How Can Vegetarians Get Enough Omega 3?

Omega 3 fatty acids have captured significant media attention, and for good reason. They may help lower triglycerides and blood pressure and reduce the risk of death, heart attack and strokes in people with known cardiovascular disease. If you are not a vegetarian, getting your daily requirements of Omega 3 from oily fish or fish oil supplements is pretty straightforward. However, if you are a vegetarian you have to be more creative to make sure you get adequate amounts of this disease-fighting hero.

Omega 3 fatty acids are "essential" to our body, meaning our bodies cannot synthesize these fatty acids and they must be consumed from dietary sources. There are 3 types of omega fatty acids: eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and alpha-linolenic acid (ALA).

The primary benefits of this potent natural anti-inflammatory are associated with the Omega 3s found in fish oils, EPA and DHA. Omega 3 fatty acids found in fish oil are EPA and DHA. DHA is the most important Omega 3 fatty acid, thought to be responsible for numerous health benefits. The type of Omega 3 that is plant based is called ALA. ALA has not been shown to have the same health benefits as the animal forms, but our bodies can take the ALA type of Omega 3 and convert it into EPA and DHA.  

ALA is the only source of omega 3 fatty acids that vegetarians can consume. Plant sources of ALA that can be converted into the Omega 3 fatty acids EPA and DHA include the following:

  • Flaxseed and Flaxseed Oil
  • Chia Seeds
  • Hemp Seeds
  • Walnuts and Walnut Oil
  • Soy Foods such as Soybean Oil
  • Pumpkin Sees
  • Canola (rapeseed) Oil
  • Perilla Oil
  • Dark Green leafy vegetables such as Broccoli & Cauliflower
  • Hummus & Tahini
  • Purslane
  • Brussels Sprouts
  • Wild Berries

Vegetarians need to get Omega 3 fatty acids through plant sources of ALA or through algae-based dietary supplements. The range for suggested dosing of ALA is 30 to 1200mg/day. As a general antioxidant, a much lower dose of 20 to 50mg daily is often recommended.

For example, flaxseed oil is a rich source of ALA and contains 7g per 15mL (1 tbsp), and 1-2 tablespoons or 1-2 capsules can be taken daily. Milled or ground flaxseed contains 3.2 grams per 2 tablespoons of ALA.

Omega 3s have also been known to reduce symptoms related to arthritis, psoriasis, dry eyes, depression and even improve cognitive function. In pregnancy, Omega 3 fish oil helps the development of the fetal brain and visual system. Observational studies suggest that maternal Omega 3 fish oil consumption during pregnancy optimizes postnatal child cognitive development. In nursing mothers, the potent anti-inflammatory effects of Omega 3 fish oil are passed onto the infant through breast milk.

Omega 3 fatty acids provide a multitude of health benefits without significant health side effects. Not surprisingly, fresh foods are the best source of this essential nutrient so vegetarians can choose from a medley of healthy nut oils, fruits and veggies to satisfy their daily intake needs.

This post has been reproduced with the permission of Dr. SherryTM

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