Vegan Omega-3 Supplements 101
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Fatty fish and Omega-3 fortified eggs are at the top of the list for the best food sources to get those all-important Omega-3 fatty acids.
For those who don’t eat much fish, it can be challenging getting enough of them from your food alone, hence why 18 million Americans take fish oil supplements.
But what if you’re plant-based? Is it even possible to get enough Omega 3s, which have been linked to all kinds of health benefits, including reducing inflammation, heart health, and cognitive function?
What is Enough Anyway?
Health organizations generally suggest consuming 250 to 500 mg of EPA and DHA each day.
To make matters worse for vegans, plant-based foods typically only have alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), one of the three Omega 3. ALA must then be converted into eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) to reap the benefits you would get from animal-based Omega-3 sources.
And to put a nail in the coffin, your body doesn’t do a very good job converting ALA into EPA and DHA. Only about 5 percent of ALA gets converted into EPA and even less of that into DHA.
Finally, if you have an underlying condition, such as high blood sugar levels or are deficient in micronutrients, such as zinc, magnesium, Vitamin C or Vitamin B6, to name a few, then your ability to convert ALA into EPA is even further hindered.
So what gives?
If you’re plant-based, should you just forget about Omega-3s and hope for the best?
The shorter answer is no you shouldn’t.
Plant-based Omega-3 food sources do still exist, and there’s a growing market of plant-based Omega-3 supplements.
4 of the Best Plant-Based Sources of Omega 3s
Flaxseeds are one of the best plant-based sources of Omega-3s. One ounce of flaxseeds has more than 6,000 mg of ALA—approximately 500 percent of the recommended daily intake (RDI).
Some research suggests they also help reduce the bad kind of cholesterol and help reduce high blood pressure. They’re also a great source of fiber, magnesium, and manganese.
2. Chia Seeds
While not as high as flaxseeds, one ounce of chia seeds has close to 5,000 mg of Omega-3 fatty acids.
Chia seeds have also been linked to decreasing bad cholesterol levels and increasing the good (HDL) cholesterol.
3. Hemp seeds
Not only are hemp seeds a great plant-based protein source, but they also have Omega 3s. Like flaxseeds, one ounce of hemp seeds has 6,000 mg of ALA.
Walnuts, often considered a healthy fat and good brain food, are also loaded with ALA Omega 3s. One ounce of walnuts provides 2,542 mg of ALA.
Some research has even shown walnuts help improve memory, learning, and motor development.
Other plant-based foods that offer some ALA, but not as much as the above four foods, include Brussels sprouts, canola oil, edamame, avocados, and oatmeal.
Beyond Food Sources
Because plant-based Omega-3 food sources don’t contain EPA and DHA, supplements are often a wise choice for vegans.
In fact, according to this study published in Nutrition Journal. most Americans, plant-based or otherwise, only consume about 100 mg of EPA and DHA per day.
Consider this: To get enough ALA in your system as a vegan from food alone—once you factor in how much gets converted to EPA and DHA—you would need to consume: 5 Tbsp. of canola oil, 70 walnuts, 100 cups of edamame, 28 avocados 148 cups of oatmeal. Pretty challenging to do, and would do more harm than good.
Enter Vegan Omega-3 Supplements
Algae—marine-based photosynthesizing organisms—is the best source of vegan DHA and EPA and comes in supplement form as Algal oil.
Algal oil is generally sold as a supplement in a soft gel form, but liquid forms exist too, which can be added to drinks and smoothies. Usually, a daily supplement dose will give you 400 and 500 mg of EPA and DHA.
What makes algal oil particularly useful is that, instead of containing ALA like plant-based food sources of Omega 3s, algal oil contains EPA and DHA—almost as much as salmon.
Even better news: Your body absorbs the EPA and DHA from algal oil as well as fish sources.
Even better news still: Fish oil runs the risk of containing contaminants, such as mercury. With algae, the chances of contamination are smaller and are certainly more limited levels. Some data suggests that 80 percent of fish oil supplements don’t meet U.S. standards for eliminating contaminants. Such is not the case with algal oil supplements.
3 Quick Tips for Plant-Based Omega-3 Supplement Consumption
Dose: Make sure it has at least 250 mg of combined EPA to DHA per serving.
When: Take your algal oil supplement with a meal that contains fat, as this helps with absorption.
Storage: Over time, algal oil can oxidize and become rancid, so store it in a cool, dry place, and refrigerate liquid supplements.