Being a vegetarian may be down to our genes, according to new research.
Scientists found three genes “strongly linked” to vegetarianism in the first study to look at any link between strict vegetarianism and genetics.
They say a person’s genetic makeup plays a role in determining whether they can stick to a strict veggie diet or not.
The American research team believes their findings, published in the journal PLOS One, open the way for further research that could have “important implications” regarding dietary recommendations and the production of meat substitutes.
Corresponding study author Professor Nabeel Yaseen, of Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, said: “Are all humans capable of subsisting long term on a strict vegetarian diet? This is a question that has not been seriously studied.”
Around 48 percent to 64 percent of self-identified “vegetarians” report eating fish, poultry and/or red meat, which Prof Yaseen says suggests environmental or biological constraints override the desire to adhere to a vegetarian diet.
He said: “It seems there are more people who would like to be vegetarian than actually are, and we think it’s because there is something hard-wired here that people may be missing.”
To determine whether genetics contribute to the ability to stick to a vegetarian diet, the scientists compared UK Biobank genetic data from 5,324 strict vegetarians – who eat no fish, poultry or red meat – to 329,455 controls. All the study participants were white.
The study identified three genes that are significantly associated with vegetarianism and another 31 genes that are “potentially associated”.
Several of the genes – including two of the top three (NPC1 and RMC1) – are involved in lipid metabolism and/or brain function, according to the findings published in the journal PLOS One.
Prof Yaseen said: “One area in which plant products differ from meat is complex lipids.
“My speculation is there may be lipid components present in meat that some people need.
“And maybe people whose genetics favor vegetarianism are able to synthesize these components endogenously.
“However, at this time, this is mere speculation and much more work needs to be done to understand the physiology of vegetarianism.”
Religious and moral considerations have been major motivations behind adopting a vegetarian diet, and recent research has provided evidence for its health benefits.
Prof Yaseen said that although vegetarianism is increasing in popularity, veggies remain a small minority of people worldwide – with just under one in 40 adults in the UK (2.3 percent) believed to be vegetarian.
He says the driving factor for food and drink preference is not just taste, but also how an individual’s body metabolizes it.
For example, when trying alcohol or coffee for the first time, most people would not find it pleasurable, but over time, they develop a taste because of how alcohol or caffeine makes them feel.
Yaseen said: “I think with meat, there’s something similar.
“Perhaps you have a certain component I’m speculating a lipid component – that makes you need it and crave it.
“While religious and moral considerations certainly play a major role in the motivation to adopt a vegetarian diet, our data suggest that the ability to adhere to such a diet is constrained by genetics.”
He added: “We hope that future studies will lead to a better understanding of the physiologic differences between vegetarians and non-vegetarians, thus enabling us to provide personalised dietary recommendations and to produce better meat substitutes.”
Produced in association with SWNS Talker
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