Vegetarians: Double Up On Omega-3s

Submitted by Courtney on Sun, 01/31/2010 - 23:41

Omega 3 fatty acids are all the rage these days, and for a good reason. The benefits of these fatty acids seem to be increasing by the day, some of the most notable being:

  • Reducing heart disease and lowering cholesterol
  • Preventing and protecting one against Alzheimer’s disease
  • Preventing one from a number of cancers
  • Immunity boosting
  • Help and prevent arthritis
  • Improve our “brain health”

So where do we get these omega 3 fatty acids? Fatty fish are where we look to first. Fatty fish include:

  • Salmon
  • Mackerel
  • Sardines
  • Herring

Types of Omega 3

These types of food contain two types of omega 3s: eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). These two types of acids typically come from meat and fish products, or “animal based”. It is generally agreed that these are the two best sources for omega 3s in our diet and most studies on omega 3 fatty acids are based from these two “long-chain omega 3 fatty acids”.

The Other Omega 3

There is another type of omega 3 fatty acid chain, however, which all vegans and vegetarians appreciate: a-linolenic acid, or “ALA”. You can find ALAs in vegan and vegetarian approved sources such as leafy green veggies (think kale and spinach), soy, tofu, nuts, cooking oils (such as flax seed oil, canola oil and soybean oil), hemp as well as omega 3 enhanced eggs for vegetarians. The “issue” with ALA, however, is that it is a shorter chain than DHA and EPA.

What Do Vegetarians Do?

So what does this mean to you? This means that vegetarians and vegans (or those banking on vegetable-based products to provide them with omega 3s) need to generally double up on their intake to obtain the necessary omega 3s to see a benefit. While meat and fish eaters may easily consume 3 grams of omega 3s due to the DHA and EPA forms of omega 3 fatty acids contained in them, vegetarians and vegans will need to consume 6 grams of vegetables containing the ALA omega 3 fatty acid to enjoy the same benefits.

While having to “double up” on anything in comparison to someone else may initially be alarming to you vegans and vegetarians, think about all of the foods and food products you consume in a day. There’s a very good chance that you are eating more than enough foods filled with ALA to consume an adequate amount of omega 3 fatty acids. Should you have any doubt as to whether or not your diet is adequate, speak to your health care practitioner for more information on diet and supplementation.

photo by Anna H-G

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