Just keep swimming, just keep swimming, what do we do we swim, swim (sorry a Finding Nemo reference straight off the bat there!) You’ve probably heard about omega 3’s being the heart healthy oil found in fish, right? I think a load of companies selling fish went on an omega 3 binge to try and pretend their products were healthy (which they most certainly are not). But what actually is omega 3, what does it do to us, and where can you get it on a vegan diet?
There’s been a lot of conflicting information out there about omega 3, and it’s coming to light now, that actually the benefits of omega 3 have been far over inflated by companies marketing. That being said – it is still an essential fat we need to get in our diets (just not in the proportions we’ve be let to believe).
What is omega 3
Omega 3 is an essential fat which we need to get in our diet (our body can’t produce it on its own). It’s in the same family as omega 6 and 9, both of which are also important, and each have a vital role, but omega 6 and 9 are more abundant in a vegan diet, and omega 9 can actually be produced by the body so shouldn’t take much thinking about. As long as you’re eating some seeds, nuts, avocados or using olive oil or sesame oil in your cooking, you’ll be getting plenty of omega 6 and 9.
The reason I mention the other two omega fats is because the proportions of omega 3, 6 and 9 are important. You should be aiming to get 4:1 omega 6 to omega 3 but, in reality, on a western diet, you’ll be getting a much higher proportion because omega 6 is simply more abundant in foods.
Omega 3’s can be broken down into three different types, some of which are more beneficial. ALA, DHA and EPA. ALA is the most common omega 3 you’ll find in plants, but the absorption and utilisation of your body for ALA in some cases isn’t that efficient. If you’re eating ALA, your body will use it for energy, as well as convert it into EPA and DHA, but the science is still out on how efficient this conversion is. So, for good measure, it’s a good idea to get EPA and DHA from your food too!
OK, but what does it actually DO for us?
As I said above, most of you will probably associate it with a healthy heart. Which is true. One of the big benefits of ensuring you get enough omega 3 in your diet is that it can potentially reduce the risk of heart disease. The majority of studies suggest this is the case, but with as with most things, they disagree on how much it reduces the risk - however it seems to be around a 25% reduction in the risk of heart disease – which is pretty big!
There are, however, multiple other benefits which have been linked to omega 3. Now not all of these studies are double blind, control group studies etc, but there haven’t been any studies to suggest eating the optimal amount of omega 3’s has negative side effects – so I’d say it’s worth making sure you do get enough as the worst case scenario is that it doesn’t do anything… That’s a hell of a lot better than the majority of medicines etc which often have terrible side effects!
Some of the other main benefits some studies have linked to optimal omega 3 consumption are:
- Improvements in anxiety and depression
- Improvements in eye health
- Improvements in brain health
- Reduce symptoms of metabolic obesity
- Reduce inflammation
Totally interesting, but just tell me how much I’m meant to get and where I can get it!
A number of health organisations have suggested 250mg to 500mg is a good amount of omega 3. But as I said earlier, this is also dependant on how much omega 6 you’re getting, as a ratio of 4 omega 6 to 1 omega 3 is considered ideal.
Some common plant foods which give you omega 3’s are:
Chia Seeds – One serving of chia seeds (1 tablespoon) is about 2500mg of ALA omega 3! Which your body can convert to EPA and DHA, but remember, not as efficiently as getting those types of omega 3 directly. So assuming about a 5% conversion rate (Which some studied have shown) – about 125mg of EPA/DHA.
Hemp Seeds – One tablespoon of hemp seeds contains about 3000mg of ALA! Again, a 5% conversion rate translates to 150mg of EPA/DHA.
Walnuts – One serving (28grams/ 0.25 cup) of walnuts provides 2,545mg of ALA, so roughly 125mg of EPA/DHA.
Flaxseeds – One tablespoon of flax seeds contains 3150mg of ALA! So around 157mg of EPA/DHA.
As you can see, the most readily available source of Omega 3 in plant foods is ALA – but luckily that does come in an abundance! So adding a few portions to your meals is great.
However, when it comes to directly getting EPA/DHA from your vegan diet, it may be better to take an algae oil supplement too. Algae oil contains EPA and DHA (It’s where the fish get it from!). We take a daily supplement, but we do also ensure we eat flax seed and walnuts on an almost daily basis too!
You can also get DHA and EPA from seaweed, which is great, but don’t go over the top with seaweed because it also provides iodine, which is great, but you can end up getting too much of if you eat TOO much seaweed!