Have you ever wondered why some people can stay perfectly healthy while living on strict vegetarian diets, while others crave meat and animal proteins?
Or how someone who eats red meat everyday can not only keep their weight down but also avoid getting heart disease, while others can’t?
The answers to these questions may now be found in a new study funded by the National Institutes of Health in conjunction with the United States Food and Drug Administration that contends it may simply be a matter of genetics.
In fact, researchers at c in New York (who conducted the project) have discovered, what they refer to as an “intriguing variation” known as the Vegetarian Allele that appears to have evolved in populations throughout the world, including 70% of Indians, 53% of Africans, 29% of East Asians and 17% of Europeans.
According to Kaixiong Ye, co-lead author of the paper (published March 29 in the journal Molecular Biology and Evolution), “In populations that live on plant-based diets, this genetic variation provides an advantage and “allows for efficient processing of Omega-3 and omega 6 Fatty Acids, converting them into compounds vital for the development of the brain.
In fact, the very existence of vegetarian allele indicates that for those born with it, straying from that type of diet could actually make them more vulnerable to inflammations because their systems were ‘optimized’ for a different mix of inputs.”
The researchers, however, are still not sure when the adaptation first occurred, although there is evidence for the allele in early hominid Neanderthal and Denisovan genomes.
It was also found that these early humans might have evolved on a diet with a ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids of 1:1. In contrast, the modern western diet is said to have a ration that is approximately 15-16.1.
Meanwhile the healthier Mediterranean diet is a much more equal balance of the two.
Both of these polyunsaturated fats are need by the human body in order to build healthy cells and maintain nerve and brain function.
They have also been found to help lower the risk of heart disease, and may also play important roles in guarding people against type 2 diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease. Unfortunately, the body cannot produce them, and must acquire fatty acids through food.
Omega-6 mostly comes as linoleic acid from plant oils such as corn oil, soybean oil, and sunflower oil, as well as from nuts and seeds. It is also found in beef and pork products.
The American Heart Association recommends that at least 5% to 10% of food calories come from omega-6 fatty acids. In turn, Omega-3s come primarily from olive oil, fish such as salmon, mackerel, and tuna, in addition to fruits, vegetables, vegetable oils, and walnuts and flaxseed in smaller amounts.
Note: A different version of vegetarian allele adapted to a marine diet was discovered among the Inuit in Greenland, who mainly consume seafood.
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