The three essential nutrients for the human body are carbohydrates, protein and fat. Among them, fat is one of the important components of body cells. For example, important organs such as your brain, liver and kidneys contain a lot of fat.
Adequate intake of healthy fats (especially omega-3 fatty acids) is essential to maintain the normal function of your body.
The best food sources of Omega-3 are fatty fish such as salmon, mackerel and sardines, or deep-sea fish oil and krill oil.
However, how do vegetarians or vegans supplement omega 3? In this article, we will introduce some of the best plant-based sources of omega 3.
What Are Omega 3 Fatty Acids?
Omega-3 is also called omega-3 fatty acid or n -3 fatty acid, which belongs to polyunsaturated fatty acid (PUFA). It is an important part of human and animal lipid metabolism and physiological activities.
The three most important Omega-3 fatty acids for human health are:
- EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid)
- DHA (docosahexaenoic acid)
- ALA (α-linolenic acid)
EPA and DHA are mainly found in marine organisms such as fatty fish, krill oil or fish oil. ALA is derived from plant foods including certain nuts, seeds and dark green leafy vegetables.
ALA is not highly active in the body. It must be converted into EPA and DHA to provide the same health benefits. [*]
However, the human body has a limited ability to convert ALA. Only about 5% of ALA is converted into EPA and less than 0.5% of ALA is converted into DHA.
Therefore, if you are a vegetarian/vegan, or you do not like fish and do not take fish oil, then you must eat more foods rich in ALA to meet your body’s demand for omega-3.
What Are The Health Benefits Of Omega 3 Fatty Acids?
In addition to providing energy for your body and brain, omega-3 fatty acids also have many powerful health benefits.
1. Improve heart health:
Omega 3 fatty acids can lower triglyceride levels, increasing the “good” HDL cholesterol levels and also lowers blood pressure.
In addition, omega 3 can prevent thrombosis and arteriosclerosis and reduce inflammation.
All of these contribute to heart health.
2. Fight depression and anxiety:
Studies have found that supplementing omega-3 can relieve the symptoms of patients with depression and anxiety.
In particular, EPA has similar effects to ordinary antidepressants.
3. Improve eye health:
DHA type omega-3 is the main component of the eye’s retinal structure.
Lack of DHA may lead to vision problems, especially macular degeneration. [*]
4. Promote brain development of fetuses and babies:
40% of the polyunsaturated fat in the human brain is DHA.
Adequate omega-3 intake during pregnancy and breastfeeding can bring many benefits to your baby.
These benefits include increasing IQ and EQ, reducing behavioral problems and preventing a developmental delay. In addition, it may also reduce the risk of ADHD, autism and cerebral palsy.
5. Reduce symptoms of metabolic syndrome:
Metabolic syndrome includes central obesity, hypertension, insulin resistance, high triglycerides and low levels of HDL (good) cholesterol.
Supplementing omega 3 fatty acids can improve insulin resistance in patients with metabolic syndrome. Moreover, omega 3 can help fight inflammation and improve some risk factors for heart disease. [*]
6. Fight against autoimmune diseases:
When your immune system mistakes healthy cells for foreign cells and starts to attack them, it can cause autoimmune diseases.
Type 1 diabetes, lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s disease and psoriasis are some examples of autoimmune diseases.
Omega-3 fatty acids can help fight such diseases.
7. May improve brain function:
Omega-3 may help prevent age-related mental decline and Alzheimer’s disease, but more research in this area is needed.
8. Help prevent cancer:
Adequate Omega-3 intake may reduce the risk of certain types of cancer, including colon cancer, prostate cancer and breast cancer.
9. Reduce liver fat:
Non-alcoholic fatty liver (NAFLD) is a common cause of chronic liver disease.
Supplementing omega 3 fatty acids can effectively reduce liver fat and inflammation in patients with NAFLD.
10. Reduce dysmenorrhea symptoms:
Menstrual pain is common in women. Many studies have repeatedly proven that women who consume more Omega 3 have fewer dysmenorrhea symptoms.
Omega-3 supplements are more effective than ibuprofen in treating severe pain during menstruation. [*]
The Best Plant Based Omega 3 Fatty Acids
Flaxseed is called a “superfood” and it is the oldest seed planted and eaten by humans.
Flaxseed is rich in ALA Omega 3. One ounce (28 grams) of flaxseeds contains 6388 mg of ALA.
In addition, flaxseed also contains a lot of fiber, protein and minerals such as magnesium and manganese.
Multiple studies have confirmed that both flaxseed and flaxseed oil can lower cholesterol and significantly lower blood pressure in patients with hypertension.
If you want to learn more, please refer to the health benefits, side effects, precautions, and warnings of flaxseed.
2. Chia seeds
Chia seed is another “superfood”. In addition to being rich in dietary fiber, protein and minerals, chia seed is also an excellent source of ALA omega 3 fatty acids.
One ounce (28 grams) of chia seeds can provide up to 4915 mg of ALA, which can meet and exceed the daily recommended intake of omega-3 fatty acids.
There are many ways to eat chia seeds, such as adding them to yogurt, milkshakes, milk or salads.
Kelp, laver, spirulina and chlorella are different forms of algae that many people eat for health benefits.
They are also an important source of omega 3 for vegetarians or vegans because they are one of the few plants that contain DHA and EPA. [*]
Seaweed is also rich in protein. It has anti-diabetic, antioxidant and antihypertensive effects.
4. Hemp seeds
Although hemp seeds come from the hemp plant, they are not psychoactive and not addictive.
Hemp seeds are rich in nutrients, such as protein, vitamins, fiber, minerals and healthy fats that include ALA omega.3 ( 6000 mg of ALA per ounce). They also contain all the essential amino acids.
Studies have shown that hemp seeds are good for the heart, digestive system and skin health.
Walnuts contain about 65% of healthy fats, including ALA omega 3 fatty acids. One ounce (28 grams) can provide 2542 mg of ALA.
Compared to other foods, walnuts also contain more antioxidants.
Animal studies have shown that walnuts can significantly improve the memory, learning ability, exercise ability and anxiety of Alzheimer’s diseased mice.
6. Brussels sprouts
In addition to the high content of vitamin K, vitamin C and fiber, Brussels sprouts are also an excellent source of omega 3 fatty acids.
Half a cup (44 grams) of raw Brussels sprouts contains about 44 mg of ALA, which gets higher after being cooked. Half a cup (78 grams) of cooked Brussels sprouts contains 135 mg of ALA.
They are also rich in fiber and antioxidants, which can help protect your body from free radical damage.
7. Vegetarian omega 3 supplements
If you cannot eat enough omega-3 fatty acids in your diet, you can take supplements regularly.
The most common omega 3 supplement is fish oil or krill oil. However, if you are a vegetarian or vegan, algae oil is an excellent source of omega-3.
However, the amount of DHA and EPA contained in algae oil is lower than most fish oil supplements, so you may need to take more doses.
Some plant-based supplements contain animal ingredients and are not suitable for vegetarians. Please read the label carefully before purchasing.
Omega-3 fatty acids are unsaturated fats that are beneficial to the cardiovascular system.
The best way to ensure adequate omega-3 intake is obtaining them from whole foods (e.g. eating fatty fish twice a week).
However, if you don’t like fish, or are a vegan, you can eat more plant-based foods that are rich in ALA omega-3. Another choice is to take omega-3 supplements to promote better health.