Omega-3 fatty acids
The American Heart Association recommends "consuming fish (particularly fatty fish) at least two times a week." The fat in fish provides the essential omega-3 fatty acids, eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). The omega-3 supplements and the foods fortified with it have varying amount of EPA and/or DHA. Omega-3 fatty acids have been shown to slow the progression of atherosclerosis, reduce triglyceride levels. act as an anti-inflammatory agent, possibly help with depression and other personality disorders, and possibly thin the blood. There is ongoing research to determine if there are other health benefits.
To a limited extent, your body can produce EPA from alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), another essential fatty acid. According to studies, ALA does not produce any DHA, so it does not provide comparable health benefits to omega-3 fatty acids. ALA can be found in nonmeat sources such as flaxseed oil, flaxseeds, canola oil, walnuts, and tofu. Research has shown that microalgae oil can serve as a source of omega-3 fatty acids for vegans and vegetarians. Microalgae oil is rich in DHA like fatty fish and provides an adequate amount of EPA.
One other thing to take into consideration when trying to obtain the health benefits from omega-3 fatty acids is the amount of omega-6 fatty acids
that you are consuming. Omega-6 fatty acids are the other essential fat in our diet. These fatty acids are found in abundance in our diets. So much so, that we actually need to cut back on them. Omega-6 fatty acids are found in most vegetable oils, soybean oil, corn oil, sunflower oil, and peanut oil. Some experts believe that we currently consume about 14 times more omega-6 than omega-3 fatty acids. The goal is to bring this consumption closer to an equal intake or, at most, only 3 grams of omega-6 fatty acids for every 1 gram of omega-3 fatty acids. Flaxseed oil and flaxseeds are the only source of ALA that does not also provide omega-6 fatty acids.
While there are no official guidelines for how to get an adequate amount of omega-3 fatty acids in a vegetarian diet, there are some recommendations that you can follow:
- Use microalgae oil as a replacement for fatty fish consumption.
- Use flaxseed oil or flaxseeds (ground or crushed) as your source of ALA. Do not heat the oil when you use it.
- Cut back on your intake of omega-6 fatty acids by replacing plant oils with olive oil or rapeseed oil.
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 4/8/2015