Best Omega-3 Sources for Vegans + Benefits & Supplementation
Omega-3 fatty acids have emerged as one of the healthiest fatty acids we need for improving our health and staying fit and active.
Unfortunately, our bodies cannot produce omega-3 fatty acids. So, we have to rely on external food sources and supplements to ensure our body is not deprived of these essential nutrients.
Regular consumption of omega-3s can bestow us with numerous health benefits.
By reading this article, you’ll learn what types of omega-3 fatty acids exist, why it’s important, what the best sources are, what the benefits are, and if you should supplement them.
The Role of Omega-3 Fatty Acids in Maintaining Health
Omega-3 fatty acids are essential for maintaining heart health, supporting brain functions including memory and focus, and fighting inflammation and oxidative stress in the body.
The most popular sources of omega-3s include fatty fish such as trout, salmon, tuna, and fish oil. This can make it challenging for vegans to meet the need of their bodies for these vital nutrients.
Luckily, omega-3 fatty acids are also found in abundance in several plant-based sources.
Ensuring your meals comprise these foods would definitely boost your health by allowing you to receive an adequate dose of omega-3s while also delivering dozens of other essential nutrients needed for maintaining optimal health.
What are the Different Forms of Omega-3 Fatty Acids?
There are three main types of omega-3 fatty acids:
- Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA)
- Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA)
- Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA)
Among these, ALA is present in plant oils, whereas DHA and EPA can be found in some plant-based sources such as algae and non-vegan foods like fish and krill.
Our body can convert ALA to DHA and EPA. This means that including vegan choices of foods containing ALA can be a great way to derive the benefits associated with the other types of omega-3s including DHA and EPA as well.
Hence, vegans do not need to worry about how to get omega-3 without fish.
They can simply choose the best vegan sources of omega-3s including vegan DHA sources to stay fit and healthy and maintain optimum heart and brain health.
Best Plant Sources of Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Here are the best plant-based sources of omega-3 fatty acids. You can find the data presented in tabular form below.
Omega-3 Content per 100 g: 17.8 g
Chia seeds are considered the best seeds with omega-3s, especially ALA.
Chia seeds are revered for the multitude of health benefits they offer, and it’s often part of a healthy breakfast.
They provide a hefty dose of omega-3 fatty acids as well as protein and fiber, making them a highly nutritious vegan food to include in your regular meals.
The high nutritional content of chia seeds could reduce the risk of chronic diseases when consumed as a part of your regular vegan diet.
It would help decrease the cholesterol and triglyceride levels in your blood, prevent glucose intolerance, and lower inflammatory markers.
Omega-3 Content per 100 g: 9.08 g
The omega-3 content of walnuts can be specifically beneficial for patients who suffer from hypertension and diabetes.
It would help lower blood pressure, and improve glycemic control thereby keeping these 2 chronic life-threatening illnesses at bay.
Walnuts are also regarded for their ability to accelerate weight loss and improve gut health. These properties could be attributed to the presence of omega-3s and other nutrients in them.
Walnuts, both ripen and young, green walnuts are a great source of iodine.
Algae and Seaweed
Omega-3 Content per 100 g (Spirulina, dried): 0.82 g
All forms of algae, especially seaweed, spirulina, chlorella, and nori, are rich in omega-3 fatty acids.
These foods are especially important for vegans as they provide one of the most efficient vegan DHA sources.
Moreover, algal oil, derived from algae, can also be a good choice of plant-based source of EPA and DHA with some studies providing evidence of it being comparable to seafood, concerning its nutritional availability of DHA and EPA.
Omega-3 Content per 100 g: 9.14 g
Among the vegan oils, it is canola oil that offers the best natural source of omega-3 fatty acids.
It is estimated that about one tablespoon of canola oil contains nearly 1.28 gm of omega-3s, amounting to nearly a day’s serving for adults.
On the other note, canola oil has a high smoke temperature and a natural flavor, which makes canola oil a good choice for French fries.
Omega-3 Content per 100 g: 0.1 g
Cruciferous vegetables like Brussels sprouts, in addition to their high vitamin C, vitamin K, and fiber content, are also excellent sources of omega-3s.
