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Plant Based Omega 3 Foods – 10 Vegan Options

Plant Based Omega 3 Foods – 10 Vegan Options

So plant based omega 3 foods, what exactly are we referring to? Well first lets take a step back and undertstand what omega 3 is and why its so important. Low fat, high fat, saturated and trans fats, sometimes it’s difficult to even remember all of the different kinds of fats let alone know if they are good are bad for you. The fact is as a society overall we tend to consume too much fat and often the bad kind. Our body does however require fats to perform several functions. There are two polyunsaturated fats that provide the essential fatty acids that we require for our health.

These are omega-6 linolenic acid (LA) and omega-3 alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). Because our body doesn’t produce the enzymes necessary to synthesize these fatty acids they must be obtained via our diet, hence why they are known as EFA’s or essential fatty acids.

Of the two omega-6 is plentiful particularly for those on a plant based diet. Not consuming enough would be challenging, in fact many people are consuming way too much. What is more challenging is ensuring sufficient intake of omega-3 so we are going to take a look at some great plant based omega 3 foods to make sure we get the balance just right.

EPA and DHA now I’m confused!

First let’s just understand a little more about these two essential fatty acids and why consuming the right levels is so important. As we have said omega 6 is plentiful in our diets. It also easily converts in to highly unsaturated fatty acids, which are vastly active in our bodies and have a range of health benefits. In contrast, omega 3 is not only much less plentiful but it does not convert into its final products EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) anywhere near as easily.

Both EPA and DHA are essential to our health and can pretty much only be obtained directly from certain animal products namely fish and fish oils. Being vegan and eating a plant based diet we need to ensure that we maximise conversation from ALA to meet our requirements, so how best to do this? Well there are several factors that we have to consider.

The first is to ensure an adequate intake of ALA. Although recommendations vary, on average the minimum requirement is 1.1 grams per day for women and 1.6 grams per day for men. Another essential factor is to maintain the ratio between omega-3 and omega-6 that is consumed because too much omega-6 can cancel out the omega-3, leading to a deficiency.

The ideal ratio between omega-6 and omega-3 is 2:1. In other words we should be consuming around twice as much omega-6 as we do omega-3. This is one of the biggest problems when discussing healthy levels of omega-3 because the average person’s ratio is around 16:1, a long way from optimum levels. So as vegans what plant based omega 3 foods should be be looking for?

What about supplements?

Before we finally get on to looking at plant based omega 3 foods it is worth mentioning supplements. Fish oil is the most common supplement for people trying to increase their intake of omega-3. Although rich in EPA and DHA, and thus no need for the body to convert from ALA, studies have also shown that it comes with added contaminates. Fish can contain high levels of heavy metals such as lead and mercury as well as industrial pollutants such as PCBs

The demand for omega-3s has also been linked to overfishing. Some predict that if the excess fish consumption continues unabated that many oceans will be devoid of fish by 2048. The good news is that there are vegan supplements available if they are needed. Organic algae are available as an omega 3 oil supplement making it the best supplement source of omega-3 available.

Ok so let’s forget about supplements for a minute and make sure that we get all the omega-3 we need from whole food plant based sources. Here we list 10 of our favourite. The top 6 are packed with omega 3 and the final 4 are some of our favourite foods with good omega 3 to omega 6 ratios. So what are our top 10 plant based omega 3 foods?

flaxseeds plant based omega 3 food

Flaxseeds

Flaxseeds are at the top of our list of plant based omega 3 foods. Flaxseed comes from the flax plant. The seeds have a nutty taste and can be eaten on their own or cold-pressed to make flaxseed oil. Flaxseed has many health benefits. It is rich in fibre and nutrients and studies have shown that it can reduce cholesterol and lower blood pressure.

Flaxseed is used quite a lot in cooking vegan dishes. When mixed with water, it forms an egg like consistency which can be used to bind ingredients and the nutty taste enhances the flavour. It is worth remembering to grind flaxseeds before using to ensure good digestion. Just 1 tablespoon of ground flaxseeds supplies 1.6 grams of ALA, our daily requirement in one go.

walnuts rich in omega 3

Walnuts

Walnuts are my go to snack and are a brilliant way of incorporating extra healthy fats in to your diet. They are also full of fibre, vitamins and minerals as well as being rich in antioxidants. If you’re not keen on eating them on their own then how about adding them to your cereal or grinding them up and adding them to your vegan yogurt. I often mix mine with dried fruits, either way try to find a way to incorporate this healthy fatty nut in to your diet. Just a small handful (about 2 tablespoons) is all you need to get your 1.6 grams of ALA

chia seeds plant food rich omega 3

Chia seeds

Chia seeds come from the plant Salvia Hispanica, which is a member of the mint family. Pound for pound chia seeds are among the healthiest foods on the planet. They’re packed full of nutrients and antioxidants and have proven health benefits including reducing cholesterol and improving gut health. Because of this these little guys have become super popular over the last few years.

