Research shows genetics may cause people to crave salty foods. Salt is a major culprit of cardiovascular disease, and research like this can help treat it.

Craving salty foods? Blame your parents

Gia Mudd

Gia Mudd, UK College of Nursing

Written by Jennifer Smith, a doctoral student in the UK College of Nursing, and Gia Mudd-Martin, an associate professor in the UK College of Nursing.

A sprinkle over a baked potato or a teaspoon to flavor a pot of chili might seem innocent to the average dieter, but salt is a major culprit of cardiovascular disease in America. Some people have a proclivity for sweet foods, such as candy, confectionery treats or ice cream. Others, however, need salty foods to satiate their palates, often snacking on potato chips, making meals of foods high in preservatives or supplementing recipes with extra doses of salt.

Leading research from UK Nursing

Science is showing a person’s desire for salty foods might be ingrained in his or her genetic makeup. A recent study conducted by our research team at the UK College of Nursing indicated that genetic variations in taste perception might influence dietary patterns associated with cardiovascular disease. Our team examined the TAS2R38 gene variant, which influences bitter taste. In a sample of more than 400 people at high risk for cardiovascular disease, we found that individuals with the enhanced bitter taste perception genotype were more likely to consume higher than the recommended amount of daily sodium than people without the genotype.

Further research to better understand this and other genetic influences on taste might one day allow healthcare providers to develop more targeted approaches to support reduced sodium intake in people who are genetically predisposed to consume salty foods. Our understanding of the genetic connection to dietary behavior will pave the way to more advanced practices and opportunities for prevention.

How you can manage salt intake

In the meantime, it is important to note that everyone should monitor salt and sodium intake to reduce risk of cardiovascular disease. The American Heart Association recommends eating no more than 2,300 milligrams of sodium per day and ideally limiting sodium to no more than 1,500 milligrams per day for most people. Research shows we can train our palates to adapt to a low-sodium diet. Here are a few tips:

  • Keep a journal of your salt intake so you know when you’re exceeding your limits.
  • Salt is hidden in many of the basic foods we purchase, including bread, cereal and canned soups. Start reading labels so you can pinpoint foods high in sodium.
  • Learn to cook with minimal amounts of salt and to instead flavor foods using herbs and spices.
  • Instead of buying packaged foods, which are typically packed with sodium and preservatives, opt for home-cooked meals that only need small portions of salt.

Salt lovers — don’t think you must deprive yourselves to prevent cardiovascular disease. By consciously managing the amount of salt in your diet, you will find you can still enjoy salty foods and sodium in smaller portions. Consider salty foods a treat, much like dessert.

Next steps:

  • Limiting salt is just one step you can take toward a more heart-healthy diet. Learn more about making better food choices.
  • You can make a difference by participating in a UK HealthCare research study. Learn more.
The Snow Baby Bunny Project collects items and monetary donations for NICU families in need. Items included diapers, toys, onesies and a reassuring note.

Helping NICU families have happy holidays

Two years ago, Sunny King began to volunteer at UK HealthCare as a “baby cuddler.” When volunteers were no longer able to enter the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) last year, King was determined to do something to support the patients and families during the holidays. Since it was the holiday season, she thought a gift basket could help them with their new bundles of joy. NICU managers shared with King the items patients and their families were in need of during their transition, and King got to work collecting.

From that discussion, the Snow Bunny Baby Project was born.

The Snow Baby Bunny Project

In 2015, King and a team of volunteers worked together to collect donated items and monetary donations. The baskets included diapers, toys, onesies and a note to reassure families they were supported, not only by UK HealthCare, but by their community as well. Last year the group was able to assemble and distribute baskets to all the families in UK HealthCare’s NICU. The goal for this year is to create 80 baskets – 70 for UK HealthCare and 10 for Saint Joseph East. King hopes that each year the project will be able to grow and eventually other regional hospitals can be included.

After baskets are assembled, they are given to families by NICU managers. According to King, this project was started as a way to “show love to moms” and as a “love-offering for families.” Having a sick child, especially a sick newborn, can be incredibly stressful, and the holiday season can often add to that stress. This gesture helps families have one less thing to worry about.

How you can help

Those interested in donating items can bring them to the hospital volunteer office in Pavilion A of Albert B. Chandler Hospital. Monetary contributions can be given and will be used to purchase items; a gift of $25 covers the cost of an entire basket and 100 percent of proceeds will go to purchasing items for baskets.

Items needed for baskets include:

  • Baby wash
  • Diapers, size two
  • Baby wipes (70-100 count)
  • Infant toys
  • Infant wash cloths
  • Onesies (size 6 to 9 months)

Monetary donations can be mailed to UK HealthCare Volunteer Services at 1000 S. Limestone, Lexington, KY 40536.

For further information on the project or to make a donation, Sunny King can be reached at

Next steps:

Making the Rounds with Dr. Stephen Duncan

Meet Dr. Stephen Duncan, renowned orthopaedic surgeon and avid cyclist

Making the RoundsIn our latest edition of Making the Round, we spoke with Dr. Stephen Duncan, a nationally recognized surgeon at UK Orthopaedic Surgery & Sports Medicine.

Dr. Duncan specializes in hip surgery and hip preservation and sees patients of all ages. He’s also an avid cyclist who appreciates the importance of an active lifestyle.

What is your care philosophy when you meet a new patient?

I’m not an operate-first, meet-you-second doctor. I want to get to know you and figure out what’s the best treatment for you. And whether that’s doing medication or physical therapy or surgery, the biggest thing is getting to know you and what’s going to work for you.

What’s your favorite hobby outside of work?

Running and biking. I’ve been biking for 13 years. I used to bike competitively but now with the demands of being employed and having kids, I can’t really do it as much anymore. If I wasn’t a doctor, though, I’d be a bike mechanic.

Tell us about your family.

My wife is a pediatrician here at UK. We have two boys; they’re 5 and 7. The biggest challenge is trying to keep them out of the orthopaedic clinic. The best part of being a parent is that I get to be a kid with them.

What’s your favorite type of music?

Country. I lived in Nashville for eight years and it kind of grows on you there and then it finally just sinks in. You can actually hear the stories behind the music if you listen to it. It helps keep my blood pressure low.

What do you enjoy most about your work at UK HealthCare?

The biggest thing that gives me satisfaction is when I’ve seen that I was able to immediately help a patient in their life. When a patient comes in who has a lot of pain, and depending upon if we needed to operate on them or just do a simple injection, if they come back and give me a hug, I enjoy that.

Check out our video interview with Dr. Duncan below. He tells us more about the types of hip injuries he treats and why he chose orthopaedics as a specialty.

Next steps:

  • Duncan is hosting a public lecture about hip and knee arthritis on Dec. 8 at the Eastside Branch Public Library in Lexington. The event is free. Please call 800-333-8874 to reserve your seat.
  • Learn more about the comprehensive care for patients of all ages offered at UK Orthopaedic Surgery & Sports Medicine.