One study has revealed that increasing your intake of Brussels sprouts could lower your risk of heart diseases by nearly 16%, thanks to the presence of omega-3s in them.
Omega-3 Content per 100 g: 22.8 g
Flaxseed is a powerhouse of nutrients, providing a high amount of omega-3 fatty acids as well as dietary fiber, proteins, manganese, and magnesium.
Clinical studies have demonstrated the benefits of flaxseed related to brain and heart health that could largely be attributed to its high omega-3 content.
Flaxseed as well as flaxseed oil can regulate the body’s metabolism and lower cholesterol levels.
Flaxseed can also help control blood pressure in patients with hypertension, making it a great food to add to the diet of people at risk of heart disease.
To get the most benefits of flaxseed, improve its digestibility and absorption of healthy nutrients you should always grind it.
Some other vegan sources of omega-3 fatty acids include:
- Hemp seeds
- Kidney beans
|Food Source||Omega-3 Content per 100 g|
|Chia seeds||17.8 g|
|Algae and seaweeds (Spirulina, dried)||0.82 g|
|Brussels sprouts||0.1 g|
|Hemp seeds||10 g|
|Kidney beans, canned||0.28 g|
Omega-3 Fatty Acids Benefits
Omega-3 fatty acids provide numerous health benefits. Here are the most important benefits, backed by science.
Prevent Heart Diseases
Research studies have shown that omega-3 consumption could help to reduce the risk of heart disease significantly.
This effect of omega-3s could be linked to the ability of these nutrients to reduce cholesterol and triglyceride levels and lower blood pressure.
Correct Metabolic Dysfunctions
Metabolic dysfunctions are common causes of diabetes, obesity, and heart diseases.
Omega-3 fatty acids have the ability to correct metabolic dysfunctions.
Research studies have shown that omega-3s can improve the insulin sensitivity of cells, promote fat-burning processes, and regulate lipid metabolism thereby proving relief from metabolic disorders.
Chronic inflammation contributes to the development of several diseases including cancer, inflammatory bowel disease, and autoimmune disorders.
Omega-3 fatty acids like ALA and DHA can control inflammation by regulating the activities of the immune cells and reducing the production of pro-inflammatory substances like eicosanoids, interleukins, and cytokines.
Improve Lipid Levels
There is clinical evidence to prove that adequate levels of omega-3s like DHA and ALA in the blood could help to maintain normal lipid levels.
Omega-3 fatty acids possess anti-lipemic properties.
They can help to reduce the levels of bad or LDL cholesterol and increase the levels of good or HDL cholesterol.
Promote Liver Health
Omega-3 fatty acids are effective in maintaining the functions of the liver. These nutrients can reduce cholesterol levels by promoting the metabolic processes occurring in the liver.
Omega-3s can also increase the ability of this organ to break down and digest fatty substances and ensure the effective elimination of unhealthy fats from the body.
The anti-lipemic and hepatoprotective properties of omega-3 fatty acids can help to reduce the symptoms of fatty liver diseases and maintain the normal functions and structure of this vital organ.
The hepatoprotective abilities of omega-3s can also protect the hepatic cells against the damage caused by a higher intake of fatty foods and prevent the insulin resistance provoked by the same.
The lipids called resolvins and protectins derived from omega-3s could reduce the risk of complications caused due to fatty liver diseases such as atherosclerosis, hepatic steatosis, and cardiovascular diseases, especially in obese people.
Promote Brain Functions
Omega-3s play a vital role in the growth and development of the brain in infants and children. Parents should ensure their children are not deprived of omega-3s, especially DHA.
Getting enough DHA would promote their brain functions and cognitive skills. It may also improve their memory, learning skills, and intelligence.
Slow Down Degeneration
Increased intake of omega-3s could slow down degenerative changes in the brain and reduce your risk of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.
Reduce ADHD Symptoms
The symptoms of ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) could be reduced to some extent by including foods containing omega-3s in the patient’s diet.
