Omega-3 fats are a foundational part of our bodies' cells, so they are an important part of our diet. Obtaining omega-3 through diet or supplementation helps support and maintain the healthy function of many systems in the body.
For vegans, getting all the necessary forms of omega-3 can be challenging sincethe most known source of omega-3s is seafood. A diet rich in omega-3s often includes fatty fish, like mackerel, tuna, and salmon. Many individuals looking to get more of the fatty acids may also choose to consume fish oil supplements.
For those who stick to consuming plants or do not like fish, these abundant sources of omega-3s are obviously out of the picture. Fortunately for vegans, there are still many sources of omega-3 to choose from on a plant-based diet.
What Is Omega-3?
Omega-3s are polyunsaturated fats that make up the building blocks for cell membranes throughout the body. The three main omega-3 fatty acids are:
- Omega-3 precursor alpha-linolenic acid (ALA)
- Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA)
- Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA)
ALA omega-3 fatty acids are often found in plant oils, seeds, and nuts, while DHA and EPA fatty acids are found in fish and other seafood. ALA is considered an essential fatty acid because the body cannot make it, and it must be obtained through diet.
All three fatty acids are vital to the body’s functions. ALA is the most common form of omega-3s in a typical diet, as it is present in more foods. As a result, ALA does not require supplementation to receive sufficient amounts.
Although ALA is plentiful in foods, it can only be converted into the other forms of omega-3s in the body in very small amounts. ALA can be converted into EPA and DHA, but only at minimal levels. Generally, only 5% of ALA is converted into EPA, and under 0.5% of that is converted into DHA. Therefore, it is important to receive significant amounts of both EPA and DHA omega-3s through diet or supplementation.
What Are the Benefits of Omega-3s?
Omega-3s can play a role in supporting many systems in the body and can support a healthy heart, eye health, and normal cognitive function. These fatty acids are most well-known for their ability to support cardiovascular function, including supporting healthy blood pressure and maintaining cholesterol levels already within the healthy range.
Each form of omega-3 fatty acids provides its own benefits for the body. For example, DHA helps support cognitive health, including a strong memory and healthy motor function. For pregnant women, a significant intake of DHA can maintain healthy fetal development and brain health. Meanwhile, EPA omega-3s can help support emotional wellness and a healthy mood. Regularly including a supplement or food sources of omega-3s into your diet can help you maximize the potential benefits.
What Are Some Ways for Vegans To Get Omega-3?
It is recommended that adults receive between 1.1g and 1.6g of omega-3 fatty acids per day. Between ALA, DHA, and EPA, there are a variety of sources to obtain these recommended amounts. Although, for vegans, some are easier to come by than others. Almost all plant sources of omega-3 are rich in ALA but do not provide DHA or EPA. Regardless, vegans still do have several options to get all forms of omega-3.
Plant seeds are some of the best plant sources for vegans to obtain omega-3. Each of the following provides beneficial amounts of ALA, the precursor to omega-3:
- Chia seeds
- Hemp seeds
Seeds contain higher concentrations of omega-3s than most other sources. One ounce (28g) of chia seeds offers 4,915mg of this fat, while the same amount of flaxseeds contains a stunning 6,388mg, and three tablespoons of hemp seeds contain about 2,600mg.
Each option also includes multiple other nutrients that make it a great addition to any diet. Plant seeds are excellent sources of fiber, protein, and minerals like copper or zinc.
The great news is that seeds are extremely easy to incorporate into your diet. All three of these ALA sources go great in a smoothie, in yogurt, or on top of toast. Seeds can also be used in baking, making a nutritious addition to granola bars, muffins, and more. If you want a powerful breakfast, then seeds can also help boost the nutritional value of your oatmeal. Overall, seeds are easy to incorporate into the foods you already eat. Whether you prefer to use hemp seeds, flaxseeds, or chia seeds is up to you.
2. Brussels Sprouts
Though brussels sprouts do not have as many fans as they may deserve, they do contain an admirable amount of ALA omega-3. One serving of brussels sprouts provides 36.3 mg of ALA. Cooked brussels sprouts can provide even more of this precursor to omega-3, as the cooking process can triple the number of bioavailable fats.
