are:

  • Fruit and vegetable: frequent intakes of fruit, allium (onions, leeks, shallots, garlic) and cruciferous (broccoli, cauliflower, watercress, cabbage vegetables; low intakes of fried potatoes.
  • High alcohol: frequent intakes of beer, wine and allium vegetables; low intakes of high fibre breakfast cereals and fruit.
  • Traditional English: frequent intakes of fried fish and potatoes, meats, savoury pies and cruciferous vegetables.
  • Dieting: frequent intakes of low-fat dairy products, low sugar soda; low intake of butter and sweet baked products.
  • Low meat: frequent intakes of baked beans, pizza and soy foods; low intakes of meat, fish and seafood, and poultry.

The Twin Research Unit

The Twin Research Unit at King’s College London has a database of 10,000 twins and studies a wide variety of diseases and traits and is always looking for more adult twin volunteers, male or female, identical or non-identical to help with their studies. To volunteer or for more information please phone: 020 7188 5555 or visit the website:

King’s College London

King’s College London is the fourth oldest university in England with more than 13,700 undergraduates and 6,200 graduate students in nine schools of study based at five London campuses. It is a member of the Russell Group: a coalition of the UK’s major research-based universities. The College has had 24 of its subject-areas awarded the highest rating of 5* and 5 for research quality, demonstrating excellence at an international level, and it has recently received an excellent result in its audit by the Quality Assurance Agency.

King’s has a particularly distinguished reputation in the humanities, law, international relations, medicine, dentistry, nursing and the sciences, and has played a major role in many of the advances that have shaped modern life, such as the discovery of the structure of DNA. It is the largest centre for the education of healthcare professionals in Europe and is home to five Medical Research Council Centres – more than any other university.

King’s is in the top group of UK universities for research earnings, with income from grants and contracts of £114 million and an annual income of £369 million.

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