Best Vegan Omega-3 Supplements (Fish Oil Substitutes)
The importance of Omega-3 cannot be overstated - these fatty acids are a crucial part of any diet, vegan or otherwise, and have been shown to reduce cholesterol and triglyceride levels, protect against inflammation, and decrease the risk of heart disease and even cancer.
How’s that for a resume?
There are three types of omega-3s: alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA). ALA can be found in a variety of plant foods, such as walnuts, canola, chia, and flax seeds. However, EPA and DHA come mostly from non-vegan sources like eggs and fatty fish.
Good news for vegans, though: the human body can convert high amounts of ALA into EPA and DHA, getting all the necessary types of omega-3s for a healthy body. Additionally, vegans are already at a much lower risk than meat-eaters for issues like inflammation and heart disease, thanks to the benefits of a plant-based diet.
Despite the body’s ability to produce DHA and EPA from plant-based sources of omega-3, you may want to supplement omega-3 to ensure you’re getting enough of this essential nutrient.
- But which supplement to choose?
- Are certain brands better for your needs than others?
- Which supplements contain only vegan ingredients?
Finding the perfect omega-3 supplement for your lifestyle doesn’t have to be difficult or confusing. We’ve created a complete buying guide for these supplements, with everything from ingredients to look for and avoid, as well as some of our favorite products.
Things to Look For in a Vegan Omega-3 Supplement
The options for vegans looking to supplement omega-3 come in two forms: algal oil and omega-3 capsules.
Algal oil, or marine algae, is a triglyceride source of EPA and DHA, both of which are usually the ones lacking in the vegan diet.
At first, yes, it seems strange, but think about it - fish, especially fatty fish, are considered to be a rich source of omega-3 fatty acids. But where do we think the fish get it from?
Ultimately, these nutrients originate in algae and are then eaten by smaller fish and move up the food chain. Studies show that algal oil is even more concentrated in omega-3s, particularly DHA, than fish oil, doesn’t contain contaminants like heavy metals, and is environmentally friendly and sustainable. Algal oil comes in liquid form that you can take via dropper, or through soft gel capsules.
You can also take regular DHA vegan supplements, which are found in capsules or soft gels. These are very popular, easy to find in stores like CVS or online, and are easy to swallow. The soft coating around the capsule helps keep the capsules from being dissolved until they reach the small intestine, which increases the absorption of the nutrient and prevents foul-tasting burps that can come with the consumption of these kinds of oils.
You’ll also want to pay attention to the nutrition label on your omega-3 supplement, namely the amount of EPA and DHA in the supplement. While a package might boast 1,000mg of omega-3 per capsule, a closer look at the label might show that only 200-700 mg comes from EPA and DHA, as the number on the front may include other kinds of omega-3.
A higher concentration of EPA and DHA will allow you to consume a higher quantity of this essential nutrient in fewer capsules or teaspoons, which ultimately helps to save you money in the long run.
Lastly, look at the source of the omega-3 - it should come from a marine source, usually algae, and should be guaranteed by an independent or third-party testing group.
What to Avoid
When it comes to omega-3, the first thing vegan buyers will want to watch out for is any ingredient that comes from fish, a popular source of omega-3 in the omnivorous world.
However, there are many other sneaky ways animal ingredients can disguise themselves in seemingly harmless supplements.
The first and foremost of these ingredients is gelatin, which is often used to make the soft shell of capsules. Derived from boiling the hooves, stomach, and cartilage of animals like pigs and cows, so it’s not even vegetarian. Vegans and vegetarians should avoid gelatin at all costs.
Lesser-known animal products in supplements include things like magnesium stearate (used for a lubricant coating), lanolin (from sheep), Carmine (a dye from crushed beetles), caprylic acid (derived from goat, sheep, or cow’s milk), and Lipase (a digestive enzyme).
Animal ingredients can hide under these seemingly innocent names, so if you’re very concerned that you can’t decipher an ingredient list on your own, be sure to buy supplements that are certified vegan, and made entirely from plant-based ingredients.
List of Vegan-Friendly Omega-3 Supplements
Whether you want to take your omega-3 in a capsule or liquid form, there are plenty of options that will help you reach your daily requirement for EPA and DHA without harming a single scale on a fish.
The products below are available online, pack a punch of omega-3, and are made entirely from plant-based ingredients, so you can feel good about your purchase.
Ovega-3 Vegetarian Softgels - Top Pick!
Unlike some vegan supplements which only contain DHA, Ovega’s Vegetarian Softgels contain both DHA and EPA, all without the use of fish.
Each soft gel provides 320 mg of DHA and at least 130 mg of EPA, all of which are free of ocean-borne pollutants potentially found in fish, and are sustainable and will not deplete the ocean’s supply of fish.
The soft gels support brain, eye, and heart health.
What We Love
It can be hard to find a supplement that contains a good amount of both EPA and DHA, and by consuming this single capsule, you’re getting a significant amount of both omega-3s. Comparatively, these also contain quite a bit more of the necessary nutrients than comparable supplements, so you wind up having to eat less, making a single jar of the product last longer, and saving you money.