Just like flaxseeds when mixed with water they form an egg like consistency which can be used to bind ingredients. They are easily incorporated into your diet. They can be added to smoothies or sprinkled on a salad. In fact, they are so versatile that they can be added to lots of dishes. Just two teaspoons of dried seeds meets the daily requirement of 1.6 grams

vegan omega 3 hemp seeds

Hemp Seeds

Hemp seeds are an excellent source of protein as well as many other essential nutrients such as iron, zinc and magnesium. Studies have shown them to be beneficial in reducing eczema and other chronic conditions. They don’t have a particularly strong flavour which just like chia seeds makes them easy to mix or add to foods such as smoothies and vegan yogurts. Just two teaspoons of dried hemp seeds exceed the minimum daily requirement of 1.6 grams

plant based omega 3 flax oil

Oils

It is worth noting that many of the seeds above can be purchased and consumed as oils. Although high levels of oil consumption are not associated with optimum health, small quantities of these oils can help increase levels of omega 3 and have proven health benefits. They can be used in dressings, dips and sauces and even added to smoothies. They should not be heated or used in cooking. To meet the minimum daily requirements you need the following. Flaxseed oil 1 teaspoon, hempseed oil 2 teaspoons and walnut oil 3 teaspoons.

Wakame plant based omega 3

Seaweed and algae

Seaweed and algae make our list as they are the one plant group that contain DHA and EPA and therefore don’t have to do through the difficult conversion process from ALA. The DHA and EPA content varies depending on the type of algae and the particular product. Nori is the most commonly used seaweed and the type you will see wrapped around sushi. Spirulina has become very popular due to its numerous health benefits and is easily added to smoothies. Wakame is widely used in Japanese and Korean dishes and is often added to soups and salads but does have a strong flavour. Whichever you choose any of these make a good addition to you intake of DHA and EPA.

Lower levels but good ratios

So that was our top six super rich omega 3 plant based foods. The final four are day to day foods that we love. Although they don’t contain the same level of omega 3 as our super six they do have good omega 3 to 6 ratios.

Broccoli

You may not associate broccoli with fats but apart from its other nutritional benefits it does contain good levels of ALA. In fact most leafy green vegetables contain levels of ALA although individual portions won’t meet daily requirements. An average serving of around 100 grams of steamed broccoli will supply about 10% of the daily requirements. So if you are looking to optimise levels of ALA be sure to include your greens daily as well.

Summer squash

High in minerals and nutrient rich summer squash (zucchini or courgette) also contains omega 3 with about 8% of the daily requirements in a single serving per cup when cooked. It also has an omega 3 to omega 6 ration of 2:1 which helps balance out those foods that are much higher in omega 6

Berries

Berries don’t just taste good they are of course brilliant sources of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. What you may not realise is that they also contain omega 3. Blueberries come out on top as the best berry with a cup of fresh blueberries providing about 6% of the daily requirements. They too have lower levels of omega 6 helping to maintain a healthy ratio

Mangos

Last on our list of plant based omega 3 foods are my favourite fruit, mangos. Not only are they super tasty but they are full of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. But did you know an average size mango contains over 10% of the daily requirements of ALA. Not only that they have really low levels of omega 6 once again helping us balance out those ratios.

Omega 3 What We Know

So let’s sum up what we know. Omega 6 is plentiful on a plant based diet whereas omega 3 is less so. The body has to work hard to convert omega 3 ALA to EPA and DHA. The best way we can help this is to ensure that we eat sufficient quantities of omega 3 ALA and keep our levels of omega 6 LA to no more than twice that of omega 3. The only direct source of EPA and DHA we have on a plant based diet come from forms of algae and seaweed.

Most supplements are fish based thus not vegan and often a source of concentrated contaminates. There are however good vegan supplements. We always recommend trying to obtain all of your nutrients directly from your foods source but for pregnant or breastfeeding mothers or anyone who is struggling to get the right balance we recommend Vegan Omega 3 Algae Oil by the Mega Vegan Company, There are plenty of other brands available on the market just make sure they are derived from sustainably sourced algae oil.

vegan omega 3 oil capsules

As you can see there are lots of ways, many of them tasty, to ensure we get adequate omega-3 from plant-based sources. It’s pretty easy to incorporate these options into our daily diet, thus making sure we get maximum benefit without damaging fish stocks or absorbing the contaminates that come with them. Hopefully this post has given you a few plant based omega 3 options and if you struggle it’s great to know there are quality vegan supplements available. Let us know how you get on with Omega 3, is your intake pretty balanced? We would love to hear from you in the comments below and of you have any concerns over whether its healthy to be vegan be sure to check our our post.



2 thoughts on “Plant Based Omega 3 Foods – 10 Vegan Options”

  • What an amazing article. A lot of the foods I already eat are on that list, and that makes me feel a lot better about my diet.

    I must admit, I have taken the supplements quite a bit in the past, and never thought about the heavy metals or the overfishing issues that may be included in their purchase and consumption.

    I’m glad I came across this article, and I definitely learned something today.

    Thanks for this.

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