Genetic Influences of Unhealthy Food Intake

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Genetic Influences of Unhealthy Food Intake

Date of Content: April 14, 2024
Written by: Harvey Talento
Reviewed by: Maarit Tiirikainen, PhD


We all know the feeling. That enticing aroma wafting around the corner of a bakery, the satisfying crunchiness of chips in every munch, and the sugary comfort of a can of cold soda. Unhealthy foods can be a powerful siren song, and indulging occasionally is normal. But what happens when that occasional treat becomes a regular habit?

What Is Considered “Unhealthy Food?”

Unhealthy food intake, often labeled as “junk food” or indicative of a poor diet, encompasses a range of dietary choices that can negatively impact our overall well-being. These food options typically exhibit the following characteristics:

  • High in sodium content: The high sodium levels in processed and convenience foods can lead to water retention, increased blood pressure, and heightened risk of cardiovascular issues when consumed excessively.
  • Lacking essential nutrients: These food selections often lack the necessary vitamins, minerals, and dietary fiber needed to sustain energy levels and support optimal bodily functions. Nutrient deficiency may result in fatigue, digestive issues, and an overall dissatisfaction with one’s diet.

Identifying and minimizing the consumption of such unhealthy foods is essential for cultivating a balanced and nourishing dietary pattern that promotes overall vitality and well-being.

By prioritizing nutrient-dense alternatives and adopting mindful eating practices, individuals can mitigate the negative impacts of excessive junk food consumption and foster a healthier lifestyle.

Unhealthy food intake

How Genetics May Influence Unhealthy Food Intake

Dopamine D2 receptor gene (DRD2) and the nearby ANKK1 can significantly influence our propensity for unhealthy food intake, shedding light on the intricate interplay between genetics and dietary behaviors

Research suggests that the presence of the TaqIA polymorphism (SNP rs1800497)  in the ANKK1 gene, may predispose individuals to consume foods that are high in unhealthy carbohydrates or simple sugars, processed or unhealthy meat portions, and deep-fried dishes

Moreover, carriers of Taq A1allele (SNP A-allele) may exhibit a higher risk of consuming unhealthy foods such as fried dishes and processed meats, while consuming fewer healthy options. 

This genetic predisposition towards unhealthy food choices is associated with metabolic disturbances, including abnormal glucose and triglyceride levels.

Similarly, investigations into other dopamine receptor polymorphisms, including variants in the DRD2 gene, reveal associations with body mass index (BMI) and hedonic hunger. For example, individuals carrying the Del allele of rs1799732, demonstrate higher BMI and hedonic hunger scores, indicating a heightened susceptibility to overeating and obesity.

Furthermore, studies exploring the neurobiological underpinnings of binge eating disorder (BED) also highlight the role of the genes DRD2 and ANKK1 in modulating responses to positive food stimuli. Variants such as rs1800497 in ANKK1, and rs6277 in DRD2, which reflect enhanced dopamine neurotransmission, were significantly associated with BED and its sub-phenotypes characterized by heightened reward sensitivity and overeating tendencies.

In essence, these genetic variations contribute to an individual’s predisposition towards unhealthy food intake by influencing factors such as taste preferences, hedonic eating behaviors, and metabolic responses.

By understanding these genetic influences, we can tailor interventions and strategies to mitigate the impact of genetic predispositions and promote healthier dietary choices.

Non-Genetic Factors Influencing Unhealthy Food Intake

Our food choices are influenced by a multitude of factors, some of which extend beyond our immediate control. Let’s delve deeper into these influential determinants:

  • Biological determinants: Our innate biological processes, such as hunger, appetite, and taste perceptions, tend to influence our food preferences. Our bodies naturally gravitate towards energy-dense foods, often leading us to succumb to the allure of unhealthy options for quick satisfaction.
  • Economic and physical determinants: Socioeconomic factors, including cost, income level, and access to nutritious foods, significantly shape our dietary patterns. For many individuals, the affordability and convenience of processed foods overshadow the expense and effort required to procure fresh fruits, vegetables, and other healthier options such as lean protein
  • Social determinants: Cultural backgrounds, familial traditions, and social networks wield considerable influence over our eating habits. We are inherently social beings, often mirroring the dietary choices of those around us and participating in communal meals that reinforce cultural norms and traditions. Consequently, social gatherings frequently center around food, further cementing its role in our social fabric.
  • Psychological determinants: Our mental and emotional states, including stress, mood fluctuations, and boredom, can trigger cravings for unhealthy foods. During times of distress or emotional turmoil, we may seek solace in sugary or fatty indulgences as a form of temporary comfort or distraction.

