NEW ORLEANS — People who taste bitterness in food strongly are nearly twice as likely to eat more than the minimum recommended daily limit of sodium, according to preliminary research presented Sunday.

The study analyzed data of 407 people in rural Kentucky who have two or more heart disease risk factors and were participating in cardiovascular disease risk-reduction research, including the effects of genes. Researchers examined participants’ dietary habits and associations with a variant of a gene that influences how keenly people perceive bitter taste.

“What we think goes on is that these patients are looking to offset that bitter in their food,” said lead author Jennifer Smith, a University of Kentucky nurse and doctoral student. She conducted the analysis with senior study author and associate professor Gia Mudd-Martin, also at Kentucky.

This and further research, she said, could help health providers and nutritionists tailor heart-healthy diets to an individual’s genetic taste predisposition, to help them find alternatives in spices or flavors to offset acute bitter or other tastes.

Sodium, found in dietary salt and often present in processed, prepacked, and restaurant foods, is a risk factor for developing high blood pressure, which can lead to heart attacks and strokes. The American Heart Association recommends no more than 2,300 milligrams a day and an ideal limit of no more than 1,500 mg per day.

The study presented Sunday controlled for other factors that could influence taste and eating, such as age, weight, smoking and the use of blood pressure medications. The participants were white, with about 73 percent women and an average age of 51.

More than 90 percent of the U.S. population has one of the gene variants in the study, researchers said.

Scientists have been investigating the differences in how people taste bitter for at least a few decades. Some of the foundation of the work with this genotype can be attributed to University of Florida professor Linda M. Bartoshuk, who called such people “supertasters.”

We’ve known about it for a while but have just been starting to tease out the genetic components of it for the last five or 10 years,” Smith said. “As a group of researchers and scientists, we have begun to ask about how it affects health, but there is still not a lot about how it affects patients with cardiovascular issues.”

The next step, Smith said will be to look at three variants on the gene, each called a SNP, or Single nucleotide polymorphisms. She plans to hone in on salt acuity and use 24-hour urine analysis to pinpoint exactly how much sodium study subjects are consuming.

For Smith, in her third year of doctorate studies and who began her career working in home health, it’s all about a holistic look at her patients.

“Nursing, particularly our research, is always focused in improving patient care and making our patients lives better,” Smith said. “With this, we can be more informed about their needs, and the more we can relate to their needs, the more engaged they become.”