Dr. Murray Feingold: Taste for veggies could be genetic

Dr. Murray Feingold

How many times have mothers said to their children, "You can eat your dessert only after you eat your broccoli or asparagus or cauliflower."

These are not the favorite vegetables of a lot of children - and even adults - although many people do enjoy them very much.

Unfortunately, I abhor these veggies, which I call the Big Three. So does former President George Bush, who would push them aside at the many dinners he attended.

I have difficulty understanding how people can find them delicious and delectable. But people can learn to enjoy or acquire a taste for foods that they initially disliked.

Remember the first time you ate an oyster or a clam? Most people have difficulty taking their first bite but learn to enjoy eating these foods. Of course, frying the clams makes them much more tasty.

However, a reason has recently been uncovered, at least for some people, as to why they dislike the Big Three.

It's all genetic!

A recent study shows that how you interpret the taste of broccoli, for example, depends upon the type of protein that is present in the cells of your tongue. This is determined by your genes.

Genes can produce two types proteins. One that is able to detect the bitter taste present in broccoli and another protein that cannot.

Therefore, if you have the protein that detects the bitter taste, you most likely will have a dislike for broccoli, or even asparagus and cauliflower.

But if you are free of this bitter-detecting protein, broccoli tastes fine to you.

If these research findings are correct, then there is hope for people like me, who find it very difficult to consume these nutritious foods.

The answer could be genetic engineering.

Change my bitter-detecting protein to a non-detecting one, and I may become a broccoli gourmet.

Dr. Murray Feingold is the physician in chief of the National Birth Defects Center, medical editor of WBZ-TV and WBZ radio, and president of the Genesis Fund. The Genesis Fund is a nonprofit organization that funds the care of children born with birth defects, mental retardation and genetic diseases.