ADHD is a behavioral disorder characterized by hyperactivity, inattention, and impulsivity.
Research studies have revealed that children with ADHD often have lower levels of omega-3 fatty acids in their blood.
Omega-3s could improve attention span and task completion in kids with ADHD, and decrease impulsiveness, hyperactivity, and aggression thereby improving their learning ability and social skills.
Relieve Depression Symptoms
Research studies have indicated that the increased consumption of omega-3s, especially EPA, could reduce the risk of depression and anxiety.
People suffering from severe symptoms of depression can include vegan DHA sources in their diet to derive relief from the symptoms.
Research studies show that the increased consumption of omega-3s can reduce the risk of cancer to a great extent.
These nutrients are believed to work by producing anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and anti-carcinogenic effects.
Not many people know that omega-3s are also suitable for improving their eyesight.
DHA is a critical structural component of the retina of our eyes. The deficiency of DHA may affect your vision and put you at risk of cataracts, macular degeneration, and retinal degeneration at a much younger age.
Increasing your intake of omega-3s, on the other hand, would not just improve your eyesight but also reduce the risk of blindness and permanent eye damage linked to these conditions.
Should I Supplement Omega-3 On a Plant-Based Diet?
Most vegans have a fear of losing out on important nutrients due to their plant-based food choices.
They are especially anxious about depriving themselves of the benefits of omega-3s as fish and fish oil are popularized as the most efficient sources of these nutrients.
However, this is not true.
It is possible to ensure your body is not deprived of omega-3 fatty acids even when you are following a vegan diet.
These are several plant-based sources of omega-3s, including those in your regular meals would definitely help you enjoy the benefits of these vital nutrients.
Hence, you do not have to worry about how to get omega-3 without fish or feel the compulsion to use omega-3 supplements to be able to keep fit and healthy.
You can take good care of your general health and improve the functions of your heart and brain, maintain normal cholesterol levels, and avoid stress and depression simply by consuming algae, seeds, and nuts.
These foods have been proven to provide a rich content of different forms of omega-3s including ALA, DHA, and APA.
Plant-Based Omega-3 vs Fish Oil
Plant-derived omega-3s usually come in the form of ALA, which is luckily the only essential omega-3 fatty acid.
This means our body does not have the ability to produce its own ALA and hence, we must consume it through our diets.
The body can naturally convert ALA into DHA and EPA, both of which are longer-chain omega-3s.
Non-vegan sources of foods, especially fish, contain both EPA and DHA. However, this does not mean that a plant-based vegan diet is deficient in the longer-chain omega-3s.
On the contrary, findings from the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC) Study have revealed that the people following a vegan diet actually have a significantly higher level of long-chain omega-3 fatty acids in their blood, compared to the people who consume fish.
In spite of the zero intakes of EPA and DHA, vegans were found to have a higher ability to convert a robust amount of shorter-chain fatty acids like ALA into long-chain omega-3s, compared to fish eaters.
This suggests that plant-based omega-3s could be superior to fish oil and other non-vegan sources of DHA and EPA.
Hence, vegans can continue to follow their food choices without worrying about depriving themselves of the benefits of omega-3s from fish oil.
Omega-3 fatty acids are essential for maintaining optimal health.
Including plant-based foods rich in omega-3s like ALA, DHA, and EPA such as algae, flaxseeds, and chia seeds in your diet would help you derive the medicinal benefits of these nutrients.
This will help you stay fit and avoid a wide range of health issues including hypertension, diabetes, cancer, poor eyesight, and depression.
- It's written and or reviewed by an expert.
- We cite relevant studies and trusted sources.
- It's regularly updated.
Read more about our process and team.
- Sunflower Seeds vs Broad (Fava) Beans: Which Is Healthier?
- Sunflower Seeds vs White Beans: Difference & Similarities
- Sunflower Seeds vs Pinto Beans: How Are They Different?
- Sunflower Seeds vs Kidney Beans: What’s The Difference?
- Sunflower Seeds vs Chickpea Flour: Which Is Better?
- Sunflower Seeds vs Pink or Red Lentils: Which Is Better?