FAQs About Omega-3s (Including Vegan Sources!)

By now, I think most people have heard at least something about Omega-3s. But it’s good to get some information about them from a nutritionist (not your neighbor, yoga teacher, or cat sitter)…

What are Omega-3s?
A type of fat. Specifically, they are an unsaturated fat.

You may have also heard of Omega-6s or Omega-9s. They are also unsaturated fats. 

If you want to get into chemistry, Omega-3s have a double bond between two carbon atoms at the omega-3 position (which means that the third carbon from the end of the fat chain not attached to a glycerol backbone).

Do I need Omega-3s?

There are two essential fats or fats our bodies cannot make. One is alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) which is one of the Omega-3s. 

Other Omega-3s include Eicosapentaenoic Acid (EPA) and Docosahexanoic Acid (DHA). These are not considered essential. However, there is a lot of research on their health benefits. 

Your body may be able to make EPA and DHA from ALA.

Where can I find Omega-3s?
Most people have heard fish is a good source of Omega-3s,but there are plenty of vegan sources. In fact, vegan sources are more likely to contain essential ALA, whereas fish contain more EPA and DHA.

For example, ¾ cup of cooked black-eyed peas contains 0.11 g ALA. 3 ounces of tilapia contains just 0.04 g ALA.  The peas contain no EPA or DHA, but the tilapia contains 0.12 g DHA. 

Other vegan sources of Omega-3s include soy (tofu, soymilk, edamame), beans, almonds, chia seeds, flax seeds, pumpkin seeds, pecans, walnuts, canola oil, wheat germ, and winter squash. Silk also makes a soymilk with extra Omega-3s from algal oil. 

If you’re vegetarian, eggs contain small amounts of Omega-3s.  Some brands sell eggs with higher levels of Omega-3s depending on what they feed the chickens. 

The Dietitians of Canada put together this great chart with Omega-3 sources. The chart is based on information from Health Canada, a government department. So, you can trust it.

There are a lot of other lists on the internet, but be careful about their sources. 

How can I add more Omega-3s to my diet?
Walnuts are one of the best vegan sources of  Omega-3s. You can chop them up and add them to desserts or snacks, like banana bread.

Another option is to make a chia seed pudding for snack or dessert. Simply soak chia seeds in your favorite non-dairy milk.  

 I also like ground flax seed because it's versatile. It can be stirred into hot cereals, mixed into dough, or blended into a smoothie.
Pictured is a simple raw, vegan energy ball: Mix together 1 cup ground flax seed, 1 cup oats, 1 cup nut butter, and 1 mashed banana. Then roll into balls.

Do I need an Omega-3 supplement?
Maybe. Everyone is different and it’s best to ask a healthcare professional who knows you and your situation. A doctor or dietitian can also help you determine the best form (fish oil, flax oil, etc.) and amount to take. There are vegan omega-3 supplements available from flax seed oil (ALA Omega-3s) and algal oil (EPA and/or DHA Omega-3s).

Can Omega-3s cure my heart disease, asthma, depression, etc.?
Maybe or maybe not.

There is a lot of research on the use of Omega-3 supplements to prevent or treat disease, but the National Institute of Health says the results are still "not completely clear."

For example, this article looked at multiple studies on treating depression with Omega-3 supplements. One study found patients felt better after 4 months of 10 grams of EPA and DHA a day. Another study found only 2 grams per day was enough, but a third study found 2 grams didn't work.

Again, you should discuss it with your doctor. Your doctor can help you discuss the pros and cons. Taking 10 grams of Omega-3s may relieve your depression, but adding those 10 extra grams of fat might also affect your cholesterol and triglyceride levels.

How can I find studies about Omega-3s?
You can do your own research at PubMed.gov. Most of the search results include an abstract of the article. Look at the end of the abstract for the study results.  This will be easier than trying to read a whole scientific article (unless you like that, in which case go ahead, but not all articles are free).


The information provided in this blog is not intended to replace individualized medical advice provided by your own doctor, dietitian, or other healthcare professional.
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