I have heard so much about the benefits of omega-3 fats but have been told that fish is the only source. Is there a way to consume enough omega-3 on a plant-based diet? Should everyone, regardless of diet, take an omega-3 supplement?
Omega-3 fatty acids are essential fatty acids that most of us don't consume enough of. Most of us have no problem getting enough omega-6 since it is abundant in most vegetable oils, nuts, seeds, and processed foods; we actually usually get too much omega-6 in our diets.
Consuming too much omega-6 and not enough omega-3 increases inflammation in the body. The ideal ratio of omega-6:omega-3 we should aim for is about 2:1, however most of us (omnivores and vegans) get a ratio of 20:1.
In addition to reducing our consumption of omega-6, it is really important to get enough omega-3. We can reduce our intake of omega-6 by limiting our intake of the low-quality vegetable oils like canola oil, corn oil, soy oil, safflower oil, "vegetable" oil, and sunflower oil.
Omega-3 fatty acids include the shorter-chain ALA, and the longer-chain EPA/DHA. EPA/DHA are considered the active forms of omega-3 that are responsible for the many health benefits. Our body can convert the ALA form into the active forms of EPA/DHA, but the conversion rate is quite low, especially if there are any health issues present.
Algae oil supplements, however, do contain the already converted forms EPA/DHA. Fish are also a source of EPA/DHA, which is why they are said to be better sources than flax and chia.
If we eat a wide variety of plant-foods and make sure to include flax, chia, hemp, walnuts, and purslane, we will be able to consume lots of ALA omega-3, and a small amount of this will be converted into EPA/DHA.
Whether or not these ALA-sources alone will provide enough EPA/DHA will depend on the individual (i.e. their level of inflammation, any health issues they have, how much omega-6 they consume, how well their body converts ALA to EPA/DHA).
For these reasons I do recommend that a algae-based EPA/DHA supplement is taken in addition to consuming a variety of food sources of ALA. These supplements are available in liquid and capsule form.
If you are not sure if you would benefit from taking an EPA/DHA supplement please book a Complimentary 15 Min Discovery Call.
Shawna Barker BSc., RHN is a nutritionist specializing in vegan diets.