Is There a Genetic Predisposition to Vegetarianism?

A recent study suggests that there is

Vegan tapas
Do genes explain vegetarianism?
Alejandro Martinez Velez/Europa Press via Getty Images

There was a time not that long ago when being vegetarian or vegan was a relatively lonesome affair. You got to know the shelves of your local health food store very well, and likely had a small go-to list of the restaurants that actually had a few meat-free options. In 2023, that’s changed substantially: now, vegetarian and vegan options are the stuff of fine dining and celebrity endorsements.

That helps to explain why the number of people in the U.S. adopting a vegetarian diet is on the rise. But that isn’t the only reason that some people may be filtering meat out of their diet; according to a recent study published in the journal Plos One, there may be a genetic reason for that as well.

The study’s authors explored genetic profiles of people adopting “strict vegetarianism” in the UK Biobank. They found one SNP — a single nucleotide polymorphisms, indicative of genetic variation — that appeared to be associated with vegetarianism, along with “an additional 201 suggestively significant variants.”

The scientists went on to point to several genes tied to vegetarianism that are also associated with the brain and the body’s handling of lipids. Their conclusion? That these factors “may underlie the ability to subsist on a vegetarian diet.”

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As Sarah Kuta noted in an article on the study in Smithsonian Magazine, the findings recently published in Plos One feel like the opening to a much wider discussion than a complete debate in and of itself. Those findings also raise the question of whether we might not see genetic therapies developed in the coming years that could point patients in the direction of a healthier diet.


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