can vegans get enough omega-3?

Let’s do a quick recap on fats.

Omega-3’s are polyunsaturated fats. There are 11 different types of omega-3 polyunsaturated fats. Three of which are widely studied: EPA, DHA, and ALA.

Consuming any type of omega-3 fats is great for you, however, the most widely studied beneficial omega-3’s are EPA and DHA. Direct food sources of EPA and DHA are found in salmon, caviar, mackerel, anchovy, tuna, and oysters. They can also be supplemented by fish oil, krill oil, and algae oil.

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Plant-based sources of omega-3 are high in ALA, which the body converts to the more beneficial EPA and DHA. Foods high in ALA are flaxseed oil, flaxseeds, chia seeds, sprouted radish seeds, winter squash, leafy greens.

The plant-based foods listed above don’t naturally have EPA and DHA. Luckily, our bodies can synthesize ALA to EPA and DHA. The problem is our body doesn’t efficiently convert ALA to EPA and DHA. In fact, the conversion rate is usually around eight percent. That’s pretty low.

You would have to eat a lot of walnuts drizzled with flax oil before you would get anywhere near the amount of EPA and DHA if you had a fillet of salmon.

These plants are still worth consuming in your diet. Just recognize they aren’t going to deliver as potent of a source of EPA and DHA. There is one plant that is the exception to the rule – and I promise to tell you all about it.

  • Vegan sources of omega-3 are high in ALA
  • ALA is not a bad fat, EPA and DHA have highly desirable health benefits
  • Our body can convert ALA to EPA and DHA but it isn’t very effective
  • Therefore its difficult for vegans to get EPA and DHA from plants
  • Unless you supplement with algae oil (see below)

omega-3 supplements for vegans

It’s true that flax seeds, vegetable oils, walnuts, and leafy greens are rich in ALA – but as we learned earlier in this article, they don’t have a great conversion rate. Contrary to popular belief, there is a way to get adequate DHA /EPA from a plant.

The single plant-based exception comes from the sea.

Marine algae is a direct rich source of DHA and EPA. This makes algae oil the best vegan source of omega-3 fatty acids. It’s a single-celled organism that derives its energy from sunlight via photosynthesis. This makes algae a rich source of phytochemicals. Algae is also full of important minerals like iodine, magnesium, potassium, and calcium.

Algae oil supplements are recommended at lower doses than fish oil because they have a higher concentration of DHA. Taking one to two grams of algae oil daily will result in elevated blood levels of DHA and EPA.

Cold water fish and fish oil supplements are a good source of EPA and DHA. However, my favorite vegan alternative can bypass commercial fishing and oceanic pollutants, because algae oil can be synthesized straight from the lab. Contrary to popular belief, there is a way to get adequate DHA /EPA from a plant. It’s true that flax seeds, vegetable oils, walnuts, and leafy greens are rich in ALA – but as we learned earlier in this article, they don’t have a great conversion rate.

The single plant-based exception comes from the sea.

Marine algae is a direct rich source of DHA and EPA. This makes algae oil the best vegan source of omega-3 fatty acids. It’s a single-celled organism that derives its energy from sunlight via photosynthesis. This makes algae a rich source of phytochemicals. Algae is also full of important minerals like iodine, magnesium, potassium, and calcium.

Algae oil supplements are recommended at lower doses than fish oil because they have a higher concentration of DHA. Taking one to two grams of algae oil daily will result in elevated blood levels of DHA and EPA.

5 plant-based sources of omega-3

FLAX SEEDS

Flax seeds are a good source of fiber, manganese, thiamin, magnesium, and phosphorus. They have these perfect hard shells protecting the oils within. This is why it’s important to not buy pre-ground flax seeds. The unsaturated fats inside the seed can easily go rancid. Remember oils can go rancid from three major things: heat, air, and light.

You can soak the seeds and blend them into a smoothie, or you can grind them in your coffee grinder right before adding them on top of salads or soups. Any ground flax should be stored in the fridge in an airtight container for up to a week. Within days the precious fats can oxidize, making them not only useless but even harmful as rancid oils can harbor free radicals. Purchase whole flax seeds and keep them in the fridge or freezer. Grind them before you eat to get a fresh omega-3 treat.

FLAX OIL

Flax oil is somewhat precarious to me. Without knowing when it was extracted, how much heat was used, or how long its been in transport – ya it’s got me questioning its freshness.

I understand the appeal of flax oil. You don’t have to grind the seeds every time you want to eat some, and it can be added easily into everything from soup to smoothies. If you do purchase flax oil look for dark or opaque bottles and make sure to buy it from the refrigerated section. If you see it sitting on a warm store shelf just walk away.

GREEN THINGS

Brussels sprouts, spinach, and kale all offer a little bit of omega-3 fatty acids. I mean – do I really need to explain the importance of eating your greens in 2018? Fiber, phytonutrients, vitamins, mineral – just put them on your plate.

WALNUTS

Another favorite food on mine that also happens to be packed full of fiber and beneficial oils.It’s fun when something that looks like your brain is also good for it. Nutrients profile includes manganese, copper, phosphorus, and magnesium. Again, I often buy nuts in bulk and store them in my fridge or freezer. Even the oils inside of nuts are able to go rancid. Besides eating them straight as a snack – I love to make nut butter, nut milk, and dressings out of walnuts.

CHIA SEEDS

Chia seeds are easy to eat. Make them the base of dessert puddings, they can thicken up raw jams, be added into smoothies, or simply sit atop your oatmeal.  Just be aware that chia seeds expand when they come in contact with a liquid. It’s not a great idea to shove a spoonful of dried chia seeds directly into your mouth. Either soak them in water first or add them into another food that will help get them down your throat.

Chia seeds are full of fiber and are a good source of manganese, calcium, and phosphorus. Just sprinkle them on stuff.

Like flax seeds, the omega-3 oils are encased inside the chia seeds. To get the maximum benefits of the oil its best to grind these as well. But again, not long before you plant to eat them. I buy my chia seeds in bulk and store them in a glass jar in my fridge. A tablespoon usually makes its way into my smoothies one way or another.

TAKEAWAY

can vegans get enough omega-3?

Yes.

But let’s remember it’s not likely going to be by eating flax.

Even if you are adding flax oil on your salad, having walnuts for your snacks, and consume chia pudding every night for dessert – it probably still won’t be enough. Why? Because these plant-based foods are high in ALA. ALA does not convert well in the body and we want that beneficial EPA and DHA.

If you aren’t going to eat fish it’s worth considering supplements. As with all additions of new things to your diet talk to your doctor. Algae oil supplements are no exception.

2018-09-28T02:16:01+00:00