Some people are born to be vegetarians but others not, Cornell University study
A new research study from Cornell University in the US has discovered that some population groups are genetically designed to be vegetarians.
According to the researchers, a gene, called allele, has evolved in these populations to allow them to efficiently process omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. However, in other population groups, fish and meat need to be eaten in order to consume the amount of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids required to maintain a healthy diet.
Researchers found that groups which have traditionally favoured vegetarian diets, such as Indian, African and select groups in East Asia, have a genetic variation that allows for vegetarianism to be a variable, healthy diet.
The study was published in Volume 33, Issue 4 of the Molecular Biology and Evolution journal.
How the study worked
The scientists discovered the gene’s evolution by looking at how often the ‘vegetarian allele’ appeared in 234 vegetarian Indians and 311 Americans. The results of this study found only 18 per cent of the Americans carried the vegetarian allele gene whilst 68 per cent of the Indians did.
The study was then expanded to examine how often the gene appeared in participants of the 1, 000 Genomes Project which is the largest catalogue of human gene variations in the world to date. With over 1, 000 individual gene maps from the study available to the researchers, the scientists found that the vegetarian allele gene existed in 70 per cent of South Asians, 53 per cent of Africans, 29 per cent of East Asians and only 17 per cent of Europeans.
As explained by researcher Kaixiong Ye from the study, if an individual is aware that they have the allele gene they could try and match their diet accordingly.
“One implication from our study is that we can use this genomic information to try to tailour our diet so it is matched to our genome, which is called personalised nutrition,” he was quited as saying in the Cornell Chronicle.
The study was funded by the US based National Institutes of Health and the US Department of Agriculture.
Concerns about food unsuitable for genetics and consumers
According to Joe Lederman managing principal at the regulatory consultancy FoodLegal, the study could have implications for the nutritional profiling of foods as healthy or unhealthy under various food regulatory frameworks.
Lederman said new scientific knowledge could also force organisations such as the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the Codex Alimentarius Commission away from applying food nutritional recommendations globally.
“This study shows that there might need to be a change so that there are different nutritional policies for different ethnicities. This for example could help ensure people from various descents are eating the correct foods for their health ” he said.
Find out more about the relationship between food and genetics at FoodLegal’s upcoming symposium
FoodLegal’s upcoming future of food symposium will further explore the relationship between genetics, food, health and diet.
Speaker Professor Tim Green of the University of British Columbia, will be speaking at the FoodLegal Symposium in Melbourne on Tuesday 12 April 2016 on the topic ‘Food for genes, epigenetics and micronutrients’.
Professor Andrew Sinclair of Deakin University, will be presenting on the topic ‘Fats in food: The challenges of recent scientific findings’. Other speakers include leading speakers from the University of Adelaide and Monash University as well as FoodLegal regulatory experts, a government scientist from FSANZ, and an expert on niche foods for an ageing population.