Omega-3s for Vegetarians

Omega-3s for VegetariansAre sources of omega-3s for vegetarians as potent as cold-water, oily fish such as salmon and sardines?

Fish aren’t born naturally oozing omega-3s out of their gills. It’s their diet of algae, krill, plankton and other microscopic primordial matter that flush the fish full of fatty acids. In essence, we get omega-3s from the fish because fish eat algae.

Strict vegetarians can now take supplements derived from algae that are free of fish oil. It’s best to get an algae supplement that contains both DHA and EPA, which are two of the three omega-3 fatty acids and regarded as the most beneficial fatty acids for health.

Fish oils are loaded with DHA and, to a lesser extent, EPA, both of which are found in the human brain and retina. One would assume that since fish get their fatty acid profile from algae, that algae supplements would be just as efficient as consuming a salmon filet.

How many milligrams of omega-3 should I have each day?

Edward Dennis, a professor at the University of California San Diego and editor-in-chief of the Journal of Lipid Research thinks there’s not enough scientific data for recommended dosages, although many health articles will suggest going for about one gram per day.

“Most physicians who give recommendations — either for vegetarians and omnivores — don’t have a basis for the dosage,” he says.

Should vegetarians consume more omega-3’s than non-vegetarians?

Not necessarily so, says a fatty acids researcher, who, coincidentally, is allergic to fish.

What about walnuts and flax seeds or oil? Aren’t they super rich in omega-3s?

Natural vegetarian sources like walnuts and flax seed and flax oil contain more ALA, the third type of omega-3.

Thus the dietary paradox for the strict vegetarian: On one hand, ALAs are the most bioavailable of the omega-3s (the body can metabolize it easier), but ALAs don’t do such a good job converting into DHA and EPA, which are widely regarded as being more potent. Some statistics claim only 5 percent of ALA gets turned into DHA and EPA.

According to the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, walnuts have the highest omega-3 content of any common nut, with 30 percent of it comprised of ALAs. (Only an Indonesian nut — the candlenut — has more.)

Flaxseed oil contains the richest amount of ALAs, though it does have a high omega-6 to omega-3 ratio, a common trait of the typical Western diet and a factor that the University of Maryland cites as a possible cause for inflammation.

Canola oil (at right) has the best omega-6 to omega-3 ratio: 2 to 1, making it a perfect salad dressing for vegetarians or for light sautéing cooking oil.

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