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vegan omega 3 plant based omega 3 sources how do vegans get omega 3

Best vegan omega 3 sources : Your ultimate guide to plant powered brain health

Published Oct 27, 2023 | Updated Feb 8, 2024
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Omega 3 fats, with their array of health benefits, have captured the attention of health-conscious individuals seeking optimal well-being. Traditionally associated with marine sources like fish oil, omega 3's journey into the plant kingdom has sparked curiosity and research. Among these essential fats, DHA or docosahexaenoic acid is a standout player, renowned for its pivotal role in the brain and cognitive function. Wondering how how do vegans get omega 3  and what are the plant-based foods that contain omega 3 ? Discover a treasure trove of plant-powered solutions that harness your health and vitality. 


Algae: the ultimate Vegan omega 3  source

Nature's hidden gem, algae, lies at the forefront of plant-based DHA. Algae are the primary producers of omega-3 fats, and they serve as the foundation of the marine food chain[1]. Algae-based supplements are now available, offering a direct and more sustainable route to obtaining DHA without involving marine life as most algae oil is produced on-land in a secured environment. An overview of global data on omega 3 highlights how algal-based DHA supplements effectively increase blood levels of DHA, showcasing the viability of plant-powered alternatives[2]. Wondering how to get omega 3 as a vegan and make sure you’re daily intake is adequate? brain feed has developed a 500 mg vegan DHA softgel capsule that meets the needs of the recommended daily intake required to get the benefits. It’s made from sustainably sourced algae oil and is perfect for anyone with a plant-based diet. 



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So, can you get omega 3 from plants? Certain plant-based sources such as flaxseed, walnuts and chia seeds contain ALA or alpha-linolenic acid ALA, a building block of DHA. Research into ALA metabolism in healthy young men showed that approximately 0%-4% of dietary ALA was converted to DHA, while healthy women converted around 9% of ALA[3,4]. The main reason explaining the difference in the conversion rate between men and women is that the female’s body is constantly getting ready for fetal development until they reach menopause[5]. A study on 1160 women in menopause showed that women with estrogen and progesterone hormone therapy had higher DHA levels compared to women on estrogen hormone therapy and those without hormone therapy[6]. That suggests that an estrogen and progesterone cocktail might be responsible for conversion from ALA to DHA.

Here are 4 vegan sources of DHA that can help you get closer to the recommended daily intake. 

Flaxseeds: the ALA punch

Flaxseeds are often referred to as a nutritional powerhouse. While the conversion of ALA to DHA in the body is limited, a paper overviewing the conversion of ALA in the human body suggests that flaxseed consumption can still contribute to increasing omega-3 levels[5]. Including one tablespoon of flaxseed per day in one of your meals, means you could get anywhere from 0 mg to about 130 mg of DHA with flaxseeds[7]. The recommended daily intake is 4 tablespoons as the fibre content in flaxseed is high and can cause bloating and stomach pain in higher quantities. Incorporating ground flaxseeds into your diet offers a simple and delicious way to tap into plant-based omega-3 goodness and here’s how you can do it:

  • Mix them in your chia pudding for breakfast or make a flaxseed pudding. 
  • Add them to your smoothie.
  • Mix them into your pancake or cookie mix. 
  • Make bread with flaxseed in it (or on top of it).
  • Mix them with minced meat when making burger patties or meatballs. 

Walnuts: crunchy omega 3

With their distinct taste and texture, walnuts provide a delightful dose of plant-based omega 3s. A review of the health benefits of plant-derived ALA found that regular walnut consumption can elevate blood levels of DHA[8]. As the fibre content in walnuts is very high eating 100 grams could cause bloating. Eating the recommended amount of 28 grams of walnuts per day means you could get around 220 mg of DHA with walnuts at most[7]. Including walnuts as a snack or adding them to salads and dishes adds a rich source of omega 3s to your diet, all within the realm of plant-based choices. Here are some breakfast, lunch and dinner ideas that include walnuts:

  • Walnut loaf with desired toppings
  • Walnut and banana bread
  • Griller aubergines with spicey chickpeas and walnut sauce
  • Baked chicken with squash, sage and walnuts
  • Walnut and red pepper pasta

Chia seeds: omega 3 pudding


Another plant-based omega 3 source is chia seeds. Although primarily composed of ALA, chia seeds offer a convenient and versatile way to enhance your omega 3 intake. A study on 6 men consuming a chia seeds drink illustrates that chia seeds increase omega 3 availability in the body[9]. Including one tablespoon of chia seeds per day in one of your meals, means you could get anywhere from 0 mg to about 150 mg of DHA with chia seeds[7]. The recommended daily intake is 2 tablespoons as the fibre content is high and can cause digestive issues in higher quantities. Make a chia pudding, sprinkle them on your porridge bowl or add them to your homemade jam to get some of that DHA.   

Seaweed: Maki your way to more DHA 

Seaweed is another plant-based source of omega 3s. A study on different types of seaweed showed that they contain ALA and DHA, making them an intriguing option for those seeking marine-sourced nutrients without the direct involvement of fish[10]. The exact amount of ALA and DHA in seaweed depends on the light that penetrates the water and water temperature among other factors. A vegan sushi maki roll, wrapped in nori seaweed, might just be one of the foods high in omega 3 you can treat yourself with.



The path to plant-based omega 3s has never been more exciting. Algae, flaxseeds, walnuts, chia seeds, and even seaweed stand as a testament to the diverse array of plant-powered sources. Whether you're a staunch advocate of plant-based living or simply seeking a more sustainable approach to nutrition, you’ll have an easier time deciding what “brain foods” you should eat.

 

References

[1] Horrocks, L. A., & Yeo, Y. K. (1999). Health benefits of docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). Pharmacological Research, 40(3), 211–225.

[2] Stark, K. D., Van Elswyk, M. E., Higgins, M. R., Weatherford, C. A., & Salem, N. (2016). Global survey of the omega-3 fatty acids, docosahexaenoic acid and eicosapentaenoic acid in the blood stream of healthy adults. Progress in Lipid Research, 63, 132–152. 

[3] Burdge, G. C., Jones, A. E., & Wootton, S. A. (2002). Eicosapentaenoic and docosapentaenoic acids are the principal products of alpha-linolenic acid metabolism in young men. The British Journal of Nutrition, 88(4), 355–363. 

[4] Burdge, G. C., & Wootton, S. A. (2002). Conversion of alpha-linolenic acid to eicosapentaenoic, docosapentaenoic and docosahexaenoic acids in young women. The British Journal of Nutrition, 88(4), 411–420.

[5] Burdge, G. C., & Calder, P. C. (2005). Conversion of α-linolenic acid to longer-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids in human adults. Reproduction Nutrition Development, 45(5), 581–597.

[6] Harris, W. S., Tintle, N. L., Manson, J. E., Metherel, A. H., & Robinson, J. G. (2021). Effects of menopausal hormone therapy on erythrocyte n–3 and n–6 PUFA concentrations in the Women’s Health Initiative randomized trial. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 113(6), 1700–1706.

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