The Genetic Roots of Vegetarianism: Is It in Your DNA?

A recent investigation by Northwestern Medicine suggests that one’s genetic composition might determine their capacity to strictly follow a vegetarian regimen.

By examining genetic records from the UK Biobank, researchers identified three genes strongly linked to vegetarianism and an additional 31 with potential connections. This discovery paves the way for more in-depth studies that may influence dietary recommendations and the creation of meat alternatives.

As the popularity of products like the Impossible Burger and initiatives such as “Meatless Mondays” grows, the decision to exclude meat may not solely be a trend. Instead, Northwestern Medicine’s latest study indicates that genetics could determine a person’s ability to consistently maintain a vegetarian diet.

This discovery could pave the way for expanded research, potentially influencing dietary advice and advancing the meat alternative industry.

Interestingly, between 48 to 64% of those identifying as “vegetarians” admit to consuming fish, poultry, or red meat occasionally. This behavior, as noted by Yaseen, indicates that certain environmental or biological factors might overpower the intent to stay vegetarian.

To assess the role of genetics in one’s commitment to vegetarianism, researchers compared the genetic data of 5,324 strict vegetarians (those abstaining from fish, poultry, and red meat) with 329,455 other participants from the UK Biobank. To ensure consistent data, all involved were white Caucasians, minimizing potential variances due to ethnicity.

Three genes significantly associated with vegetarianism were identified in the study, along with 31 others showing potential links. Notably, some of these genes, including two primary ones (NPC1 and RMC1), are related to fat metabolism or brain functionality.

The study, shared in the PLOS ONE journal on October 4, is the first of its kind to undergo full peer review, focusing on the connection between genetics and rigorous vegetarianism.

Historically, religious and ethical reasons have predominantly influenced the choice of vegetarianism. With increasing evidence showcasing its health advantages, its adoption is on the rise.

However, vegetarians still form a minority globally. For instance, only 3 to 4% of the U.S. population identifies as vegetarian, while in the U.K., the numbers are 2.3% for adults and 1.9% for children.

This disparity prompts the question of the widespread preference for meat. Yaseen mentions that food and beverage choices extend beyond mere flavor; they’re also influenced by how one’s body processes food. A classic example is the initial aversion many experiences towards alcohol or coffee, which evolves into an acquired taste due to the effects of alcohol or caffeine.

With the revelation that genetics may play a part in vegetarian preferences, it’s intriguing to consider its implications on those abstaining from meat for religious or ethical convictions.