These little green vegetables are also abundant in other nutrients, offering even more reason to include them in your diet. Brussels sprouts are an excellent source of vitamin C, vitamin K, folate, carotenoids, and fiber.
Give these underappreciated vegetables a shot by including them as a side in your daily meals. Brussels sprouts taste great when steamed. To improve taste and multiply the amount of ALA omega-3 you receive, you can serve them with a little drizzle of olive oil and add some salt and pepper to taste.
Walnuts are another great source of ALA, providing a substantial portion of your recommended intake in just one serving. One ounce of walnuts contains 2,542 mg of omega-3 fatty acids. Just like the other items on this list so far, walnuts only provide omega-3s in the form of ALA.
Because they are mostly comprised of healthy fats, walnuts provide several health benefits. Studies have shown that regularly eating walnuts can help support cognitive functions, like memory and motor development.
Including walnuts in your diet is easy, as you can add walnuts to yogurt, sprinkle them on top of smoothies, stir them into cakes or cookies, or snack on them directly.
4. Plant Oil
Another great way that vegans get omega-3 is through various types of plant oils. Some of the best sources include:
- Flaxseed oil
- Pumpkin seed oil
- Perilla seed oil
- Walnut oil
Oils are easy to include in your diet as they can be used for drizzling over the tops of prepared foods, in salad dressings, or in smoothies.
5. Algae Oil
Algae oil is such a unique source of omega-3 that it stands in its own category. As we’ve discussed so far in this article, all of the vegan sources of omega-3 are found as the precursor short-chain fatty acid, ALA. When considering significant omega-3 sources, most people’s first thought is seafood, as they provide abundant amounts of EPA and DHA.
However, the fish that many individuals eat for these two nutrients do not actually produce these two fatty acids on their own. Fish are so rich in EPA and DHA because their diet includes such high amounts of microalgae.
By consuming algae oil, vegans cut out the middle process altogether and receive their plentiful amounts of omega-3 straight from the source. Not only does algae oil provide the only plant-based dietary source of DHA and EPA, but it also provides better absorption rates than fish sources.
Algae oil is often consumed as its own supplement, similar to how one would consume fish oil. In fact, algae oil supplements are most likely to be found in the same section of the supplement aisle where fish oil products are found, and are an easy alternative for anyone living a plant-based lifestyle.
Since it is challenging for vegans to receive DHA and EPA omega-3s from plant sources, finding a supplement that includes each type can be the perfect solution. The most powerful supplements are made with algae, which directly provides DHA and EPA omega-3s without requiring your body to make any conversions to access these nutrients.
Not only do supplements provide a significant amount of omega-3s, but they also nourish your body by providing a balance of other nutrients, like omega-6 fatty acids, omega-9s, polar lipids, and more. By choosing a supplement rich in these nutrients, you can potentially receive additional health benefits and even increase your absorption of omega-3s.
What Are Additional Sources of Omega-3?
If none of the above sources sound appealing to you by some chance, then you are not out of options. While these sources contain only small amounts of ALA omega-3, they still provide nourishment. These include:
- Kidney beans
All of these sources provide great options for adding to your ALA omega-3 intake, but they are not as rich as the above options, so if you do not find yourself consuming a lot of these foods, then it may be a good idea to consider adding in a supplement to ensure you receive all your recommended intake.
Boost Your Vegan Omega-3 Intake
Finding vegan sources of omega-3 is not as challenging as one might think. However, getting all three omega-3s through your diet can be challenging. Fortunately, there are many sources of ALA and a few select sources of DHA and EPA. By finding the right supplement, you can support your diet with a vegan source of omega-3s that takes away the stress of trying to receive all of the nutrients you need.
At iwi life, we strive to support your health while maintaining sustainable practices along the way, so we love to support our vegan friends whenever possible. Our supplements are made from efficient plant-based ingredients that maximize your body’s ability to absorb the nutrients you need.
Our algae-based, vegan omega-3 supplement is great for supporting your brain, heart, and overall health. Explore our complete array of supplements to experience even more plant-based nutrients that can benefit your cholesterol levels, brain, and more.
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