Some reviewers note that the size of these capsules is rather large - nearly 30-40% than that of the Deva brand. They have a smooth coating, so they are relatively easy to swallow, but their size may make them difficult to swallow for people who have trouble consuming pills in this method, or for the elderly.
Amala Vegan’s supplements contain both DHA and EPA, so vegan buyers can be sure they are getting an adequate amount of both types of omega-3.
By using algae-derived omega-3 rather than fish-based, consumers can avoid the awful burps that come with ingesting fish oil, as well as the harmful contaminants like mercury that are often housed in the flesh and oils of fish.
Each capsule is time-released for an even administration of the omega-3 blend, allowing your body to absorb the nutrients for eye, brain, heart, and immune support.
What We Love
The size of these capsules is very manageable, so those who have difficulty swallowing pills can take them with ease. They are shaped differently to make for easy ingestion, so no one runs into any hurdles when trying to meet the necessary amounts of DHA and EPA for a healthy body.
Reviewers note that these supplements have a strange fishy odor to them, which isn’t surprising given that they are formulated from algae, but it is off-putting, nonetheless. Additionally, reviewers note that these have less DHA and EPA per capsule (perhaps given the small size of the pill), and therefore you need to take more pills to meet your recommended daily allowance.
Deva is a household name when it comes to vegan supplementation, touting themselves as a 100% animal-friendly brand for a variety of vitamins and supplements.
These vegan DHA supplements are derived from algae and packaged in non-animal soft gels made from carrageenan and starch.
Deva DHA supplements are certified by The Vegan Society, so vegans and vegetarians can use them with confidence. The pills are also free of GMOs, yeast, wheat, gluten, hexanes, dairy, eggs, salt, sugar, and preservatives.
What We Love
The algae in these supplements comes from microalgae grown under sanitary manufacturing conditions. This means it is free of ocean-borne contaminants like mercury and dioxin, concerning elements that often make their way into fish products or other marine products. The source of the algae in these products means there is no concern for unhealth contaminants that might cause health problems.
Because the supplements contain rosemary extract, pregnant women should avoid taking these supplements, as the American Pregnancy Association has suggested pregnant women not ingest this. Additionally, the soft shell is made from carrageenan, which has been known to cause gastrointestinal inflammation. Those with sensitive digestive systems should use caution.
Made from microalgae, this liquid supplement provides significant amounts of EPA and DHA to support vision, heart health, positive mood, and immune function.
The formula is 100% vegan, gluten-free, and free of any milk derivatives. A single serving is 1.5 milliliters and uses a natural lemon flavor to keep it palatable.
What We Love
This oil goes down easy! The formula uses a natural lemon flavor, which reviewers note tastes light and masks any algal smell or taste. While the oily texture can feel strange going down the first few times, it is easy to take just by teaspoon, and this blend doesn't cause burping, without any fishy aftertaste.
Some reviewers note problems with the dropper, which sometimes leaks ink from the inscriptions into the liquid. Take care when using the dropper, or pour the oil out into a teaspoon for consumption.
A unique way to get your EPA and DHA, Flora 7 uses essential fatty acids from flax, sunflower, sesame, pumpkin, evening primrose, algae, and coconut oils.
It comes in a large, environmentally-friendly glass bottle that is dark in color to protect the integrity of the oil inside.
People should take one tablespoon per 50 pounds of bodyweight per day, and store the bottle in the refrigerator to maintain freshness.
What We Love
Unlike many liquid omega-3 supplements made from algae, which have a lemon or ocean-y taste from the source of the nutrients, Flora 7’s supplement has a light, nutty taste. This means it can be used in its raw form as a salad dressing, and is pleasant enough to be eaten off a spoon. Make sure to use this in its raw form for maximum efficiency, and not to use it as a frying oil. It is best when drizzled over greens or added to smoothies.
While the reviews are overwhelmingly positive, a few reviewers noted that they could not get past the strong taste. Those who are very sensitive to taste may have best results blending this in a smoothie with strong-tasting foods to mask the taste, or simply taking off a spoon and chasing with water or another liquid.
Omega-3 and Supplementation
While ALA is present in a multitude of vegan-friendly food sources, mostly through nuts and seeds, EPA and DHA can be a little harder to come by in plant-based foods. For this reason, many vegans choose to supplement EPA and DHA to maintain healthy eyes, hearts, brains, and immune systems.
By choosing supplements made from algae instead of fish, you are not only kind to the fish in the sea, but also to our earth.
Buying plant-based supplements means that our oceans will not be overfished, which creates a sustainable supplementary product, and it also means that you will cut out the “middle man”, and won’t consume the mercury and other contaminants that enter the body from fish products.
Finding a vegan-friendly, fish-friendly, earth-friendly omega-3 supplement is easy - the products listed above are just a small section of the expansive vegan fish oil substitutes out there. With a little knowledge of what to look for, and what to avoid, you can make sure you’re getting the right amount - and the right ratio - of omega-3, while still holding true to your values.