I got my DNA analyzed. I spat a copious amount into a vial and sent it through the mail, and several weeks later I got my results back. What I found surprised me.
What I thought I was going to find out was something along the lines of genetic risks for health conditions like heart disease, breast cancer, or Alzheimer’s disease. This made me pretty nervous. It turns out, though, that that’s a different test run by a different company.
(For the curious, I did the AncestryDNA test, which focuses on family heritage. There is a 23andMe test that offers more of the health risk analysis - it just costs more. Now that I know this I will probably spring for it at some point).
(And make someone else read the results because I’m not even sure I want to know if I have Alzheimer’s risks).
There are a bunch of rather personal quizzes that go along with the Ancestry test, things that I never really associated with genetics. Do you have hair on your toes? Can you curl your tongue? Do you dislike cilantro?
I don’t know much, but I do know that if someone thinks cilantro tastes like soap, you will definitely hear about it.
I was mildly curious about the countries of origin in my family tree. My results lined up almost exactly with what I was always told about earlier generations in my line. The way that information was presented was pretty cool and made me want to know more.
What surprised me was the section on genetic traits, much of which pertained to food selection. This is because I am particular about food and lifestyle, and yet my genetics would seem to work at cross-purposes with a lot of these things.
I was an extremely picky eater as a child. I simply refused to eat most vegetables, and my family let me get away with it. I also started having very strange health issues as a teenager that led to a few trips to the ER.
To everyone’s surprise, especially my own, I grew up to be a health nut. As an adult, I eat more organic produce than anyone I’ve ever met - in fact, I’m pretty sure that I personally eat more veggies than the average family of four. I don’t drink alcohol or coffee out of distaste. I’ve been a vegan for nearly a quarter-century. I ran a marathon. I’m… that person.
Looking back on the way I ate as a little kid, I can only shake my head. There was stuff I absolutely hated, stuff that activated my gag reflex, that I now crave and cook for myself as an adult.
Thus it was fascinating to see the results of my genetic tests and how they related to my diet. I had experience in both loving and hating the exact same foods, and as far as personal preference, I knew it was subject to change.
The biggest surprise in my results? I’m supposedly one of those people who hates cilantro!
I don’t think I ever tasted cilantro until I was already an adult. It’s fine. I’ve eaten it in various cuisines and never had a problem with it. In fact I buy it myself and put it in all sorts of stuff. I’ve even planted it in my yard.
I supposedly don’t get “alcohol flush,” where your face turns red if you drink booze. I don’t remember whether this is true or not because I don’t drink alcohol as a rule. I dislike the taste and I see no point to it. The only thing that happens to me when I have had an alcoholic beverage is that I get a strong case of the spins for several hours. Whether it makes my face turn red or not, I don’t care, and think of the money I save.
Okay, this is weird, because the test says if I eat asparagus I probably can’t smell it when I pee. That is wrong, and what a strange question to test. I wonder if some people just never eat asparagus and thus give a misleading answer to the question.
Another question about genetic traits and food is “bitter sensitivity.” This is something that a lot of people give as their reason for never eating a single bite of cruciferous vegetables. Well, here ya go. According to my genetic test, I personally should be “extra sensitive” to certain bitter tastes such as Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, and kale. Remembering how extremely picky I was about eating vegetables when I was a child, I believe this to be true.
Now that I’m an adult, however, I buy, cook, and eat these bitter vegetables all the time. I eat cauliflower and broccoli at least once a week, and sauerkraut almost every day. I regularly eat these and kale, chard, collard greens, cabbage, bok choy, and even kohlrabi. The only one I have issues with is mustard greens.
Another food category that came up in my genetic traits was caffeine consumption. The test indicates that I might drink less caffeine than average. This is true, because I loathe coffee. It’s disgusting and I think it smells like fish. I do love green tea, which I drink almost every day, but I have to stop at one and I can only drink it in the morning. When I occasionally feel enticed to drink it at dinner, it will keep me awake until 4 am.
It makes sense to me that this would be genetically influenced. Unlike with the nice healthy veggies, I don’t see any benefit from increasing my caffeine consumption, even though green tea is associated with longevity and is supposed to be good for your teeth.
I “probably don’t have trouble with dairy.” I quit consuming dairy products in 1997, and almost immediately the smell of milk or cheese became seriously repulsive to me. I mean rank. Under no circumstances would I voluntarily eat dairy products ever again. But it’s interesting to see that this might have nothing to do with my DNA, and more the fact that no animals other than humans consume milk into adulthood.
A couple of other traits came up in my test. I am “probably extra sensitive to umami” or savory flavors. This probably influenced my picky eating in childhood. As an adult, I don’t care for salty foods. My DNA suggests that I’m “probably less sensitive to sweets.” This is funny, because even as a child there were sweet foods I did not like, especially marshmallows and pancake syrup. I cannot stand high fructose corn syrup.
It mystifies me why most snack foods are appealing to people. I can walk through a convenience store and remain unmoved by almost every single thing in there. Now that I’ve seen my DNA traits, which mark me as extra-sensitive to certain flavors and less sensitive to others, maybe I’m just a mutant?
This is the advice I would give to other extremely picky eaters. 1. Read up on nutrition. 2. Try different cuisines with a friendly, open-minded person who knows what to order. 3. Learn to cook, and then cook better, and then keep going. Every picky eater should be required to cook their own meals out of self-defense. I’m here to tell you, on a scale of picky eating, I’m sure I was a 98 out of 100. But I learned to change my tastes and genuinely enjoy things that used to make me gag. My life is bigger and better because of it.
Genes are not destiny. Genetics is a relatively new science. Whatever my genetic traits might indicate, I am far healthier and more energetic as a person who eats all the vegetables my tests claim I might not like, rather than a bratty kid who spit them out. And if your kids do the same, bring them into the kitchen and start teaching them. Don’t allow them to go on passionately rude rants about how gross things are - they can write it in their diary and keep it to themselves. They’ll think it’s funny when they finally grow up to be open-minded, curious foodies and great cooks.
I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.
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