Coffee or beer? Most people pick their poison and stick to it. In a new study, researchers analyze the factors behind drink preference.

It turns out that it's not actually the taste that keeps coffee and beer enthusiasts reaching for their beverage of choice. Instead, the mental reward is getting people hooked on their favorite espresso or lager.

The Reason Behind Love For Coffee, Beer

A new study, published in the journal Human Molecular Genetics, initially aimed to analyze variations in human taste genes in an attempt to explain beverage preferences and find ways to intervene in people's diets.

However, the researchers discovered that it's not variations in taste genes that dictate people's preferences for sweet or bitter drinks after all. Instead, the study findings show that preferences are linked to the genes related to the psychoactive components of these beverages.

"People like the way coffee and alcohol make them feel. That's why they drink it. It's not the taste," explained Marilyn Cornelis, one of the study authors and assistant professor of preventive medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.

There was one gene variant that was found to be linked to beverage preference. Cornelis and the other researchers discovered that people with a variant in the gene known as FTO preferred sugar-sweetened beverages.

This variant in the FTO gene is the same variant that's been previously shown to be associated with a lower risk in obesity, which Cornelis acknowledged is somewhat "counterintuitive" to their team's findings.

"FTO has been something of a mystery gene, and we don't know exactly how it's linked to obesity," she continued, adding that it's likely the gene has a role in behavior, which is known to be associated to weight management.

Significance Of New Study

The new findings help researchers understand the association between genetics and beverage consumption. It also sheds light on the potential barriers in intervening with people's diets, according to Cornelis.

Both sugary beverages and alcohol intake are linked to plenty of health conditions and diseases, which makes both a significant factor in managing an individual's overall well-being.

For the study, the researchers collected data on beverage intake from about 336,000 individuals. Then they conducted a genome-wide association study of bitter and sweet beverage consumption.

"To our knowledge, this is the first genome-wide association study of beverage consumption based on taste perspective," said Victor Zhong, one of the study authors and postdoctoral fellow in preventive medicine at Northwestern University. He added that their study is also currently the most comprehensive genome-wide association study regarding beverage consumption.

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