Omega-3s are an essential part of a healthy diet but are typically linked to seafood. However, if you’re plant-based, there are still some great sources of vegan omega-3s.
For years — well, decades, probably — vegans have heard the dreaded question: “But where do you get your protein from?” Luckily, that question has been debunked time and time again, and while we still hear it, it is no longer the backbone that deniers stand on.
However, some small questions seem to have arisen in its place with daily essentials that humans have historically gotten from animals — such as vitamin B12 and omega-3. Eating fish and taking fish oil supplements has been the reigning source of omegas in human diets, but where does that leave vegans?
A recent study found that people who follow a vegan diet, on average, have no problem consuming enough omega-3s in their diets. It actually concluded that most vegans have intakes of omega-3s above the daily recommendation.
Omega-3 fatty acids are important for overall health. Studies have determined that they can help reduce inflammation in the body, decrease blood triglycerides and possibly reduce the risk of dementia.
There are three main types of omega-3s. Plant-based foods typically only contain alpha-linolenic acid or ALA. ALA is not as abundant in the human body and therefore needs to be converted to other forms. These additional forms of omega-3s are eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA).
However, the body’s ability to convert ALA is not efficient, and only 5% of ALA is converted to EPA, while less than 0.5% is converted to DHA. Because of this, it is essential that a high amount of ALA-rich foods are present in a vegan diet, in order to meet the omega-3 needs of the body.
It is important to note that a healthy omega-6 to omega-3 ratio is key. A diet low in omega-3s but high in omega-6s can lead to inflammation and heighten risk of disease.
But with eating fish out of the equation, where do vegans and vegetarians get their omega-3 fatty acids from? Here are the best sources for vegan omega-3s.
Luckily, the same health benefits that can be received from eating fish can also come from algae. Seaweed, nori, spirulina, and chlorella are all varieties of algae that can be consumed and are one of the few plant foods that contains both DHA and EPA. As a bonus, they are all also high in protein.
So, how do you incorporate it into your diet? Seaweed has become a popular health food snack and can be found in crispy, wafer-like form. Eating more nori is easy: eat more vegan sushi, as nori is what they use to wrap it in. Chlorella and spirulina can be found in powdered form and be easily added to smoothies.
Chia seeds are a great source of vegan omega-3 fatty acids. Just one ounce of chia seeds can help you meet your daily recommended intake of omega-3s, as they have an incredible 4,915mg per serving.
There are a lot of great ways to up your chia seed intake. Chia seeds can be turned into a delicious plant-based pudding or can simply be sprinkled on top of salads or smoothie bowls. Additionally, ground chia seeds are a great vegan substitute for eggs in baking.
The humble flax seed amazingly contains 6.7g of ALA per tablespoon, making it an excellent source of vegan omega-3. Flax seeds are actually one of the most nutrient-dense seeds we can eat.
They also boast high amounts of fibre, protein, magnesium, and manganese. Additionally, they have been known to reduce blood pressure and support heart health.
Just like chia seeds, flax seeds can be used as an egg replacement in baking. They can also be eaten in oatmeal, cereal or yoghurt.
Hemp seeds are another excellent source of vegan omega-3s, containing 2.6g of ALA for every 3 tablespoons of seeds. They are also a great source of protein, magnesium, iron, and zinc. Additionally, research has shown that hemp seeds are good for heart health, digestion and even skin.
Similar to chia seeds, hemp seeds are quite easy to incorporate into your diet. Again, try sprinkling them over salads or yoghurt. They are also a great addition to homemade granola, oatmeal, snack bars and smoothies.
Walnuts contain 3.3g of ALA per cup and are a great source of healthy fats. Several studies have concluded that walnuts can help improve brain health and increase learning ability and memory. Just one serving of walnuts can fulfil the daily requirements of omega-3.
Try eating walnuts as a healthy snack throughout the day, or add them to homemade granola or trail mixes.
Edamame is a true nutritional powerhouse that is a great addition to any diet. A half-cup serving of edamame provides 20% of your omega-3 needs. They also carry tons of protein, fibre, and other essential nutrients.
Try eating them as just a tasty, crispy snack, or incorporate them into a delicious plant-based stir-fry.
Vegan omega-3 supplements
If you’re still worried about meeting your omega-3 requirements, adding a supplement to your diet may be a good option.
Algae oil is a great option for vegan omega-3s, as algae offers many health benefits. Some brands only include DHA, but supplementing with both DHA and EPA is ideal, so look for an option that has both.
Flax seeds, chia seeds, and hemp seeds can all also be found in supplement form and, again, contain high amounts of ALA. So, adding these to your diet could be beneficial too.