Omega-3 fatty acids are considered an essential nutrient (1).Unlike fish or eggs, vegan omega-3 sources offer different phytonutrients that can benefit your body. In fact, vegan omega-3 sources are exceptionally good at fighting inflammation because of their added antioxidants and vitamins.
What happens if you don’t have enough omega-3 fatty acids in your diet? Symptoms you can expect include fatigue, mood swings, depression, poor circulation, and memory problems (2). Clinical research has demonstrated the importance of omega-3 fatty acids not only in how well our bodies function, but how well they prevent health problems.
Omega-3 fatty acids can help reduce inflammation and improve cognitive function. In infants and children, omega-3 fatty acids promote healthy growth and development and help prevent nerve disorders and vision problems (3).
Plus, these essential fatty acids help lower your risk for heart disease, certain cancers, arthritis, and neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.
How Much Omega-3 Your Body Needs?
Since the body cannot create its own supply of this essential nutrient, it helps to know, which omega-3 foods you should be eating.
Healthy adults should aim for between 250-2000mg of omega-3 daily, per their doctor’s recommendations (4).
Most people turn to fish: salmon, tuna, sardines, and mackerel are all wonderful sources of omega-3s. However, there are a number of plant sources that can meet your needs as well – here’s a list of vegan omega-3 sources you’ll definitely want to try:
Flaxseeds are high in fiber, protein, manganese, magnesium, and (of course) omega-3s. Flaxseed and flaxseed oil are both very popular choices to help treat and prevent obesity, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and heart disease (5,6,7).
You don’t need much, either: one ounce of flaxseeds contains an astonishing 6388mg of omega-3 fatty acids (8).
Numerous studies on flaxseed and its positive health effects have found that flaxseed is a particularly powerful tool for weight management. You can add ground or whole flaxseed to smoothies, as an egg substitute in baking, or sprinkle them over oatmeal or cereal.
If possible, keep whole flaxseed on hand and grind them up yourself (as opposed to keeping ground flaxseed on hand). Ground flaxseed degrades rather quickly, but whole flaxseeds will keep for a very long time. If you prefer flaxseed oil, avoid cooking it and use it instead as a dressing.
One of the healthiest nut choices, walnuts are incredibly good sources of heart-healthy monounsaturated fats, omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin E, copper, manganese, and biotin (9).
A single ounce of walnuts contains over 2500mg of omega-3 fats as well as more than half the daily recommended intake of copper and manganese – two very important trace minerals.
In clinical studies, walnuts are shown to improve memory, learning, and overall mental cognition – especially in relation to Alzheimer’s disease (10). Walnuts are a great option on their own for a mid-afternoon snack, but you can also add them to cereals, yogurt, or bake them into some heart healthy energy balls.
3. Hemp Seed
Hemp is quite possibly among the most useful and healthy plants known to man. Containing around 2.5g of omega-3 fatty acids 30 grams, hemp seed is also rich in protein, fiber, and the micronutrients iron, zinc, and magnesium (11).
Most clinical research on hemp seed involves the benefits on heart health – preventing blood clots and aiding recovery from (and preventing future) heart attacks (12).
Hemp seed has a long history in Eastern and alternative medicine, used to treat everything from neurological disorders to mild skin ailments.
To incorporate more hemp into your diet, you can use hempseed oil as you would any other vegetable oil, sprinkle hemp seeds over cereal, yogurt, into smoothies, or anywhere else you would normally use granola for a nice crunch.
4. Perilla Oil
Perilla oil is not a staple in most American households, but it is quite popular in Korean cooking.
Used as both a condiment and a cooking oil, perilla oil has a very pleasant, nutty flavor. It’s also been used medicinally to treat mild stomach ailments and aid in digestion (13).
Like other oils, perilla is rich in vitamin E and is comparable to flax seeds in its omega-3 content. Plus, it has the highest proportion of omega-3 fatty acids relative to omega-6 fatty acids (14).
As with flaxseed oil, you’ll want to avoid heating perilla oil to preserve the nutritional content and prevent it from getting rancid. You may find it easier (and more convenient) to get perilla oil in capsule form and take it as a supplement
5. Brussels Sprouts
Unlike the nuts and seeds on this list, you’re probably surprised to see this cruciferous vegetable here. Brussels sprouts may not have as high of an omega-3 content – around 88mg in every cup – but they more than make up for that in the rest of its nutrients and health benefits (15).
In fact, they are ridiculously high in vitamins K and C, not to mention loaded with fiber Because of all of this, a high intake cruciferous vegetables is linked to a decreased risk of heart disease and obesity (16).
Brussels sprouts can be roasted, steamed, stir-fried, or eaten raw.
6. Chia Seeds
Chia seeds are probably the most well-known source of omega-3 fatty acids, and for good reason: you need less than one ounce of chia seeds to meet your daily recommended intake (17).
Chia seeds pack more than omega-3 fatty acids for nutritional value. They are extremely high in fiber for how small they are, and they are also quite high in protein: one ounce of chia seeds has a whopping 10.6 grams of fiber and 4.4 grams of protein!
These little seeds also contain a respectable amount of omega-6 fatty acids, which is important because your body needs a good ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acids for optimal nutrition and health benefits.
Sprinkle some chia seeds over a salad, add them to your smoothie, or make your own chia seed pudding! Chia seeds have a very mild flavor (if any), and when soaked they are a great thickener.
7. Algal Oil
As you may guess from the name, algal oil comes from algae. Sometimes called algae oil, it actually has similar fatty acid properties to that of salmon or other seafood sources (18).
A popular vegan source of omega-3s, algal oil is remarkably well tolerated and absorbed. Algal oil is incredibly high in heart-healthy monounsaturated fats, and since it has a high “smoke point” and mild flavor it is very well suited as a cooking oil (19).
Replace your less desirable vegetable oils (extra virgin olive oil not included) with algal oil where possible. You can also take it as a supplement in capsule form as it is available in most pharmacies.
Now that you know all these vegan omega-3 sources, you’ll have even more options to keep your brain and cardiovascular system working properly.
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