Vegan diet has been around for long enough. Understood to possess several health benefits — like keeping cholesterol and diabetes in check, taking care of stomach and heart ailments — is it really meant for everyone?
Rashi Chowdhary, a diabetes educator, has answers for you. In an Instagram post, she wrote that “keeping genetic differences in mind can help us appreciate more of a balanced approach rather than completely giving up the proteins we’ve eaten ‘comfortably’ for years”.
She explained how the production of vitamin A — aka retinol — is affected because we have a genetic difference. When we eat, our body produces two types of vitamin A: “beta carotene, found in plant foods like most orange and yellow foods like mango, oranges, yellow peppers and sweet potato”. Secondly, retinol is solely found in eggs, meat derived from animals. “The retinol version of vitamin A is super important for your immune system, skin, eyes, reproductive health and dental bacteria. If you’re only eating a plant-based diet, be prepared that beta-carotene can’t do the magic that retinol does.”
Why is beta-carotene enzyme important?
In order to convert the beta-carotene produced from our food to vitamin A or retinol, our bodies produce a gene coding known as the BCMO1. “If you’re blessed with great BCOM1 enzymes then your body can work well on a plant-based diet. However, not everyone has these genes!”
She also mentioned that “some people have slower versions of the BCMO1 gene while others are blessed with a stronger version”. If by any chance this is the case with you, your body may not be able to convert the appropriate amounts of beta carotene to retinol to meet the requirements. Having said that, the best option is to get yourself tested, she suggested.
For those who regularly consume animal meat, the diabetes educator said their body “directly absorbs retinol from the meat and does not need the BCOM1 gene”. This is why there are fewer cases of those with vitamin A deficiency present.
The key to switching to a 100 per cent plant-based diet is by making a connection between “what you eat and how you feel and do it for a while till you yourself know what works for you”.