Genetic Study Shows Less Than 20% of People Have the Optimal Enzyme Activity for a Vegan Diet Based on Their Genes
The risks of a vegan diet
Maybe you’re thinking about becoming vegan. Whether it’s for ethical, environmental, religious, dietary, or health reasons, starting a vegan diet can be a great way to stand up for what you believe in and get healthy in the process.
Unfortunately, being on a vegan diet isn’t feasible for everyone, particularly those with certain genes. According to a new study by the DNA Company, less than 20% of people have the optimal gene that allows them to process plant-based foods. That means more than 80% of people may struggle with a vegan diet.
Aside from that, there are additional risks inherent in a vegan diet. If you find out you have the optimal gene to be vegan, go ahead with your dietary plans while keeping these other dangers in mind. If you don’t have the vegan gene, you may need to find another diet that better suits your needs.
The vegan gene
Because vegans don’t eat any animal products, the vegan diet consists primarily of plant-based foods. Sounds healthy, right? Yes...unless you don’t have the genetic makeup to properly process these foods.
The gene that determines your body’s ability to break down plant-based foods is called the FUT2 gene. This gene corresponds to the fucosyltransferase enzyme, which is an important part of your digestive system.
Your FUT2 gene allows you to metabolize certain food groups, such as plant-based foods. If you have the optimal version of this gene (like 20% of the population), you shouldn’t have a problem digesting plant-based foods.
Sadly, the vast majority of people have the average or suboptimal version of this gene, which makes a vegan diet really hard on their bodies. When your body can’t break down plant-based foods properly, eating high amounts of them can lead to serious issues such as inflammation in your gut lining, Crohn’s disease, and even psoriasis.
Not everyone has the right genes for coping with a vegan diet. It’s essential to test your genes before undertaking such a serious life change to make sure your body is equipped to handle it.
Other risks of being vegan
Aside from not having enough of the enzyme that helps your body metabolize plant-based foods, there are several other potential issues you can encounter while on a vegan diet. They mainly relate to the fact that vegans don’t receive any protein or other important nutrients from animal products.
Vitamin B12 deficiency
Because meat, fish, and animal products are some of the best sources of vitamin B12, vegans are already at a disadvantage when it comes to getting enough vitamin B12. That’s compounded by the fact that many people have genetic problems absorbing vitamin B12. As a result, a vegan diet can significantly increase your risk of vitamin B12 deficiency.
The same FUT2 gene that was mentioned earlier is also the gene that determines how well your body can absorb vitamin B12. The MTR and MTRR genes are also related to vitamin B12 intake. A suboptimal version of any of these genes makes it incredibly difficult for your body to get the vitamin B12 it needs, even if you’re not on a vegan diet.
In order to get sufficient vitamin B12, vegans need to prioritize the right kind of supplements and become aware of sources of vitamin B12 they can incorporate into their diet. These include fortified cereal and fortified nutritional yeast.
Due to the lack of iron in the vegan diet, those who follow it are more prone to anemia. That’s not to say that vegans don’t get any iron. Rather, the type of iron they get (non-heme iron from plant-based foods) is not as easily absorbed by the body.
Those who are committed to the vegan diet should consider taking iron supplements so they don’t become anemic. Unfortunately, iron supplements commonly have the side effect of constipation. Women of childbearing age are especially susceptible to anemia and should be particularly careful.
Type 2 diabetes
Understandably, carbohydrates tend to be a huge part of the vegan diet. For some people, eating too many carbs is a recipe for type 2 diabetes. This is because of their genetic makeup.
The TCF7L2 gene determines how well your body responds to insulin, which in turn affects how your blood sugar levels are addressed. Certain variations such as the T allele can put you at higher risk of insulin resistance and developing type 2 diabetes.
The AMY1 gene relates to salivary amylase, an enzyme found in your saliva that breaks down starches. If you have the A/T or T/T genotype of the AMY1 gene, your body is able to break down starches into usable sugars. This is great, unless you have the T allele variation of the TCF7L2 gene. In that case, you’re at a high risk of developing type 2 diabetes when on a high-carb diet.
Those who wish to become vegan should first undergo genetic testing to see if they can tolerate a high-carbohydrate diet. If they can’t, they should talk to a nutritionist to find ways to implement a vegan diet without relying too heavily on carbs.
Other health concerns
Something else for vegans to consider is which animal product replacements they’re relying on. Many of these replacements are highly processed, which can have nutritional consequences. Do your research beforehand to make sure you’re eating healthy and getting the nutrients your body needs while on a vegan diet.
Alternative diets to try
If you’re interested in starting a diet that helps you lose weight and get healthy, there are several alternatives to the vegan diet that might be a better choice for you, particularly if you don’t have the vegan gene. In fact, these diets may be more effective overall at helping you lose weight.
Of course, if you have decided to become vegan for religious, environmental, or ethical reasons, you may choose to continue your path. If possible, switch to being vegetarian in order to have more sources of animal protein.
Here are some healthy, balanced diets you might want to try.
The Mediterranean diet
With numerous studies behind it, the Mediterranean diet is often recommended by experts because it allows you to lose weight while also making you more healthy overall, even reducing your risk of cardiovascular disease. This diet emphasizes plant-based foods, healthy fats, fish, and seafood.
Many people choose the Mediterranean diet because it allows for delicious meals, small amounts of dairy, and even a daily glass of wine. Processed foods and added sugars are off the table, but at least you don’t have to limit your portion sizes.
The Paleo diet
The Paleo diet is practically the opposite of the vegan diet in that it focuses on lean meats, fish, and eggs. It is meant to reflect the diet of humans during the Paleolithic era, more than 2 million years ago. For that reason, it’s difficult to pinpoint exactly which foods are part of the Paleo diet. Thus, the Paleo diet is somewhat adaptable to your own needs.
The foundation of this diet is a lack of processed foods, refined grains, and legumes. Research has shown the Paleo diet to be effective in helping short-term weight loss. If you decide to start this diet, make sure you get enough calcium and vitamin D.
The sugar-free diet
Although this diet probably doesn’t sound appealing if you have a sweet tooth, it has tons of health benefits that could make it worthwhile for you. These include:
- Younger-looking skin
- More energy
- Weight loss
- Improved heart health
- Lower risk of diabetes
That being said, you don’t need to completely eliminate sugar from your diet if that seems impossible. Make an effort to cut back sugar for a limited time and see if it helps you meet your goals. You’re stronger than you might think.
Are you wondering whether you’re genetically equipped to handle a vegan diet? The best way to find out is by decoding your genes through our 360 DNA Report. You’ll discover whether you have the vegan gene as well as 37 other custom reports surrounding sleep, diet, nutrition, hormones, fitness, cardiovascular health, immunity, and behavior.
Each custom report includes your genetic tendencies as well as practical steps you can take to optimize your health and wellness. You are a unique individual, and you deserve health strategies that reflect your unique genome. Get started today.
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