Considering the state of our rivers and oceans; polluted with plastic residues (BPA's), heavy metals and agricultural wastes, as well as diminishing fish populations due to overfishing and irresponsible environmental practices, we must consider other sources of polyunsaturated Omega 3 fatty acids.
Farmed fish is not ideal either and has it's own host of associated environmental and health related issues. So where can we find reliable plant based Omega 3's and how can we ensure we are getting enough? Below is a cheat sheet with the most important facts about omega 3 fats.
Fact: Fish do not make omegas, they eat them! Skip the fish and head straight to the source, sea vegetables (sea weeds and certain types of algae) are ideal sources of Omega fatty acids. However if the thought of sea vegetables is not appealing to you, land dwelling plants sources are also readily available.
- Without proper planning, a vegetarian diet may be lacking in Omega 3 fatty acids. However it is still possible to meet your daily recommended intake. Foods such as oils, nuts and seeds are very high in Omega 3. The problem with a lot of these foods is that they are also high in the other type of essential fatty acid: Omega 6
- Omega 6 inhibits the conversion of Omega 3 into DHA and EPA. So, the Omega 3 from foods like walnuts (2542mg Omega 3 but 10666 Omega 6) or sesame seeds (105mg Omega 3 but 5984mg Omega 6) may not be adequate sources of Omega 3 for conversion into DHA and EPA.
- The body can convert ALA into EPA and DHA. ALA is efficiently converted to EPA, but it may require large amounts of ALA to produce optimal amounts of DHA.
- The capacity to convert DHA from ALA is higher in women than men. Studies of ALA metabolism in healthy young men indicate that approximately 8% of dietary ALA is converted to EPA and 0-4% is converted to DHA . In healthy young women, approximately 21% of dietary ALA is converted to EPA and 9% is converted to DHA. The better conversion efficiency of young women compared to men appears to be related to the effects of estrogen.
- Something to consider: because omega-3s are a type of fat, conditions that involve poor absorption of fats from our digestive tract can increase our risk of omega-3 deficiency. These include inflammatory bowel disease, celiac disease, and cystic fibrosis.
- If you want your DHA levels to be the same as non-vegetarians, supplementing with 300 mg per day will likely accomplish that.
- If you just want some insurance that you are getting a source of DHA in case your body isn't efficient at making it, supplementing with 200 - 300 mg every 2-3 days will provide that.
- Seaweeds and algae have fairly high amounts of Omega 3, but they are also one of the only vegan foods which also contain EPA and DHA. Spirulina (58mg Omega 3, 88mg Omega 6 per tablespoon) is one of the best choices. Wakame is a close second.
- Flaxseed oil (also known as flax oil or linseed oil) is available as an ALA supplement. DHA supplements derived from algal and fungal sources are also available. Because dietary DHA is retroconverted to EPA and DPA in humans, DHA supplementation represents yet another alternative to fish oil supplements
Tips to optimize your conversion of Omega 3 into DHA and EPA:
- Decrease the amount of foods that are high in Omega-6: Foods high in Omega-6 fatty acids reduce the amount of ALA that's converted to
- EPA and DHA by up to 40%. this can be accomplished by Eliminating certain oils from your diet that are high in Omega-6. These include sunflower, safflower, corn, cottonseed, and soybean oils.
- Eat a diet rich in ALA foods: This will increase the amount of DHA your body makes. The best sources of ALA are the following:
Improve your overall Diet: There are other changes you can make to increase the conversion rate by improving liver function. Cut back, or eliminate, alcohol, and foods that are high in saturated fat, cholesterol, and trans fatty acids. They also interfere with the conversion rate of ALA to EPA and DHA.
High Omega-3 Morning Shake:
- 1 cup spinach
- 1 cup baby kale
- 1 cup frozen raspberries
- 1 tbls ground flax seeds
- 1 tbls vegetarian (flax/algae) Omega 3 oil with DHA (ex. Nutra-vege by Ascenta)
- 1-1/2 cups water
*This shake provides 3.265g overall omega three, with 500mg in the form of ready available DHA.
**Men can convert the available ALA to 0.15g into EPA and approximately 0.08g DHA. Women can convert the available ALA to approximately 0.4g EPA and approximately 0.171g DHA.
*** Adding a tablespoon of spirulina to this shake and boost the available omega-3 by 58mg.