It is a common misconception that omega 3 fat can only be sourced from fish. In fact, the reason why oily fish is a rich source of omega 3 is due to the algae the fish consume as part of their own diets. It is the algae that is the source of omega 3.
So can vegans get a plentiful supply of omega 3 fat? Of course. However, there are different types of omega 3 fats and not all of them are present in foods in a form that our bodies can use directly or efficiently. This means that even if you eat enough of the foods that might be perfectly rich sources of omega 3, you may not be getting enough of the ‘right’ ones and therefore would not be meeting your omega 3 requirements.
Why are omega 3 fats for vegans necessary?
Omega 3 fats are an essential component of our cells. They also help to form part of the hormones that we need to regulate various responses. Their roles range within supporting muscle contractions, blood pressure and helping our bodies in an inflammatory response.
Although more research is still needed on this topic, numerous studies have demonstrated that omega 3 fats may also be protective against coronary heart disease (CHD), potentially reducing the risk of heart attack and stroke.
Although investigation into its properties as an antioxidant is still ongoing, some correlation has been seen between a high consumption of omega 3 fats and a reduced risk of various cancers, such as those of the breast and colon. However, there is not enough conclusive evidence to verify its impact on risk of cancer.
Other studies have shown that, in higher doses, omega 3 fatty acids may even play a role in reducing symptoms of depression and anxiety.
This is why omega 3 fats for vegans should be given thought and consideration.
Is there just one type of omega 3 fat?
There are three main types of omega 3 fats. The ones found in algae (or fish) are in the form of eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). The third type is alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) which is found in other plant foods such as some nuts, seeds and beans.
Although having a variety of DHA, EPA and ALA might be useful for bodily functions, it is important to state that ALA must be converted to EPA and DHA first since our bodies cannot use ALA directly. It is therefore considered as more of a precursor rather than a bioavailable form of omegat 3 fat.
Though there are discrepancies between various studies regarding the conversion rates for ALA into EPA and DHA, on average, this conversion does not often exceed 10%.
Vegan omega 3 supplements
When picking an omega 3 supplement, pay attention to the form that the omega 3 comes in. It would be best to opt for the vegan DHA and/or EPA option rather than the ALA as the conversion no longer needs to occur. In an algal oil omega 3 supplement where a ratio of 2:1 DHA to EPA is present, the absorption rate will usually be faster than in other forms or ratios.
As stated previously, vegan DHA and vegan EPA usually come from algae (or chlorella), so most vegan and vegetarian supplements will source the omega 3 from algal oil. There also some supplements that provide omega 3 in the form of ALA, though bear in mind, this will still need to be converted into EPA and DHA.
Vegan omega 3 benefits
A benefit of choosing vegan omega DHA and EPA over standard fish oil supplements is that the presence of toxins, heavy metals and other pollutants that are commonly present in fish are less likely to be present in fishless omega 3 supplements.
Foods with omega 3 fats for vegans
Vegan foods that are good sources of omega-3 fats include:
- chia seeds
- hemp seeds
- edamame beans
- kidney beans
- algal oil
- rapeseed oil
- canola oil
What is the recommended intake for omega 3?
As the research is ongoing and not entirely conclusive about omega 3 fats, the general consensus is that adults should consume around 200-500mg per day of a combination of EPA and DHA (though this would vary for adults with specific health conditions or other age groups). For ALA, the recommended daily allowance (RDA) is between 1.1-1.6g per day.
So omega 3 fats for vegans are possible, just be sure to eat the right foods and take the appropriate supplements.
** Please consult a dietitian and/or physician before taking any supplements.
Vegan omega-3 recipes
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