It seems these days fat is all the craze, and the most popular of all is no doubt omega-3. Why? Well, omega-6 and omega-3, stars of the polyunsaturated fatty acids, play countering roles, with omega 6 helping to provide inflammation and blood-clotting, such as in the treatment of wounds, while omega-3 reduces inflammation and is an anti-coagulant. We need both, and ideally at about a one-to-one ratio. Unfortunately, modern diets are skewed greatly in favor of omega-6, such that healthy eaters concerned with fat must seek out omega-3 (and reduce omega-6) to balance things. This is what has made eating fish or taking those fish fat pills such a high-demand habit, that could be destroying our oceans. Fortunately, you don’t have to rely on fish to get omega-3’s. Here are a few plant-based choices, and some recipes to add to your repertoire, to get you started.
Flaxseeds are probably the most well known plant-based source of omega-3. They are rich in fiber, which translates to good digestion, and full of omega-3 for a healthy heart. They also make a dandy egg substitute for vegan baking. Chia seeds provide a healthy dose of omega-3 as well as calcium, and hemp seeds are loaded with protein and omega-3. Other seeds like sunflower, safflower and pumpkin have omega-3, but they have it in unfavorable ratios. Check out these articles for more info on these seeds, and try the recipes to help balance the diet: All About the Health Benefits of Flaxseeds, with Tips and Recipes, All You Need to Know about Hempseeds and New Ways to Use Chia Seeds in Your Recipes.
Admittedly, dark leafy greens are not massive sources of fat in any form; however, their ratio favors omega-3, so this is yet again one more reason to get that daily intake of roughage. Romaine, arugula, spinach and an edible weed called purslane (also good in salads) are all green givers of omega-3 fatty acids, and they all work fantastically raw. Here are some helpful recipes to keep the intake interesting: Raw Vegan Caesar Salad (substitute the above seeds in the dressing for even more omega 3), The 6 Healthiest Ways to Eat Spinach, Quinoa Salad with Figs, Purslane and Goji Berries and Arugula: Health Benefits, Tips and Recipes.
Like greens, beans don’t deliver the whopping amount of omega-3 that seeds and nuts do, but the ratio is the right way. Mung beans top the chart with nearly fifteen times the omega-3 as omega-6. Other omega superstars from the bean brigade are navy beans, kidney beans and the controversial soybean. Beans, of course, are a great source of fiber and plant-based protein, so this works out well for vegans. Try a few new recipes with favorable omega balance: Mung Bean and Root Vegetable Curry, White Bean and Sweet Potato Burgers and Cajun Corn and Kidney Bean Salad.
The whole family of cabbages tends to provide more omega-3 than omega-6, with cauliflower (not normally high on the cabbage radar) being the best provider. Broccoli, bok choy and Brussels sprouts should also be high on this list, though they are not customarily thought of as cabbage. The classic cabbages also maintain the better, balancing ratio but not to the same degree. Nonetheless, every little bit helps, so give these dishes a go: Cauliflower Picatta, 10 Ways to Make Awesome Summer Slaws and 5 Ways to Get Anyone to Love Brussels Sprouts.
Listed time and again on best of omega-3 rundowns, winter squashes do well as a richer source of omega-3. Winter squashes include familiar favorites like acorn squash, butternut squash, and any number of pumpkins. All of these are, of course, fantastic for soups and roasting, such as in: Mango Butternut Squash Soup, Pigeon Pea Soup with Opo Squash and Roasted Acorn Squash Stuffed with Quinoa Mushroom Pilaf.
As a last note, we should acknowledge that several nuts, particularly walnuts and pecans, have high levels of omega-3, but not nearly as high as their omega-6. Olive oil is not dissimilar, with nearly ten times the omega-6 as it has omega-3 (Try mustard oil for a better ratio, though still not balanced). Even seaweed has more omega-6 than omega-3. So, while these are high sources of the good fat we are looking for, by virtue of the ratio we are after, they are not the highest sources.
Image source: Veganbaking.net/Flickr