“You are what you eat” is only something your mother says to you when she worries about how much instant ramen you have in your kitchen cabinet. Or is it? A new study found that what you eat can literally change your genetics — if you’re a vegetarian.
The study, published in the scientific journal Molecular Biology and Evolution, found that over generations, a vegetarian diet can actually cause people to mutate (sadly, in a much less cool way than X-Men). Populations with a primarily vegetarian diet have a higher rate of a genetic mutation that allows them to convert plant nutrients into the fatty acids, like omega-6 and omega-3, which humans need for muscle growth and to keep our brains oiled. The mutation isn’t needed in meat-eating populations, because those fatty acids are naturally found in food, like meat, eggs, and dairy.
Tom Brenna, the lead researcher in the study, told Research Gate that the findings show mutation could, ultimately, be harmful for traditionally vegetarian communities, due to the growing proliferation of fatty-acid-rich food and oils. Because vegetarian bodies will be making their own nutrients and absorbing them from new foods, vegetarians will have a dangerous surplus. While omega-6 and omega-3 acids are necessary for important health functions, they also heighten the risk of heart disease and cancer.
If you’re a vegetarian, don’t run screaming to the butcher shop just yet. The mutation has only been found in people whose ancestors have been eating vegetarian for generations, so if you’re a vegetarian by choice, it doesn’t apply. And if you do come from a traditionally vegetarian background, there's still not that much to worry about. The best route to nutritional health is the same for everyone — just be conscientious.