The influence of genetics on vegetarianism has been explored in a recent study conducted by Nabeel Yaseen at Northwestern University in Chicago. The research suggests that certain genetic variants may affect a person's ability to tolerate a diet without animal fats, potentially making it easier for some individuals to give up meat.
Yaseen and his team analyzed data from the UK Biobank, a large study that collected lifestyle and medical information as well as DNA samples from participants. They compared approximately 5300 strict vegetarians with over 330,000 meat-eaters. The study identified three gene variants that were more common in vegetarians, two of which are involved in fat metabolism and the transport of cholesterol and glycolipids. The third gene variant, RIOK3, has various functions, including an impact on the immune system.
While the exact connection between these genetic variants and vegetarianism is not yet understood, Yaseen and his colleagues speculate that the ability to synthesize certain lipid molecules found in meat could play a role. They suggest that individuals who struggle with vegetarianism may be deficient in these essential lipids, leading them to abandon the diet due to perceived difficulty or lack of willpower.
However, Albert Koulman at the University of Cambridge cautions that more research is needed to fully understand how food nutrients, particularly fats, influence satiety and food choices. He notes that current research has primarily focused on proteins rather than fats.
Richard McIlwain at the UK Vegetarian Society argues that factors such as concern for the environment, animal welfare, and personal health are more significant determinants of vegetarianism than genetic factors. He suggests that psychological factors, including tradition, education, awareness of animal suffering, and taste preferences, play a more substantial role in individuals' decision to adopt a vegetarian diet.
Ultimately, while the study provides interesting insights into the potential genetic influence on vegetarianism, more research is needed to fully understand the complex interplay between genetics, diet, and personal choices.