Weird fact: Too much salt increases the risk of high blood pressure, a heart attack, or stroke, but some people may be eating more because of their tongue’s genetics.
Some people may be eating too much salt because they are bitter — or, rather, their tongues are.
Research presented at the American Heart Association’s Scientific Sessions 2016 suggests that people with certain gene variants that enable them to taste more bitterness in foods are likely to eat more salt than recommended. According to a statement from the American Heart Association, the roughly 400 people involved in the study were not more likely to exceed recommended values of sugar or saturated fats, which can have a negative impact on heart health just like salt.
“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,” lead author Jennifer Smith, from the University of Kentucky College of Nursing, said in the statement. “Another theory is that they use salt to mask the bitter taste of foods and thus consume more sodium.”
Sodium is most often found in processed or packaged foods and in restaurants, and too much of it can lead to high blood pressure, which in turn is a risk factor for conditions like heart attack and stroke. But with enough education, the AHA says, people may make food choices that are better for their hearts.
“Genetic factors that influence taste aren’t necessarily obvious to people, but they can impact heart health by influencing the foods they select,” Smith said.
In certain amounts, salt is healthy because it maintains the body’s fluid balance — it attracts water and thus influences blood volume — as well as helps transmit nerve impulses and plays a role in muscles contracting and relaxing, according to the Mayo Clinic. It is recommended that people ingest less than 2,300 milligrams of sodium every day, but the average American takes in more than 3,400 milligrams. When blood volume increases too much with excess sodium intake, pressure increases and affects the heart.
To reduce salt intake, the Mayo Clinic recommends eating more fresh foods, reducing salt in recipes, buying low-sodium products and cutting out certain condiments, among other measures.