At this point, you’ve probably heard about all the benefits of Omega-3 fatty acids. Or perhaps you just had some blood work done and your doctor suggested that you increase your intake of this essential nutrient. Maybe your joints ache, you’re feeling chronically fatigued, and you’re just a tad deficient.
If you’re looking to increase your intake of Omega-3’s, salmon and fish oil supplements aren’t your only options. While these are great sources for upping those Omega-3 levels, you may be surprised to learn that there are some great plant-based food sources too. You might even find that they’re easier to incorporate into your daily diet.
Seeds and Nuts are the most well-known plant food sources of Omega-3’s. You can use them whole, ground or as oils. They are all fantastic concentrated sources of Omega-3’s, and having them ground or as an oil makes them particularly easy to absorb into your blood stream.
Here are the top 5 most nutritious and easy-to-add options:1
You can find flaxseeds whole, ground, and in oil-form. Because whole flax seeds pass through your body undigested, use ground flaxseeds and flax seed oil to get the most nutritional benefit. In order to get your day’s worth, all you need is 1 tablespoon of flaxseed oil. Just 1 tablespoon packs 7.2g of Omega-3 fatty acids. Include this in your morning shake, or drizzle it over a salad. You could even try a new dressing recipe using flaxseed oil instead of olive oil. Easy!
Just an ounce of chia seeds contains a whopping 4.9g of Omega-3 fats, and chia seed oil contains even more with approximately 19g per tablespoon. Try a chia pudding for breakfast instead of oatmeal, or include 2 tablespoons in your protein shake for extra protein and a good dose of Omega-3s.
These days, you can find hemp seeds in a variety of forms – hemp seeds, protein power, milk, and oil. Hempseed oil has been reported to contain Omega-6 and Omega-3 fatty acids in a ratio of 4:1 ratio. The daily recommended intake (DRI) of hemp seed oil is 1 to 2 tablespoons, which provides between 8g and 16g of Omega-6 fatty acids and between 3g and 6g of Omega-3 fatty acids. Drizzle the oil on top of a salad, mix the powder into your smoothie, or add the seeds on top of your oatmeal.
Walnuts have been recognized as a great plant source of Omega-3 fatty acids for a while. Probably the most common source, most people just eat them whole. However, you can find walnuts ground and in oil-form as well. All you need is an ounce or so of whole walnuts to get 2.5g of Omega-3 fatty acids. Crush them up and sprinkle them on top of your soup or salad for easy digestion and absorption.
Eaten for 3000 years by inhabitants of the Amazon Rainforest, Sacha Inchi seeds have only recently received attention in the U.S. for their high Omega-3 content. These nuts come from the highlands in Peru and contain 3x more Omega-3 than walnuts. They’re also a great source of protein, fiber, vitamin A, and vitamin E, and are 96% hypoallergenic. You can eat them in their nut-form, or get them as an oil. Throw them on your salad, soup, oatmeal, or shake, or snack on them as is. You can find these delicious and crunchy nuts at Whole Foods, your local health food store, or online.
Omega-3 fatty acids have been getting a lot of attention in the health and wellness world recently due to their anti-inflammatory benefits and protective properties against cancer and cardiovascular disease.2 This is why it’s easier to find both plant- and animal-sources in most grocery stores and natural food markets today.
But plant and animal sources of omega-3 are not created equal. There are some important things to keep in mind about these two sources so you can be sure you’re meeting your needs of this essential fatty acid.
Animal sources of Omega-3 are comprised of EPA (eicosapentanoic acid) and DHA (docosahexanoic acid), which our bodies can easily absorb and utilize immediately. These fatty acids are found primarily in fish, but are also in grass-fed meat.
Plant sources primarily contain ALA (alpha-linoleic acid), which needs to be converted to DHA and EPA by our bodies before we can use it. The metabolic conversion process can only convert small amounts of ALA into EPA, and even smaller amounts into DHA.3
This means the intake recommendations differ for plant-sources. One study recommends that vegetarians double their intake of ALA, or take an algae-based omega-3 supplement, to ensure they meet their dietary needs.4
This means that, with some careful attention and planning, vegetarians and others who avoid fish in their diet can still get enough ALA to hit their Omega-3 quota and maintain their health.
While there is no consensus on the optimal dose of Omega-3s from either marine- or plant-based sources, most omega-3 experts recommend that healthy adults ingest a combined 500mg daily of EPA (eicosapentanoic acid) and DHA (docosahexanoic acid).5
A typical North American diet provides approximately 50 mg of DHA and 80 mg/day of EPA, for an overall combined DHA/EPA intake per person of about 130-150 mg/day. Clearly, the North American diet is lacking here.6
Ideally, include a variety of sources from both animals and plants every day, and you can rest assured that you’re eating enough Omega-3s.
Plant foods rich in Omega-3 fatty acids have stealthily moved onto society’s “healthy food” radar. If you want to eat an animal-free diet or just add some plant-based sources, nuts and seeds are a brilliant way to add variety to your diet while also meeting your nutritional needs. Rather than just eat one source, get variety in your diet by eating a few different sources every day. Ideally, choose the most natural form and then mix, grind or pour – enjoy!
Have questions? Reach out in the comments below!