Mediterranean Diet and Your Genes

This website is all about how your genes make a difference in your 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 that genetics may influence the type of diet that we choose.

The study (Can the choice of diet undermine the potential genetic risk of A/T1R 1166A>C gene polymorphism?)  looked at the interaction between a genetic variant in the angiotensin II gene and dietary choices in Croatia. The country of Croatia lies along the Mediterranean. Part of the population eats a more Mediterranean style diet and part eats a Continental 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 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 has been shown in other studies to reduce the risk of metabolic syndrome and to reduce high triglycerides.

Researchers looked at the interaction with the angiotensin II gene, which is involved in both lipogenesis (triglycerides) and the creation of fat cells (adipogenesis) – as well as being associated with high blood pressure. The variant they sequenced 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.

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

  • A/A: normal
  • 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


This one seems obvious! If you are a carrier of the A/C or C/C 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.


Author Information:   Debbie Moon
Debbie Moon is the founder of Genetic Lifehacks. She holds a Master of Science in Biological Sciences from Clemson University. Debbie is a science communicator who is passionate about explaining evidence-based health information. Her goal with Genetic Lifehacks is to bridge the gap between scientific research and the lay person's ability to utilize that information. To contact Debbie, visit the contact page.