Is Algae Vegan? A Guide to Plant-Based Living
On a vegan diet, it can be difficult to ensure you are getting all of the nutrients you require — but algae is a vegan food option with plenty of nutrients.
Because a plant-based diet avoids animal products entirely, there are several nutrients that vegans may miss out on. As a result, individuals following a vegan diet should take extra effort to obtain the nutrients they need through diet or supplementation.
Fortunately for vegans, there are many effective sources of commonly missed nutrients, like nutritional yeast and fortified plant milks. However, vegans may be underrating one key source of nutrients. At iwi, we are happy to introduce the power of algae and all the benefits it has to offer.
What Is Algae?
Algae are a diverse set of aquatic organisms that produce energy through photosynthesis but lack the structures of plants, like leaves, stems, and roots. One can consider algae a loose term as it can refer to anything from microscopic single-celled organisms to multicellular seaweeds that can be over 100 feet in height.
Nobody knows for sure how many species of algae there are, but there may be anywhere from tens of thousands to over a million different species. Between the many species, algae can survive in either freshwater or saltwater.
Algae serves many functions in an ecosystem, producing oxygen, serving as food for fish, and even creating nutrient-rich oil. In the past few decades, humans have also started to embrace the many capabilities of algae. Algae is incorporated into many foods and nutritional supplements, and is known for its high omega-3 content.
What Is Omega-3?
Omega-3s are polyunsaturated fats found in cells throughout the body, making up cell membranes, providing energy, and supporting several functions in the body.
Although there are many types of omega-3 fatty acids, omega-3 is typically known in three main forms:
- Alpha linolenic acid (ALA), a short-chain precursor form
- Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA)
- Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA)
ALA is an essential fatty acid because the body cannot produce it independently. Meanwhile, the body can create both DHA and EPA from ALA, but only in very small, often insufficient, amounts. You need a sufficient amount of all three nutrients, but some of them are easier to obtain from your daily diet than others.
ALA omega-3s are commonly found in sources like plant oils, nuts, and leafy green vegetables. DHA and EPA omega-3s, often called marine omega-3s, are most often found together in fatty fish, like salmon, mackerel, and tuna, or in the form of fish oil. As a result, people can obtain healthy amounts of ALA without issue. However, many still benefit from an additional supplement for EPA and DHA, especially when on a plant-based diet that avoids fish.
Is Algae Vegan?
Algae offers plenty of great benefits, which is great news for vegans, and algae is completely vegan. Despite the many species of algae that exist, an alga is a type of plant at the end of the day. Algae is not only completely vegan but also a rare source of DHA and EPA, which are not found abundantly in any other plant-based foods.
Algae production is also cruelty-free and sustainable, produced in the desert using only salt water ponds, plenty of sunshine, and a few basic nutrients added to the water. Unlike other sources of omega-3s, no animals are involved in any part of the production process. Algae production minimizes harm to the environment since it uses no toxic herbicides or pesticides and creates no waste that contaminates the surrounding environment. This is a huge benefit considering the impact traditional farming can have on surrounding ecosystems.
Not only is algae production cruelty-free in itself, but it also provides an excellent alternative to fish and animal farming. Consuming algae for its omega-3 nutrients helps protect krill and other fish by eliminating the need for fish oil. In the future, algae may even reduce the need for animal farming altogether. With a high-protein content and nutrient density, algae could overtake animals as a key part of the food chain.
Altogether, algae offer the perfect solution for vegans looking to supplement their diet with omega-3s and embrace a new form of nutrition that can change how we think and live. In many ways, a vegan lifestyle is about reducing harm, and algae do just that.
What Are the Benefits of Algae?
Algae offers a world of benefits that both vegans and non-vegans can enjoy. From its impact on your health to its impact on the environment, algae are an admirable source of nutrition.
From its nutrient density to its sustainable production, algae may just be a crucial part of the future.
A small subset of algae is rich in omega-3 nutrients, specifically DHA and EPA. Omega-3s sourced from algae are also absorbed into the body much more efficiently than other forms of the nutrient. The body can absorb omega-3s from algae 50% better than from sources like krill or fish oil. This means that producing 7.2 pounds of algae can provide the same nutrients as 13,600 krill and 110 fish, providing a far more sustainable source of omega-3s.
Some types of algae, specifically nori and chlorella, also provide another nutrient commonly missing from vegan diets: vitamin B12. Vitamin B12 is found in eggs, fish, meat, and dairy, making it hard to obtain when sticking to plant-based foods. However, these two types of algae can provide a fantastic solution. It appears that algae get their B12 content through a symbiotic relationship with bacteria in their environment, making nori and chlorella a great source of this vital nutrient for vegans.
Algae are also very protein-dense, to the point that algae can produce seven times the amount of complete protein that soybeans can, using the same amount of land. Overall, this aquatic organism is so efficient in the nutrients that its possibilities are endless.
