San Francisco: Researchers have said that sticking to a strict vegetarian diet may be partly in a person’s genes and not just a matter of willpower, a new study has found.
The study published in the journal PLOS ONE identified a set of genes associated with people who stuck to a vegetarian diet for at least a year.
A large proportion (about 48 to 64 per cent) of self-identified “vegetarians” report eating fish, poultry and/or red meat, which corresponding study author Dr Nabeel Yaseen said suggested environmental or biological constraints override the desire to adhere to a vegetarian diet.
“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,” said Yaseen.
To determine whether genetics contribute to one’s ability to adhere to a vegetarian diet, the scientists compared UK Biobank genetic data from 5,324 strict vegetarians (consuming no fish, poultry or red meat) to 329,455 controls.
The study identified three genes that were significantly associated with vegetarianism and another 31 genes that were potentially associated.
“One area in which plant products differ from meat is complex lipids. My speculation is there may be lipid component(s) present in meat that some people need. And maybe people whose genetics favour vegetarianism are able to synthesise these components endogenously,” Yaseen said.
According to the researchers, religious and moral considerations have been major motivations behind adopting a vegetarian diet, and recent research has provided evidence for its health benefits. Even though vegetarianism is becoming more popular, vegetarians still constitute a small minority of the global population.
“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,” Yaseen stated.