Genetic influence on adherence to vegetarian diet

Genetic influence on adherence to vegetarian diet

Unveiling the Hidden Influence of Genetics on Vegetarian Diets


Experts say fresh vegetables are a key component of a healthy diet. Maria Manco/Stocksy

Vegetarianism has been a centuries-old tradition followed by individuals across the world. Whether driven by cultural, moral, or health reasons, this dietary choice has gained popularity in recent years. However, sticking to a vegetarian diet isn’t always easy for everyone. New research suggests that genetics may play a role in determining people’s ability to maintain a vegetarian lifestyle.

According to a study published in the scientific journal PLOS One, researchers have found that genetic factors might provide an explanation as to why some individuals adhere strictly to a vegetarian diet while others do not. The study points out that while vegetarians make up less than 5% of the United States population, a significant proportion of self-identified vegetarians still consume fish, poultry, or red meat occasionally.

To investigate the genetic link to vegetarianism, participants were selected from the UK Biobank, a large database of half a million people. Blood samples and other specimens were collected from each participant to identify single-nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs), which are variations in the genetic code. These SNPs can affect metabolism and brain function, potentially making it more or less challenging for individuals to thrive on a vegetarian diet.

The study analyzed the SNPs of 5,324 vegetarians and 329,455 control subjects. In the end, the researchers identified 11 specific genes that may contribute to an individual’s inclination towards vegetarianism. However, experts caution against concluding that genetics alone determine one’s dietary choices, as there are numerous factors at play in determining overall health outcomes.

Megan Wroe, a wellness manager and registered dietitian, points out that having genetic predispositions does not mandate following a vegetarian diet. She emphasizes that numerous other factors, such as lifestyle, stress, and environmental toxins, can significantly influence health outcomes. Hence, while genetics may provide some insight, it is not the sole determining factor.

Additionally, experts highlight limitations to the study’s findings. Reliance on food journals and recalls for dietary information may introduce data inconsistencies. The study also primarily involved female, older, healthier, and higher socioeconomic status individuals, making it challenging to generalize the results to a more diverse population.

Despite the genetic predisposition to vegetarianism, the health impact of the diet remains a crucial consideration. A strict vegan diet, which eliminates all animal products, may not necessarily be advisable for most individuals. Registered dietitian Jordan Hill recommends a balanced approach, such as being vegetarian, pescatarian, or consuming small portions of sustainably raised meat. This diet allows individuals to intake vital nutrients while also promoting overall health.

Following a vegetarian diet can have several health benefits, including a reduced risk of chronic diseases, weight management, and improved digestion. By emphasizing plant foods, fruits, and vegetables, vegetarians can benefit from a higher intake of fiber, micronutrients, and antioxidants. However, it is essential to note that a vegetarian diet can still include unhealthy processed foods, which may diminish these health benefits.

Nevertheless, there are potential insufficiencies associated with a vegetarian diet, including deficiencies in vitamin B12, iron, calcium, and omega-3 fatty acids, along with inadequate protein intake. To mitigate these risks, individuals should adopt a well-rounded approach to their diet.

Ultimately, it is important for individuals to make dietary choices that align with their personal preferences, cultural factors, and health goals. Finding a balance that works for each individual is crucial, as there is no one-size-fits-all approach to eating. For those considering a transition to a vegetarian diet, it is recommended to do so gradually. Incorporating vegetarian protein sources like beans, lentils, nuts, and seeds can be a great starting point.

In conclusion, while genetics may play a role in one’s inclination towards a vegetarian diet, it is not the sole determining factor. Understanding the genetic influence on dietary choices can provide valuable insights into individual tendencies, but it is important to consider various other factors such as lifestyle, personal preferences, and overall health goals.