Genetic Variations & Vegetarian Vibes: Unpacking the DNA Diet Connection

Vegetable Genetics Art Concept

Gene variations linked to lipid metabolism and brain function may influence vegetarian diet choices, reveals a Northwestern University study published in PLOS ONE.

A study of more than 330,000 genomes indicates 34 genes potentially involved in vegetarianism.

Certain variations in genes involved in lipid metabolism and brain function may be associated with choosing a vegetarian diet, according to a new study led by Nabeel Yaseen of Northwestern University, published on October 4 in the open-access journal PLOS ONE.

“Our data indicate that adherence to a strict vegetarian diet is influenced by genetics.”

Diverse Factors Influencing Dietary Preferences

A small percentage of the population chooses to eat a vegetarian diet for a variety of religious, ethical, environmental, and health-related reasons. A person’s dietary choices may also involve a combination of personal taste, their metabolism, and the effects of different foods on the body. All of these factors are strongly influenced by genetics, but the role of a person’s genes in choosing a vegetarian diet is not well understood.

Insights from the Genome-Wide Study

In the new study, researchers performed a genome-wide association study where they screened thousands of genomes to identify genetic variations linked to being vegetarian. The researchers compared genomes from 5,324 strict vegetarians to 329,455 non-vegetarians who are participants in the UK Biobank, a large-scale biomedical database. They identified variants associated with 34 genes that may contribute to choosing a vegetarian diet. Several of these genes have important functions in lipid metabolism and brain function, which raises the possibility that differences in how the body processes lipids and the resulting effects on the brain may underlie the ability and choice to subsist on a vegetarian diet.

A Deeper Dive into Genetics and Diet

These results add to existing research pointing to a role for genetics in dietary choices. However, the researchers note that more research is needed into potential differences between lipid synthesis and metabolism in vegetarians and non-vegetarians, as well as other physiologic pathways that might underlie vegetarianism. A better understanding of these pathways may help nutritionists design more effective dietary recommendations based on a person’s individual genetics.

The authors add: “Our data indicate that adherence to a strict vegetarian diet is influenced by genetics. Using a genome-wide association study, we identified 34 genes with possible roles in vegetarianism.”

For more on this research, see The Genetic Roots of Vegetarianism.

Reference: “Genetics of vegetarianism: A genome-wide association study” by Nabeel R. Yaseen, Catriona L. K. Barnes, Lingwei Sun, Akiko Takeda and John P. Rice, 4 October 2023, PLOS ONE.
DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0291305

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