Omega 3 On Vegan Diet
There is a common misconception that it is difficult to get enough Omega 3 on a vegan diet. Most people believe that the number one source of Omega 3 is fish.
Let’s see why Omega 3 fatty acids are essential for our body, why the believe of fish being the only Omega 3 source is not true and how we can ensure an adequate Omega 3 consumption on a vegan diet.
Omega 3 fatty acids are, as mentioned above, essential for our body, which means that our body can not synthesize this nutrient itself and it needs to be supplied from the outside.
Omega 3 has many functions in our organism:
- important component of the human cell membrane
- highly concentrated in the brain and nerve cells (especially DHA)
- plays an important role in the development of retina and brain in the growth phase
There are two types of Omega 3 fatty acids, which are ALA (alpha-linolenic acid) and EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) & DHA (docosahexaenoic acid).
EPA & DHA, which is mostly found in animal products, is the direct form of Omega 3, whereas ALA (mostly found in plant products) is the indirect from.
Our body can only make use of EPA & DHA. Therefore, when plant products are consumed, our body first needs to convert ALA into EPA & DHA.
Omega 3 fatty acids & Omega 6 fatty acids
Omega 3 fatty acids (EPA & DHA) have anti-inflammatory potential. It expands our blood vessels and thus can lower or balance blood pressure. It harmonizes the blood lipid image and has positive effects on the cardiovascular system and rheumatic diseases.
Omega 6 fatty acids, on the other hand, can promote inflammatory processes.
Omega 6 in animal products have arachidonic acid, plant products have linoleic acids, which have to be converted to arachidonic acid in the body.
Both conversions, ALA into EPA or DHA and linoleic acid into arachidonic acid use the same enzymes. That means that they are both “competing” for the same enzyme.
It matters how much of Omega 3 and Omega 6 is consumed, as even a small imbalance can have certain effects.
An optimal ratio of Omega 6 to Omega 3 would be 5:1 (the smaller the better)
Good plant sources of Omega 3 are:
- flax seeds
- hemp seeds
- chia seeds
- and all of the related oils
(Note: All these foods also have Omega 6, but with a good ratio to Omega 3)
High concentrations of Omega 6 can be found in sunflower seeds and oil, pumpkin seeds and oil, most nuts (almonds, brazil buts, peanuts and hazelnuts) and plant oils such as wheat germ, thistle, corn germ, sesame and soybean oil).
Micro algae and linseed oil can be good sources of Omega 3 as they have DHA and EPA (this is where fish get their O3 from).
As a summary, vegans should not be too worried about not getting enough Omega 3 fatty acids, when a whole food plant based diet is followed and the above mentioned foods are incorporated regularly into the diet. Important to remember is that omega-3 fatty acids should be balanced with the amount of omega-6 fatty acids consumed through diet to counteract inflammatory processes in the body.