Vegan Omega-3 – Explained


Our ‘Explained’ series of posts aims to simplify the information surrounding vegan nutrition. This article discusses vegan Omega-3.

Key Points

  • All 3 types of Omega-3 fatty acids are important but the evidence suggests EPA and DHA to be beneficial.
  • Omega-3 improves brain function, reduces the risk of inflammation and possibly some chronic illnesses such as heart disease and Alzheimer’s.
  • Vegans will naturally have lower levels of EPA and DHA because they do not eat fatty fish and the body’s ability to convert ALA is limited.
  • Omega-3 deficiency is more common than people think (dry skin/poor sleep).
  • Vegans should aim to increase their intake of ALA by eating more ALA rich-foods (listed in this article).
  • Improving your Omega-3 to Omega-6 ratio is important for health and to reap benefits of Omega-3.
  • You can reduce Omega-6 intake by limiting processed junk foods high in processed oils.
  • You could consider taking a DHA supplement to help with Omega-3 levels and for ease of mind. Although, the supplements can be expensive.
  • A supplement for EPA is not necessary but many supplements include both EPA and DHA.

Importance of Omega-3

Omega-3 fatty acids are an essential part of our nutrition. They have been shown to have considerable health benefits including:

So, Omega-3 is pretty important and it should be something you are aware of and incorporating into your diet.

Omega-3 improves brain health and function

Where Can I Find Omega-3?

This is where it becomes slightly difficult for vegans. The best sources of Omega-3 are fatty fish such as salmon, mackerel and tuna.

There are 3 types of Omega-3 fatty acids:

  • ALA (alpha-linolenic acid)
  • EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid)
  • DHA (docosahexaenoic acid)

Plant foods contain just one of these; ALA. In order for ALA to be effective, it needs to be converted to EPA and DHA in order for us to reap the benefits of Omega-3 listed at the start of this article.

To make things even more difficult the body’s ability to convert ALA is limited. A 5% conversion rate for EPA and just 0.5% for DHA.

So, what should a vegan do?

It’s actually quite simple. You need to make sure you are getting a lot of ALA-rich foods in your diet. Put these down on your essentials list:

As a vegan, you need to make sure you are getting a lot of ALA-rich foods in your diet.


Omega-3 & Omega-6 Ratio

Scientists believe our ratio of Omega-3 and Omega-6 is very important and too much Omega-6 actually could actually increase our risk of inflammation. In fact, some scientists believe an unbalanced ratio of Omega-3 and Omega-6 may be the cause of many modern day dietary issues.

Chronic inflammation is thought to possibly be the driver of some serious health issues including depression, heart disease, diabetes, arthritis, metabolic syndrome, Alzheimer’s and many types of cancer.

Unlike some would have you believe getting enough Omega-3 isn’t a vegan specific issue. It’s a concern across the entire world’s population, mostly because of junk food. Junk foods are very high in Omega-6 because they contain excessive amounts of processed oils. All of which are high in Omega-6.

Here is a breakdown of oils and their Omega-6 content. I would suggest sticking to coconut oil and olive oil. Limit fast foods as much as possible because they will most likely contain either soybean, sunflower or corn oil.

It’s thought that a balanced intake of Omega-3 and Omega-6 is necessary to help reduce your risk of inflammation and reap the possible health benefits of Omega-3.

Omega-3 Deficiency

It’s believed that Omega-3 deficiency is far more common than people think. There are mild symptoms including dry skin and poor sleep that people would not usually associate with an Omega-3 deficiency.

Omega-3 deficiency symptoms include:

  • Dry skin
  • Brittle nails
  • Rough patches of skin
  • Small bumps (like chicken skin)
  • Dandruff
  • Dry eyes
  • Irritability
  • Mood swings
  • Low frustration tolerance
  • Fatigue
  • Poor sleep quality

If you feel you maybe Omega-3 deficient, go to a doctor and get tested.


How Much Do I Need?

Below are the RDA’s for vegan Omega-3 ALA. Generally, dieticians suggest that vegans should try increasing the amount of ALA-rich foods in their diet and reduce the amount of Omega-6 (junk foods/processed oils).

You can try to meet these RDA’s by incorporating the ALA-rich foods & oils listed in this article into your diet. Here’s a reminder:

  • Flaxseeds Ground
  • Walnuts
  • Hemp Seeds
  • Chia Seeds
  • Pumpkin Seeds
  • Brussel Sprouts
  • Tofu & Tempeh
  • Edamame Beans
  • Avocados

Recommended Oils

A simple and easy way to ensure you are getting a good amount vegan Omega-3 ALA in your diet is to incorporate ALA-rich oils into your diet. Always aim for organic, cold-pressed and non-GMO where possible.


Supplements

If you are actively increasing your intake of ALA and meeting the requirement then you shouldn’t need an EPA supplement. Many of the Omega-3 supplements contain EPA anyway.

You could take a DHA supplement as a precaution and ease your mind over your Omega-3 intake. Studies have shown that Algal supplements are just as effective at raising DHA levels as eating salmon.

Recommended DHA Supplements

Studies have shown that Algal supplements are just as effective at raising DHA levels as eating salmon.


Superfoods

If you have the money to spare here are some superfoods worth considering but are not essential. They do have a lot of other health benefits worth taking into account.

Organic Wakame Seaweed

Use in miso soup. A great source of ALA and calcium

Dried Seaweed Snack

Great snack, naturally gluten free and non-GMO certified.

Walnut Butter

You’ve probably had peanut, almond and cashew butter but what about walnut butter? Non-GMO, gluten-free, no preservatives and no high fructose corn syrup. Just simple natural goodness.

Hemp Milk

Smooth, creamy and a great source of ALA.

Walnut Milk

Another great source of ALA and great tasting too! Try make your own.


 Bottom Line on Vegan Omega-3

  • All 3 types of Omega-3 fatty acids are important but the evidence suggests EPA and DHA are beneficial.
  • Omega-3 improves brain function, reduces the risk of inflammation and possibly some chronic illnesses such as heart disease and Alzheimer’s.
  • Vegans will naturally have lower levels of EPA and DHA because they do not eat fatty fish and the body’s ability to convert ALA is limited.
  • Omega-3 deficiency is more common than people think (dry skin/poor sleep).
  • Vegans should aim to increase the amount of their ALA intake via ALA rich-foods listed in this article.
  • Improving your Omega-3 to Omega-6 ratio is important.
  • You can reduce Omega-6 intake by limiting processed junk foods high in processed oils.
  • You could consider taking a DHA supplement to help with Omega-3 levels and for ease of mind. Although, the supplements can be expensive.

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