There are a lot of people in the world who think that oily fish is the only source of Omega-3. If this were true, it would be rather problematic for those of us who follow a vegetarian or vegan diet.
Our guide to Omega-3 fatty acids discusses the necessity of these compounds in our diet, and the beneficial things they do for the body. As a follow up, to make sure you’re seeking out those fatty acids in their best forms, we’ve built a list of the best Omega-3 sources for vegans and vegetarians.
First, though, a little reminder about the different types of Omega-3. ALA, or alpha linolenic acid, is the type of Omega-3 found in plant-based sources. It is converted by the body into two other forms of Omega-3 - DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) and EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) - which are then used to perform various vital functions and improve our overall health.
However, the process for converting ALA into DHA and EPA is quite inefficient, so whilst we will be looking at sources of ALA as a beneficial fatty acid in its own regard, we will also be examining the best ways to get sources of DHA and EPA directly in a vegan or vegetarian diet.
Flaxseeds, and flaxseed oil, are an excellent source of ALA, and many people use flaxseeds in their daily diet to increase their Omega-3s. However, in comparison to other vegetarian sources, which are high in DHA and EHA, it falls short.
Comparing Flaxseeds to Algae Oil, for example, shows how much flaxseed you would need to create 0.5 grams of DHA. Spoiler alert; it’s half a kilo. Now, that just doesn’t seem realistic… however, ALA is beneficial for other functions in the body, so don’t discount it completely in favour of sources of pure DHA and EPA.
2. Chia Seeds
I add a spoonful of chia seeds to my overnight oats whenever I make them. Not only do they contain a rich variety of essential micronutrients (such as selenium and magnesium), just one tablespoon can contain all the ALA you need for the day - up to 4,900 micrograms.
And as if that’s not good enough, chia seeds also contain a whopping 5g of protein per 28 gram serving! That’s amazing!
Walnuts are amazing. They are full of healthy fats, including ALA. Like chia seeds, one serving of walnuts (about 14 halves) is enough to give you the recommended daily intake of ALA for the day. They are also full of fibre, which is something we should all strive to get more of!
4. Seaweed and algae
Seaweed and algae are our DHA and EPA heroes! I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again - fish do not produce Omega-3. They ingest theirs from algae, and you can too!
Seaweed and algae are some of the only plant-based sources of DHA and EPA, and they are the most likely to come in oil form and used in supplements. Often considered to be purer and cleaner than its fish-based counterparts, algae oil is more sustainable and better for the environment. It’s also less likely to contain heavy metals and other pollutants due to the algae being grown in specific tanks.
Vivo Life’s Vegan Liquid Omega-3 Supplement contains 300mg of EPA and 600mg of DHA per serving - that’s just 2ml of liquid. I think I’d rather have that in the morning than half a kilo of flaxseeds!
5. Kidney Beans
The best part of a chilli, in my opinion, is the humble kidney bean. They are flavourful and, whilst they don’t contain a large amount of Omega-3 fatty acids compared to other entries in this guide (0.1 grams per half cup) they can be added to so many dishes that it makes sense to include them. Lots of beans all around!
6. Brussels Sprouts
One of my favourite parts of Christmas Dinner, Brussels Sprouts are an excellent source of ALA. Bizarrely, the amount of ALA you can gain from sprouts increases when you cook them! Just 78 grams of cooked sprouts can give you 12% of your recommended intake of ALA. It might be time for sprouts to make more regular appearances in your meal planning! Personally, I like them slow roasted with garlic and lemon and added to a warm salad… Yum!
So, there you have it in a nutshell - and this is by no means a complete list. There are so many more foods with Omega-3 fatty acids that are out there just waiting to be discovered, but your starting points for increasing your ALA, DHA and EPA intakes are right here.