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Vegan Omega 3 Foods: How to Get All You Need on a Vegan Diet | Soul in the RawIf you are vegan, this blog post is a crucial read for you. You absolutely need to pay attention to omega 3’s, and make sure to eat enough omega 3 foods, as well as possibly even take supplements.

And, if you have been getting your omega-3 from fatty fish or fish oil – you will want to pay extremely close attention and read this to the end.

In this important post, you will learn all about essential fatty acids, why vegans need to pay close attention when it comes to omega-3, the omega 3 foods you must eat, and why fish eaters are at great risk. Lastly, you’ll learn exactly what you need to do to be absolutely sure that you’re getting enough omega-3 on a healthy vegan diet.

About Omega-3 Fatty Acids

ALA and LA are two essential fats that your body cannot make. Therefore, you must get them from food. LA is an omega-6 fat, while ALA is an omega-3 fat. These fats are important for your immune system, brain, nerves, and eyes.

Omega-3’s are anti-inflammatory, making them an important food in healing disease and fighting free radicals.

There are three omega-3 fatty acids, ALA, EPA, and DHA:

  • ALA is a short-chain omega-3 fatty acid that is found in small amounts in animals, and some plant foods like soy, walnuts, flax, hemp (try these vegan chicken nuggets with hemp sauce) and chia (try these chia pudding recipes). Human bodies do not make their own ALA – and this is why ALA is called an essential fatty acid, that must be derived from the food you eat.
  • EPA is a long-chain omega-3 fatty acid found in fatty fish, eggs, and seaweed. Some EPA is converted in eicosanoids that can reduce blood clotting, inflammation, blood pressure and cholesterol. The human body can convert ALA to EPA, and DHA to EPA.
  • DHA is the longest-chain of the three. It is found in fatty fish, eggs, and seaweed. It is a component of the gray matter in the brain, retina, testis, sperm, and cell membranes. The body can convert EPA into DHA. Low levels of DHA may raise the risk for depression and cognitive decline.

Omega-3 Conversion on a Vegan Diet

Again, you can convert ALA to EPA, and EPA to DHA. While ALA is easily converted to EPA, it may require large amounts of ALA to convert it sufficiently to DHA.

Vegans need to pay special attention to omega-3s. There’s evidence that vegetarians convert ALA to DHA and EPA more efficiently than meat-eaters. However, vegetarians’ levels of EPA and DHA are usually lower than those of fish-eaters.

Omega-3 are very important for heart disease prevention. Vegetarians already have about a 24% lower risk of heart disease, and it’s not clear whether consuming more EPA and DHA will further benefit a reduction.

However, the main concern with long-term DHA deficiency is cognitive issues, brain development, and also its role in depression. Older vegans should probably be prudent about DHA supplementation since anecdotal reports have shown that low DHA levels have impacted cognition in older vegetarians and vegans.

Supplementation of DHA and EPA from algae sources may be particularly significant for infants or pregnant or breastfeeding women, as omega-3’s have a crucial rule in brain health. Some experts recommend that vegans should eat double the recommended amount of ALA, to ensure the proper conversion to EPA and DHA.

Omega 3 Foods and Getting Enough Omega 3 (DHA and EPA) on a Plant-Based Diet

Vegan Omega 3 Foods: How to Get All You Need on a Vegan Diet | Soul in the Raw

It is very easy to get enough LA (omega 6) in your diet from whole food fats like olives, avocados, coconuts, and more. Getting enough ALA may require some additional planning.

Here are a few important points about omega 3 foods, and best practices:

  • Even if you choose to take plant-derived DHA supplements, you’ll still need to get ALA sources in your diet, as they have their own functions and benefits.
  • You will find ALA in flax, hemp, chia, walnuts (give these delicious walnut tacos a try), and many dark leafy greens.
  • Consuming these omega 3 foods in ALA form does not necessarily mean that you’ll get optimal DHA levels.
  • Taking algae supplements for DHA has been shown to effectively raise levels of both DHA and EPA in the blood.
  • It is also critical that you also decrease omega-6 fatty acid (LA), which can interfere with the conversion of omega-3 ALA to DHA and EPA.
  • Vegans need to pay particular attention to their omega 3 to omega 6 ratios. A good ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 is about 3:1 to 4:1. Vegans tend to have a higher ratio (10:1 to 15:1) compared to omnivores (6:1 to 10:1).
  • Flax seeds have the best omega 3 to omega 6 ratio. Give these delicious flax seed recipes a try.
  • Importantly, too much omega-3 can lead to bleeding and bruising and thus do consult a health professional before significantly increasing your omega-3 intake.