Many people avoid fish because of the risk of contaminants like mercury in rivers and oceans. Since nutritional algae are farmed using salty water in the desert, far away from the oceans, algae are free from harmful marine contaminants.
Algae is highly thought of as the food of the future because it is sustainable and scalable. Only three ingredients are necessary to produce algae: saltwater, non-arable sunny land, nutrients, and CO2. This means the production process provides valuable algae while preserving valuable resources like freshwater and soil. In its production, algae also releases oxygen into the air, offering yet another environmental benefit. Algae produces around half of the oxygen in the atmosphere, proving what a powerful contributor it is.
iwi currently has hundreds of acres of land dedicated to producing algae, taking unused land and turning it into farms that could feed millions of people. iwi also recycles approximately 97% of the saltwater used in the system, preserving precious freshwater resources.
Ultimately, this powerful plant has a long list of benefits for vegans, non-vegans, and the planet as a whole. With a large concentration of nutrients, algae has become a popular supplement, but it may become even more well-known in the future as a staple food. Algae offers so many benefits that its power may even be harnessed as fuel for clean energy in the near future. For now, it offers an unparalleled plant-based omega-3 supplement, giving vegans a valuable addition to their daily nutrient intake.
Do Vegans Need Omega-3?
Vegans need omega-3s just like everyone else. However, the fact that there are multiple types of omega-3 fatty acids can be misleading. For example, there are many plant-based sources of ALA, like plant oils, leafy green vegetables, and seeds. This abundance of plant-based sources of ALA can create the assumption that vegans do not need any additional forms of omega-3s. However, this is not true, especially since there are so few plant-based sources of DHA and EPA omega-3s.
Vegans still need all three forms of omega-3. Although ALA can be converted into DHA and EPA by the body, these conversions only happen in very small amounts. Studies have shown that in some men, only about 8% of ALA was converted into EPA, while 4% or less was converted to DHA. These numbers were approximately 21% and 9% in women, respectively.
Experts recommend that everyone maintain a consistent daily intake of omega-3 fatty acids. Adequate intake for adult men is 1.6 grams per day. For adult women, an adequate intake is around 1.1 grams. During pregnancy or lactation, women should strive for a slightly higher amount of omega-3s, at 1.4 grams and 1.3 grams, respectively.
Consuming ALA alone may lead to deficits in the other two fatty acids unless you are willing to eat pounds of nuts and seeds for your body to have enough to convert, which is unlikely. Because of these low conversion rates, supplementation is one of the best ways for vegans to obtain DHA and EPA. Because plant-based foods are also not rich in DHA or EPA, algae is an excellent dietary supplement for vegans.
Algae is the richest plant-based source of DHA and EPA and is one of the most foundational sources of the nutrient in nature. Fish are considered the most potent source of DHA and EPA. However, it is not well-known that fish are only so rich in these fatty acids because their diet heavily consists of microalgae. Vegans can obtain these two vital nutrients directly from the source by consuming algae and eliminating the “middle man.”
What Are the Benefits of Omega-3s?
Omega-3 fatty acids provide several important benefits. In general, omega-3 fatty acids are most known for supporting cardiovascular health. A high intake of omega-3 fatty acids may support healthy blood pressure, circulation, and cholesterol levels. These fatty acids can help maintain healthy levels of fats and triglycerides in the blood, supporting blood flow and the heart. These fatty acids have many great potential benefits for heart health.
Each type of fatty acid can also provide benefits. For example, DHA supports healthy brain development during both pregnancy and childhood. DHA is also found in the eyes and supports retinal function.
Meanwhile, EPA helps support healthy blood pressure, mood, and overall emotional wellness. Together, the two fatty acids help support cognitive functioning, like memory, concentration, and motor skills. Omega-3 also helps support joint health by reducing the amount of pressure on the joints.
Most of the research surrounding the benefits of omega-3s focuses on EPA and DHA, with little research centered on ALA.
Incorporate the Power of Algae into Your Day
Algae is one of the most powerful sources of DHA and EPA omega-3s, and it is completely vegan, making it a great supplement to a plant-based diet. iwi’s omega-3-rich supplements are formulated with algae to provide an excellent source of bioavailable omega-3 for vegans, vegetarians, and omnivores alike. Our Omega-3 Minis are smaller without sacrificing any amount of omega-3, making them great for your young ones because omega-3 intake matters at every age.
These mini supplements contain the same full spectrum of healthy fats, including omega-6, omega-7, and omega-9, along with nutrients like carotenoids, antioxidants, and chlorophyll--all in a smaller capsule size than our original Omega-3 supplement.
These products are just a few examples of the potential of algae. iwi is proud to offer a complete family of all-natural plant-based supplements that offer a wide range of health benefits for individuals, regardless of lifestyle. All of our algae is sustainably sourced to promote your health and the environment's health. Try our Omega-3 Minis today and experience the benefits.
HOW MANY SPECIES OF ALGAE ARE THERE? | National Library of Medicine