Minimizing Unhealthy Food Intake

Curbing unhealthy cravings and opting for healthier choices is a journey worth taking on, and here are some valuable strategies to guide you along the way:

  • Identify your triggers: Understanding the situations that prompt your cravings for junk food is the first step toward gaining control over unhealthy food items. Whether it’s boredom, stress, or simply lack of planning, recognizing these triggers empowers you to develop effective coping mechanisms. Consider activities like taking a brisk walk or keeping wholesome snacks within reach to counteract those impulses.
  • Read food labels: Knowledge is power when it comes to nourishing your body. Take the time to scrutinize food labels, paying close attention to the levels of saturated fat, sugar, and sodium in the products you consume. Armed with this information, you can make more informed choices that align with your wellness goals.
  • Plan your meals: Preparation is key to resisting the allure of fast food and unhealthy options. By proactively planning and preparing balanced meals ahead of time, you ensure that nutritious choices are readily available when hunger strikes. Incorporate whole grains, lean proteins, and an abundance of fruits and vegetables into your meal repertoire for sustained energy and vitality.
  • Don’t demonize treats: Adopting a healthy lifestyle doesn’t mean depriving yourself of the occasional indulgence. Allow yourself to enjoy treats in moderation, savoring each bite mindfully. Consider pairing your indulgence with a nutritious option, such as enjoying a piece of fruit alongside your dessert, to strike a balance between pleasure and nourishment.
  • Make healthy swaps: Transforming your favorite indulgences into healthier alternatives can be both fun and satisfying. Explore creative swaps like replacing regular fries with oven-baked sweet potato fries or indulging in Greek yogurt topped with fresh berries for a creamy, guilt-free delight.

Remember, going on a journey toward healthier eating is about progress, not perfection. Embrace the process of making gradual changes and celebrate your victories along the way. Your journey is unique, and by incorporating your own experiences and insights, you can enrich your path to wellness and inspire others to join you on the quest for a balanced and fulfilling lifestyle.

About the LifeDNA Nutrition Report

Want to uncover the secrets hidden within your DNA?

Explore the LifeDNA Nutrition Report today and uncover personalized insights into your genetic predispositions regarding nutrition. Gain a valuable understanding of your unique genetic makeup and its influence on factors like dietary habits, including those related to unhealthy food intake.

Empower yourself with the knowledge to make informed choices for a vibrant lifestyle!


  • Unhealthy foods, often labeled as junk food, are high in unhealthy fats, loaded with sugar, high in sodium content, and lacking essential nutrients. Minimizing their consumption is crucial for overall well-being.
  • Variants in genes like DRD2 and ANKK1 can predispose individuals to unhealthy food intake by affecting taste preferences, hedonic eating behaviors, and metabolic responses. Understanding genetic influences can help tailor interventions for healthier choices.
  • Biological, economic, social, and psychological factors influence food choices. These include innate biological processes, socioeconomic factors, cultural influences, and emotional states.
  • Strategies for minimizing unhealthy food intake include identifying triggers for cravings, reading food labels to make informed choices, planning meals ahead of time to resist fast food urges, enjoying treats in moderation and mindfully, and making healthy swaps for favorite indulgences.
  • Overall, the journey toward healthier eating involves understanding personal triggers, making informed choices, planning meals, moderating treats, and creatively substituting unhealthy options with healthier alternatives. It’s about progress, not perfection, and celebrating victories along the way.



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*Understanding your genetics can offer valuable insights into your well-being, but it is not deterministic. Your traits can be influenced by the complex interplay involving nature, lifestyle, family history, and others.

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