The Truth about Omega 3's for Vegans and Vegetarians
There is a misconception within the plant-based community that omega 3's are easily consumed as part of a balanced diet. Whilst this is true to a degree, let's examine this further.
What exactly are Omega 3 fatty acids?
The three main omega-3 fatty acids are:
- alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), found mainly in nuts, seets and plant oils such as flax.
- eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), primarily found in fish.
Our body's rely on these to function and also deliver a host of health benefits including, but not limited to:
- Lowered blood triglyceride levels in turn reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease.
- Neurological development in infants
- Joint pain relief in rheumatoid arthritis
- Cognitive function
ALA vs DHA & EPA - which form?
Many vegans and vegetarians lean on flaxseeds and flax oil in order to get these omega 3's into their diets. Flaxseed and other plant omega 3's are all good sources of ALA, but not DHA or EPA, which primarily derive from fish and are therefore not a component of either diet.
ALA's have to be converted to DHA & EPA in the body, but this process is extremely inefficient with between 5 - 15 per cent being converted. As you can imagine, you'd have to consume vast amounts in order to get a decent dose. Many of the benefits described above are from DHA and EPA and as such you could be missing out on these.
So what's the solution?
There's good news. There are now vegan and vegetarian suitable supplements that are algae-based and are great sources of both DHA and EPA. It is important to check the label to ensure that they do contain DHA and EPA, as these are the ones lacking in the diet.
I am not saying "go out and buy them" but it's hard to argue against the wonderful potential health benefits.