Mediterranean Diet and Your Genes

This website hopes to educate the reader on how a person’s genes make a difference in the individual body’s response to dietary choices.  Some people are awesome at breaking down dietary carbohydrates; others are champs at converting carrots into vitamin A.

But a recent study pointed out not only an interaction between genes and diet –  but an interesting way of how genetics may influence the type of diet we choose.

The study looked at interactions between a genetic variant in the angiotensin II gene and dietary choices in Croatia. The country of Croatia lies along the Mediterranean Sea on the southern coast of Europe. Part of the population eats a more Mediterranean-style diet, while others eat a Continental or more traditional European style diet. This makes for a unique opportunity to study the health effects of the Mediterranean-style diet.

First, let’s take a look at how the researchers are defining each diet type. From the study: “The Mediterranean-type of diet included a proportionally high daily consumption of olive oil, fruits, and vegetables, consumption of fish two to three times a week, consumption of white meat instead of red meat, and consumption of nuts at least three times a week.”

“The Continental diet included high consumption of red meat and meat products, small quantities of fruits and vegetables, and rare consumption of fish without olive oil. The diet that included the elements of Mediterranean-type and Continental-type of diet was categorized as a mixed-type of diet.”

The study participants (n=528) were split pretty evenly, with half having metabolic syndrome and a half without metabolic syndrome. Metabolic syndrome is kind of a catch-all term that means the participants had at least three of the following conditions: high blood pressure, high blood sugar, excess body fat around the waist, high triglycerides, and abnormal cholesterol levels.

The Mediterranean-style diet reduced the risk of metabolic syndrome and reduced high triglycerides in other studies.

Researchers looked at the interaction with the angiotensin II gene involved in both lipogenesis (creation of triglycerides) and the creation of fat cells (adipogenesis). Additionally, variants of this gene are associated with high blood pressure. The variant they sequenced for this study was rs5186.

In this Croatian population, those carrying the risk allele were at a higher risk for high triglycerides. But the researchers also found that those carrying the risk allele were about twice as likely to have chosen to normally eat a Mediterranean-style diet.

So you have a two-way interaction going on: a risk allele that usually causes higher triglyceride levels, but also a natural tendency to go with a diet that will lower triglycerides. Balanced. Amazing how you can instinctively know what diet works best for you.

Genetic variant linked to the Mediterranean diet:

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AGTR1 gene:

Check your genetic data for rs5186 (23andMe v4, v5; AncestryDNA):

  • A/A: typical
  • A/C: increased risk of hypertension and high triglycerides, more likely to choose the Mediterranean diet[ref]
  • C/C: increased risk of hypertension and high triglycerides, more likely to choose the Mediterranean diet

Members: Your genotype for rs5186 is .


If you are a carrier of the rs5186 AC or CC genotype and have high triglycerides, a Mediterranean-style diet may be beneficial for your health.

Wondering how to implement a Mediterranean style diet? The basics are fairly simple: fresh vegetables (local, in season), fish, olive oil, and whole grains are all staples.

Check out some great Mediterranean recipe ideas on The Gourmet RD or invest in a new cookbook.

Related Articles and Genes:

Do you carry the Hunter-Gatherer or the Farmer Genetic Variant?
Our ancient ancestors lived much differently than we do today. They were hunter-gatherers, living off of fish, meat, and plant foods that they gathered. A huge shift took place when those hunter-gatherers began farming, growing grains, and storing them so that there would be food available all year.

Ancestral Diet: Omega-3 and Omega-6 Fatty Acids
Olive oil, grapeseed oil, avocado oil, — cold expeller pressed, extra virgin hand-squeezed oil from pine nuts grown in a pristine Siberian forest? Am I the only one who is confused about which kind of fat is the best? It turns out, like most things, that the answer to the ‘best type of fat’ question depends on your genes.

About the Author:
Debbie Moon is the founder of Genetic Lifehacks. Fascinated by the connections between genes, diet, and health, her goal is to help you understand how to apply genetics to your diet and lifestyle decisions. Debbie has a BS in engineering and an MSc in biological sciences from Clemson University. Debbie combines an engineering mindset with a biological systems approach to help you understand how genetic differences impact your optimal health.