The best vegan sources of Omega-3s for plant eaters

wWhen it comes to eating for optimal health and longevity, doctors and dieticians regularly preach the importance of filling up on both plant-based and fish-based foods. This makes sense: While plants are a nutritional goldmine, there’s one nutrient that’s hard to get from them: omega-3 fatty acids, which many harvest from fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, and anchovies ( among other ingredients).

It goes without saying that eating omega-3s is incredibly important. A recent study found that eating omega-3s is directly linked to a longer lifespan, thanks to their ability to fight inflammation and boost both heart and cognitive health. Unfortunately, many of us, both fishermen and vegans, still don’t eat enough.

“Omega-3s are considered essential because the body cannot produce them, which is why it’s so important to get them from food sources and / or supplements like fish oil,” says Susan Bowerman, MS, RD, CSSD, CSOWM, FAND , Senior Director of Global Nutrition Education and Training at Herbalife Nutrition. “They play an important structural role in cell membranes and are used to form signaling molecules known as eicosanoids, which affect the function of the cardiovascular, pulmonary, immune and endocrine systems. Omega-3 fatty acids also support eye and brain health, aid in the functioning of the nervous system and help prevent chronic diseases thanks to their anti-inflammatory properties, “says Bowerman.

Bowerman goes on to explain that there are several types of omega-3s, but most research focuses on three of them:

  1. Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), found in vegetable fats, includes flaxseed oil, soybean oil, canola oil, chia seeds, and walnuts
  2. Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), found in fish, fish oil and krill oil
  3. Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), also found in fish, fish oil and krill oil

Can plant eaters satisfy their needs by consuming exclusively vegan sources of omega-3 (ALA)?

“According to the Food and Nutrition Board of the National Academy of Medicine, adequate intake of omega-3 fatty acids for healthy adults is 1.6 grams per day for males 19 years of age and older and 1.1 grams per day for females aged 19 and older, “says Kathy Siegel, MS, RDN, CDN, author of The 30-minute cookbook for clean eating And Eat a clean vegetarian cookbook. “During pregnancy, an adequate omega-3 intake is 1.4 grams per day. While breastfeeding, an adequate intake is 1.3 grams per day.

That said, the most important omega-3s are DHA and EPA, Siegel says, which are found primarily in fish and marine plants. “ALA is still the most common omega-3, however, and is found mostly in plant foods. While our bodies power converting it to DHA and EPA, only a small percentage of ALA from plant sources is converted, “says Siegel.” Therefore, relying on plant sources of omega-3s can still leave you deficient in DHA and EPA. In this case, it is extremely important. eat plenty of sea vegetables or consult your doctor for an algae oil supplement, as this may be recommended to help you meet your adequate daily intake.

Bottom line: You can get all of your omega-3s from plant sources, but you’ll need to put more effort into consuming enough of them to ensure you’re getting a balance of ALA, EPA, and DHA. For example, if you are a vegan or plant-based eater who avoids eating fish, be sure to pile your plate with seaweed, seaweed, and other sea vegetables whenever possible, as these are some of the only plant foods that serve as a strong source. of EPA and DHA.

Below are some of the major vegan sources of ALA omega-3s, according to Bowerman:

  • Flaxseed oil: 7.3 grams of ALA per tablespoon
  • Chia seeds: 5.1 grams of ALA per ounce
  • British walnuts: 2.6 grams of ALA per ounce
  • Canola oil: 1.3 grams of ALA per tablespoon
  • Soybean oil: 1 gram of ALA per tablespoon

“In men, about 8 percent of ALA is converted to EPA and four percent or less is converted to DHA. In women, about 21 percent of ALA is converted to EPA and 9 percent to DHA,” Bowerman says.

To get an idea of ​​how much EPA and DHA you are getting from fish sources, highlight the following main sources:

  • Cooked Salmon: 3 ounces contain 1.2 grams of DHA; 0.4-0.6 grams of EPA
  • Sardines: 3 ounces contain 0.7 grams of DHA; 0.5 grams of EPA
  • Trout: 3 ounces contain 0.4 grams of DHA; 0.4 grams of EPA
  • Oysters: 3 ounces contain 0.2 grams of DHA; 0.3 grams of EPA

Another option? A supplement. “Plant-based and animal-based omega-3 supplements can be found in the form of fish oil and krill oil, which both provide EPA and DHA, as well as vegetarian products with seaweed oil that can provide some DHA and EPA. “says Bowerman. “Since many people do not consume fish regularly or may not consume adequate plant sources of omega-3s to meet their adequate intake, supplements can help meet needs.” Again, before starting any new supplement, be sure to consult a physician and / or registered dietician.

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