Today we’re talking about fats, specifically Omega 3 fatty acids--these are not the fats you’re trying to cut back on. In fact, we (and tons of scientist and nutritionists) are suggesting you increase your intake.
Want to increase your mood and kick depression and anxiety in the butt? Omega 3s.
Want to decrease the symptoms of chronic inflammation? Omega 3s.
Basically what we’re saying is that Omega 3 is the Usain Bolts of nutrients---a complete and utter all-star.
But before you go snorting a line of flaxseed (not suggested--seriously, don’t do this), we’re going to get educated on everything Omega 3 related.
At the end of this post, you’ll know why this nutrient is so important, where it’s found and how to get vegan omega 3 sources of the stuff.
Omega 3 fatty acids are essential nutrients to the human body. This means that because your body cannot produce omega 3s on its own, you need to consume it.
There are three major forms of this fatty acid. The short chain fatty acid: ALA (alpha-linoleic acid), and the long chain fatty acids: EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid), and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid).
ALA is the only essential form of Omega 3s, meaning our bodies cannot produce it. EPA and DHA can be synthesized from ALA, but the process is complex and utilizes a great deal of other vitamins and nutrients.
Where Is It Found?
Most omnivores get their dose of omega 3s from fatty fishes like tuna, salmon, anchovies, and shellfish like oysters and clams. If you don’t eat fish, then don’t worry because we’re heading straight to the source. (Let’s skip the sushi date, shall we?)
Where are the fish getting their omega 3s? The answer is a little green plant deep in the ocean called Schizochytrium sp but its better known by its street name, algae.
What are the Benefits of Omega 3s?
Basically, whatever you’re suffering from, a hearty dose of Omega 3s can almost always help. Let’s dive into some specifics.
Inflammation sounds bad, but it's actually quite critical for our bodies to fight infections and repair damage. The problem occurs when inflammation persists for an extended period. Inflammation contributes to major health problems such as heart disease and cancer.
If you suffer from anxiety, depression, or mood disorders, doctors might have a natural way to help fight your symptoms. You guessed it; it's by taking omega 3 supplements. Vast studies have shown that people with higher levels of fatty acids feel happier than those with lower levels. Patients that suffer from mental health disorders show a reduction of symptoms when taking Omega 3 supplements.
Brain and Eye Health
Research proves that consuming Omega 3s in pregnancy and early life is crucial to the brain development of the fetus/child. Low levels of fatty acids at the beginning of the development process can lead to low intelligence, eyesight problems, and an increased risk of other health issues.
A deficiency in DHA can lead to vision problems so ensure your diet is getting enough omega 3s (especially DHA for your eyes) to avoid problems down the road. Omega 3s have been linked to a reduced risk of macular degeneration.
Studies have recently started showing trends that children with higher levels of Omega 3s show lower signs of ADHD. These supplements have been shown to reduce aggression, and hyperactiveness as well as improve concentration and the ability to complete tasks.
Sources of Vegan Omega 3s
Alright, fellow vegans, time to recall and break down those fatty acronyms from above: ALA (essential fat: needs to be consumed), EPA, and DHA (can be converted from ALA). We’ve got good news….and we’ve got less good news.
The good news is that there are a ton of nutritious (and delicious) vegan ALA sources:
- Hemp seeds
- Pumpkin seeds
- Sunflower seeds
- Soya spread
- Chia seeds
- Brussel sprouts
- Perilla Oil
The less good news is that EPA and DHA are the only biologically active forms of the fatty acid, therefore, making it the most important forms. While EPA strengthens your immune system and inflammatory response, DHA is responsible for supporting the brain and eye health as well as your central nervous system.
But I thought you said our bodies could convert EPA and DHA from ALA? While this is true, it’s more complex than that. It all comes down to how much ALA you’re consuming as well as a sufficient supply of zinc, magnesium, B3 and B6 vitamins in order to make these conversions.
The conversion of EPA to ALA requires three biological reactions and another four reactions to form DHA from the EPA. If you’re only consuming (large portions) ALA, it all comes down to on how fast your body can complete these reactions. Science nerds can check out the metabolic pathway here.
On average, it’s estimated only 1/10th of the ALA you consume is converted into either EPA or DHA and that doesn’t particularly impress us.
For vegans, especially those who don’t eat algae, fish, or take supplements, it’s important that you get all three of the fatty acids in generous amounts. So unless you have a stagnant pond nearby to make a lovely green smoothie...let's talk supplements.
Vegan Omega 3s Supplements
Vegan Omega 3 supplements skip straight to the source, bypassing the consumption of fish (you’re welcome fishies). Oil is extracted from the algae plant, filtered, and deodorized before it’s ready to be consumed in vegan-capsule-form.
Experts suggest vegans take anywhere between 0.5 and 2 grams of long-chain omega 3 fatty acids (EPA and DHA) per day.
We love these supplements not only because they’re vegan--after all fish are friends, not food--but also because they’re environmentally sustainable. Extracting algae oil has no effect on marine life and we think that’s pretty great.
Interested in more information on vegan supplements? Check out this incredible guide on the top three nutrients every vegan should be taking: 3 Supplements Vegans Need To Take To Ensure A Healthy Body.
Do You Suffer from Low Levels of Omega 3s?
The last thing you want is for your body to be lacking low levels of Omega 3s. Trust me, you’re brain will thank you later when it’s soaking up all the good fatty acids you’re going to feed it. In the meantime, here’s what to look out for...
Symptoms of Low Levels of Omega 3s
Dry Skin. Omega 3 fatty acids are stored in your cell walls so if your skin is looking dry, or flakey, it could be the fact that you are lacking in the fatty acid department.
Lackluster Hair. In addition to your cells, Omega 3s are also stored in your hair follicles. If you’ve been noticing dryness, breakage, and dullness in your locks, try upping your omega 3s and get ready to look like you’ve walked off the set of a Garnier Fructis commercial.
Insomnia. Tossing and turning at night? A deficiency in Omega 3s could be the issue. Studies have shown that people with high omega 3 levels experience a higher quality of sleep.
Fatigue. Always tired? This also is a potential symptom of an Omega 3 deficiency. Boost your energy levels during the days by adding more fatty acids to your diet.
How Are Your Omega 3s Levels?
Are you worried about your nutrition? The first step of getting in control of your health is to ask your doctor for a blood test which will test the percentage of EPA and DHA built up in your cell membranes. When your results come back, your doctor will tell you how you scored but aim for about eight percent.
Are You Getting Enough Nutrients in Your Diet?
We can probably all agree that the vegan diet has a multitude of health benefits, but there are a few nutrients we could use a little help with. Thankfully, along with vegan omega 3 foods, there are vegan supplements on the market designed just for us vegans to avoid us having suboptimal levels of omega 3s.
If you’re looking for a vegan omega 3 supplement, you’re going to want to check out the Future Kind Multivitamin. It’s blend of all the essential vitamins and nutrients a vegan needs: B12, Vitamin D3, and Omega 3 fatty acids.
We hand choose our ingredients because we believe in putting nothing but the best into our body. All of our nutrients are vegan and designed just for you. Check out our ingredients here; we’re pretty proud of them.
For more things vegan, be sure to check out our vegan health and lifestyle blog.