Ultimate Guide to Vegan Omega 3 Sources
If you think about it, our bodies are pretty amazing - generally speaking, the human body can create many fats it needs from alternate fats or other raw materials.
However, sometimes, it can’t make them from scratch and needs a little help - this is the case for Omega-3 fatty acids.
Omega-3’s are defined as essential fats, as we are required to get them through foods like vegetable oils, walnuts, flax seeds and our favorite nutritional powerhouse, leafy greens.
What is it that makes Omega-3’s so special?
They are a hardworking fat and play a key structural role in cell membranes, make hormones that regulate blood clotting, and the movement of our artery walls.
They have been shown to help prevent heart disease, and can help control illnesses such as lupus, eczema, and arthritis - more info here.
Omega-3 and Heart Disease Prevention
On the whole, vegans tend to be at lower risk for heart disease than omnivores, but as heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States, it’s a good idea to take out a little insurance, especially since heart disease can also be hereditary.
Many studies have shown that the consumption of omega-3 fatty acids can decrease the likelihood of a person becoming afflicted with heart disease.
Heart attack survivors who took a one-gram capsule of omega-3’s every day for three years were less likely to have a repeat heart attack, stroke, or suffer sudden death than those who did not. Notably, their risk of sudden cardiac arrest was decreased by a whopping 50 percent - all thanks to a daily dose of a measly gram of omega-3.
Because the Standard American Diet is high in animal products, Americans tend to over consume another essential fat, omega-6.
Health professionals recommend an omega-6 to an omega-3 ratio of 4:1, but in reality, the average American consumes a ratio that’s closer to 15:1 - much higher than the ideal consumption of omega-6!
It’s important to balance these fats, as too much omega-6 can raise blood pressure, create blood clots, and cause the body to retain water.
A healthy balance between these fatty acids is important in disease prevention.
To date, there is no official recommended standard dose of omega-3, but some organizations suggest 250 to 500 mg of omega-3 for healthy adults.
The American Heart Association recommends 1,000-3,000mg for those with coronary heart disease or high triglycerides.
There are plenty of plant sources of omega-3 for vegans. However, most of them only contain ALA (alpha-linolenic acid), and are lower in the other omegas, EPA and DHA.
Because the body has trouble efficiently turning ALA into the active forms, taking a supplement can help ensure that you’re getting all the omega-3 you need.
However, when it comes down to it, your body still requires ALA, and the additional nutrients you get from foods high in ALA are all the more beneficial.
Taking a vegan DHA supplement will ensure you’re getting all the important components of omega-3 fatty acids. If you’re looking in stores, make sure you look for a brand without animal ingredients or gelatin.
What Vegan Foods Have Omega-3?
While some people consume fish and fish oil for a dose of omega-3, there are plenty of healthy plant-based sources of omega-3 to maintain that ever-important balance without having to harm animals. Plenty of everyday foods contain healthy amounts of omega-3.
Omega 3 (g)
2.35g per 2tbsp, Whole
Flax seeds, sometimes called linseeds, are small, oblong brown seeds that have a glossy exterior and a nutty, toasty flavor.
In addition to being a good source of ALA (alpha-linoleic acid, one of the three omega-3 fatty acids), flax seeds are also high in dietary fiber and lignans, which have antioxidant benefits for anti-aging, hormone balance, cellular health, and anti-viral/antibacterial properties. They are frequently included on the list of the world’s healthiest foods.
Flax seeds are a delicious addition to any diet, and there are tons of ways to incorporate them into every part of your day.
Sprinkle whole flax seeds on salads or into your non-dairy yogurt or make muffins and crackers from the ground seeds.
You can buy ground flax seeds in a box at your local grocery store, but I like to purchase the whole seeds and grind them myself in a coffee or spice grinder. Store whole or ground seeds in the freezer to keep them fresh.
5g per 2tbsp
Gram for gram, chia seeds contain more omega-3s than salmon - that’s a hard-working little seed! However, it’s important to remember that chia seeds, like flax seeds, only contain ALA omega-3s, which can be hard for the body to convert into EPA and DHA, the “active” forms.
However, when combined with supplementation for EPA and DHA, chia seeds can provide the ALA that is also needed by the human body.
Not to mention, chia seeds are 100% delicious and a great addition to a vegan diet for the other nutrients they provide.
When added to liquid, chia seeds help to thicken and make a creamy texture, not unlike tapioca. A tablespoon of chia seeds in your smoothie or oatmeal make a creamy texture and can help thicken these foods without making them watery.
1.6g per 2tbsp
In India and Bangladesh, mustard oil has been used for centuries as a super food and even an aphrodisiac. Made from mustard seeds, the oil is thick, yellow, and pungent, and it is higher in healthy fats than cooking oils like olive, flaxseed, grapeseed, and peanut oils.
You can find mustard oil online or in Indian grocery stores.
Try this recipe for Aloo Sabzi (potatoes cooked in mustard oil) for a tasty, flavorful dish and a dose of ALA fatty acid.
3.3g per 3tbsp
Often described as “a gift of nature”, hemp seeds are a perfect blend of complete protein, essential fats including omega-3, vitamins, and enzymes, without much sugar, starch, or saturated fat.
Most importantly, they include omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids in the optimal balance for health, and the oil contained in the hemp seed is 75-80% “good fat”.
Hemp seeds are small, crunchy, and often compared to chia or flax seeds regarding texture. They lend themselves well to sweet and savory recipes so that you can use them in anything from homemade granola bars and energy balls to a salad topper or crust for grilled tofu.
They have a perfect nutty, mild flavor, so their versatility is pretty unparalleled.
0.88g per 1tbsp
Spirulina, blue-green algae, is food that it still firmly in the “hippie” category, but for all intents and purposes, should be more mainstream.
A good source of plant-based omega-3, Spirulina also contains vitamin B12 (which can be very hard for vegans to get through food), vitamin A, and iron, making it an ideal food to add to the vegan diet.
Perhaps the reason Spirulina hasn’t quite made it into the mainstream is that it doesn’t taste particularly good. However, due to its great health benefits like increasing energy and boosting immunity, it is a good addition to any diet, vegan in particular.
If you don’t want to include it in food (some add it to smoothies, where it can be covered up by the taste of stronger-tasting fruits), you can find spirulina tablets to take a pill, where taste isn’t an issue.
0.6g per 4oz
Good old tofu - is there anything this vegan-friendly wonder food can’t do?
Tofu has a whole laundry list of ingredients that include omega-3 fatty acids, iron, magnesium, zinc, and B vitamins. On top of its impressive nutritional profile, tofu is also delicious, and can be cooked in a variety of ways.
For a one-two punch of omega-3s, try cooking tofu in mustard oil with potatoes and Indian spices. You can also blend soft or silken tofu into fruit smoothies for a sweet treat and an added boost of protein and omega-3.
Omega-3 in the Vegan Diet
Ultimately, it’s best if vegans get the majority of their omega-3s from supplementation and still focus on plant-based foods high in omega-3.
This ensures that you’re getting all the necessary kinds of fatty acids in your diet that your brain and body need, in addition to the other important nutrients that come as a package deal in those foods.
Try adding an omega-3 supplement and these omega-3 rich foods into your diet - your brain and body will thank you!