Blame Your Parents If You Have A Sweet Tooth. Here's Why

If you're feeling guilty about eating that second scoop of ice cream after dinner last night, your grandparents might actually share some of the blame. Your sweet tooth may just have been passed down from one of them. Which side of the family, though, is better left undecided.

Researchers at the University of Copenhagen in 2017 discovered that individuals who had one of two particular variants of a gene called FGF21 were about 20 percent more likely to crave sweets (via Scientific American). The gene also contains the instructions that the liver uses to produce the eponymously-named FGF21 hormone, which is associated with food regulation in animals. The research suggests that the FGF21 gene and hormone may also influence the regulation of appetites in humans, too.

That doesn't mean you can just blame grandpa for your love of cheesecake and then close the book on the subject, though. Genes are one factor that can lead to a sweet tooth, but there's more to it. Janie Shelton, a senior scientist at 23andMe, a direct-to-consumer genetic testing company, told Huffington Post, "The genetics that were found to be linked to sweet preference over salt preference were actually linked to the genes associated with metabolism and body mass index." So, a craving for sweets can also be linked to how an individual metabolizes food, and his or her tendency to be obese.

Genes are only one part of the sweet tooth equation

Scientists are hoping that this better understanding of the FGF21 gene and hormone could lead to treatments to reduce sugar cravings and in turn fight obesity. Study author Neils Grarup explains, "We live in a world where the population eats far too much sugar. It's partly due to the availability of sugar in sweets and candy, but for some people, it's because of this biological mechanism that makes it harder for them to control their sugar cravings. Potentially, we can use this knowledge to develop new medicines that can regulate the craving for sweet things and thereby treat obesity" (via Science Nordic).

One thing to keep in mind is that the genetic influence on our appetites is only one part of a larger, complex picture and that a genetic predisposition shouldn't be used as an excuse for bad eating habits. There are many lifestyle factors, including sleep patterns, a person's emotional state, illness, and even dehydration, which can impact our cravings for better or for worse.

Nanette Steinle, a University of Maryland School of Medicine associate professor of medicine and endocrinology and the diabetes section chief at the Maryland Veterans Affairs Medical Center, puts it this way, "You can blame your genes for liking it, but we have the ability to say, 'Is this a healthy behavior?' and modify it. We're intelligent, not just machines. If you love potato chips, you can alter your eating behavior if you so choose."