Download the Omega 3 Foods Summary

 

Download a PDF summary of the omega-3 recommendations for plant-based eaters. You will also find a list of omega-3 and omega-6 rich foods. You can hang this summary on your fridge to remember this important nutrient!

Vegan Omega 3 Foods: How to Get All You Need on a Vegan Diet | Soul in the Raw

Omega 3 Foods and Fish Oil

The American Heart Association has recommended that people with high risk of heart disease possibly supplement with fish oil, prompting a giant fish-oil supplements industry.

However, a review and meta-analysis published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that the consumption of fish oil has “no protective benefit for overall mortality, heart disease mortality, sudden cardiac death, heart attack, or stroke.

As such, researchers concluded that there is no justification for the use of omega-3s via fish oil.

In addition, fish oil was found to be contaminated with PCB’s and many other pollutants. Taking salmon, herring and tuna oils as directed may even exceed the tolerable daily intake of toxicity.

Studies have also found an adverse impact of fish consumption on cognitive abilities in adults and children.

In addition, while omega 3’s are anti-inflammatory, fish consumption actually raises inflammation in the body.

By getting DHA and EPA directly from algae – a source at the bottom of the food chain, you don’t need to worry about this pollutant contamination. You will find a link to a plant-based DHA and EPA supplement at the bottom of the post.

Soul in the Raw Recipes with Omega 3 Foods

Recipes with flaxseeds

Smoothies with flaxseeds

Chia seed pudding, and another chia pudding

Vegan chicken nuggets with hemp sauce

Walnut tacos

Omega 3 Foods: A Best Practices Summary

In order to get sufficient amounts of all three forms of omega 3 (ALA, DHA, and EPA), you should do the following:

  • Increase ALA consumption, and decrease LA consumption. The body can convert ALA into EPA and DHA, but the enzyme that performs this conversion also converts LA into omega-6. When it is saturated with omega-6, these enzymes are not able to convert omega-3.
  • Most oils are very high in omega-6 (LA), so be sure to avoid consuming oils.
  • Studies are mixed on whether increasing ALA consumption does raise EPA and DHA.
  • The foods with the best ratios of omega-6 to omega-3 (starting with best) are: flaxseed, chia, hemp, English walnuts, soybeans, black walnuts
  • Grind flax seed for best digestion
  • Store fats in the freezer
  • Take a DHA supplement: if you are under 60 years old, take 200-300 mg every 2-3 days; take 200-300 mg every day if you are over 60
  • Eat 0.5 grams raw, uncooked ALA every day: 1 teaspoon ground flaxseed, a little over half a teaspoon whole chia seeds, 3 English, light brown walnut halves. Dr. Greger of NutritionFacts.org recommends 1 tablespoon ground flaxseed daily, due to their incredible health benefits.
  • Non-breastfeeding infants should receive infant formula with 500 mg of omega-3 fats daily

My Favorite Omega 3 DHA Supplement

Nested Naturals Omega 3 is the best vegan supplement I have found because:

  • It contains absolutely no weird ingredients, preservatives and fillers like most supplements on the market
  • The company is a socially conscious one, using ethically produced ingredients and 3rd party testing with every batch, as well as donating to charity 
  • Contains: marine algal oil, grown sustainably on a farm and not harvested from the ocean, so that purity is maintained 
  • The algal oil has naturally occurring EPA and DHA (rather than ALA from food). As mentioned in this post, you need to convert ALA to DHA and EPA but the conversion is not always efficient. By taking this supplement, you are getting what you need without having to convert.
  • Ingredients: DHA, EPA, Green tea extract, Hypromellose, Candellila Wax, Water

Download the Omega 3 Foods Summary

 

Download a PDF summary of the omega-3 recommendations for plant-based eaters. You will also find a list of omega-3 and omega-6 rich foods. You can hang this summary on your fridge to remember this important nutrient!

Vegan Omega 3 Foods: How to Get All You Need on a Vegan Diet | Soul in the Raw

What are your favorite ways to get plant-based omega 3’s into your diet?

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Soul in the Raw is a high-raw vegan recipe + education blog. Marina creates quick, easy, and delicious high-raw vegan recipes and blogs about the health benefits of a high-raw plant-based diet. You can get more of Marina’s awesome recipes, tips, and lifestyle techniques on the free Facebook group: Raw Souls .