Even before becoming plant-based, I always thought there was something a little weird about consuming fish oil, even its capsule form. I mean, “fish burps” as a side effect? Yikes! And that aftertaste – yuck! And let’s not forget the fact that fish oil is made by grinding and heating up fish into an oil form — um, no thank you — that doesn’t work so well for the fish or for me.
Yet consuming fish oil supplements helps add a source of omega-3 fatty acids like eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), which can help many reduce their risk of heart disease, keep triglyceride levels in check, and improve brain and eye health. So, there are definitely some advantages to consuming supplements high in omega-3 fatty acids.
But the body can’t really produce this stuff on its own; according to the Cleveland Clinic: “although the body needs these fats, it cannot make them on its own; so, we must get them from food and supplements.” Yet, for those of you that are plant-based and/or just want to avoid the elusive “fish burps,” here’s the good news: you can easily get your fill from plant-based sources, no slimy capsule (or fish harming) required.
Algae is one of the easiest ways to get your omega-3 fatty acid on. So many supplement companies now carry algae supplements, often deemed “vegetarian (or vegan) omega-3,” and will have a good amount of both EPA and DHA that you’re probably looking for. Some of the supplements will only have DHA, though, so be sure to shop around for the one that’s right for you. Also, be sure to look for such supplements that specifically note that the algae oil is extracted without the use of hexane, like this one. Of course, if you’re not shopping from a supplement company that is specifically vegan, make sure the supplement also uses vegetable capsules (sometimes called v-caps, or vegetarian capsules) to be sure you’re not swallowing up any other animal byproducts like gelatin.
Flax is another great source of omega-3 fatty acids in a plant-based diet. The great news about flax is that, while it can be easily consumed in a supplement, it also can be used in your plant-based diet in its whole-food form, meaning if you are not so into taking pills, this may be your omega-3 source choice. As the Cleveland Clinic explains: “Around 42% of flaxseed’s calories come from total fat. This total fat is comprised of a mix of different fatty acids: 73% polyunsaturated fat, 18% monounsaturated fat and only 9% saturated fat. What makes this so beneficial to heart health is that the majority of the polyunsaturated fat contained in flax is in the form of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). ALA is an essential fatty acid (meaning the human body cannot create this fat from others and must get it from foods) and a precursor to the heart-disease fighting long-chain omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA.”
In order to get the full benefit of flax, you will want to consume it in its broken=down form, meaning you should either eat in ground or oil form as opposed to eating the full seeds (they’re difficult for your body to digest in whole form). So, try adding flax to your meals throughout the day, and you’ll be on your way to omega-3 abundance in no time at all. You can also opt for supplement forms of this food.
Then, we have chia seeds. Another great source of ALA, these little seeds also provide a great boost of fiber, protein, magnesium, and calcium, among other nutrients. Chia seeds are great because they can absorb 10 times their own weight in water, so you can make gels out of them that can be used to thicken things like dips, sauces, and puddings. Chia seeds also come in supplement form, as in what you can find here.
With both flaxseed and chia, you will want to slowly incorporate both into your diet. Because of the high fiber count of both of these nutrients, eating too much too soon can do funny things to your stomach. So, start with 1 tablespoon a day of either (or both if your body can handle it) and work your way up to the standard recommended amount, about 2 -3 tablespoons per day. We’ve got some great tips for sneaky ways to incorporate seeds into meals here and a slew of delicious recipe-based ideas for seed consumption here.
What are your favorite ways to get your plant-based fill of omega-3 fatty acids?
Image source: Glenn / Flickr
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