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By now, most of us know that omega-3s are crucial for our health.
This is because they play key roles in all sorts of things, including our brain, our skin and even how badly we may suffer from PMS.
But given that most omega-3s come in the form of oily fish, how do you ensure you’re getting enough on a vegan or vegetarian diet?
From where to get your omega-3s to my favourite vegan supplement, here is my lowdown on everything you need to know about omega-3s on a plant-based diet.
WHAT IS OMEGA-3?
Put simply, omega-3s are essential fatty acids which our bodies can’t produce on their own – this means that we need to get them from our diets.
Rather than being stored by our bodies, omega-3s play crucial roles in all sorts of bodily functions – think boosting brain health, reducing inflammation and also improving our hearts.
However, just to complicate things a little more, there are three types of omega-3 you need to know about: these are ALA (alpha-linolenic acid), DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) and EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid). While it may sound scientific, this trio is found in different foods and each serves a different purpose within the body.
For example, ALA is easy to get on a plant-based diet. It is used by your body mainly for energy, but our bodies can also use it to convert into small amounts of EPA and DHA. The problem for veggies and vegans is that this conversion process isn’t always that efficient or effective, so we can’t rely on ALA alone to get all our essential fatty acid needs.
Meanwhile, EPA and DHA have traditionally been seen as ‘superior’ to our plant-based omega-3 friend. Each of these fatty acids are necessary for a healthy heart and good circulation, and they have also been linked to weight management, reduced inflammation and healthy foetal development.
Unfortunately for plant-based diets, DHA and EPA mainly occur in animal products, meaning we need to find it elsewhere.
SOURCES OF OMEGA-3
For anyone on a plant-based diet, chances are you will eat an abundance of the omega-3 fatty acid ALA, as I’ve mentioned! It can be found in:
- Chia seeds
- Flaxseed and flax oil
- Brussels sprouts
EPA and DHA are mainly found in non plant foods – particularly oily fish. These sources include:
- Algal oil (a kind of oil derived from algae, and one of the only vegan sources of EPA and DHA)
A NOTE ON OMEGA-6
When it comes to omega-3, it’s important you also consider how much omega-6 is in the body. Most of us will have higher levels of omega-6 (which is found in foods such as vegetable oils, meat and also nuts and seeds) than we do omega-3, which can lead to inflammation and chronic conditions, including arthritis.
To overcome this, try to ensure you’re getting plenty of omega-3s in your diet – either through supplementing or diet – but also work to avoid vegetable oils and processed foods which are high in omega-6 (particularly sunflower oil, corn oil, soybean oil and peanut oil).
WHY DO WE NEED OMEGA-3?
We’ve all read endless articles about how good omega-3 is for us. This is because Omega-3s are crucial for our overall health and wellness! In fact, there are many benefits for both our bodies and brain.
As I mentioned, the different forms of omega-3 all play varying roles in the body. However, here’s why we ALL need some omega-3 loving in our diet:
Eases Depression & Anxiety
Countless studies have shown that omega-3 fatty acids play a huge role in relieving symptoms of depression and anxiety. In fact, researchers have found that when people with depression or anxiety begin taking an omega-3 supplement, their symptoms may improve.
We all need inflammation to some degree because it helps our bodies to fight infections and damage. The problems happen when inflammation occurs over sustained or long periods of time, which can trigger chronic diseases including heart disease and cancer.
Happily, omega-3 fatty acids are thought to ease inflammation. Omega-3s are also thought to lower our risk of developing certain autoimmune diseases, including MS and type II diabetes.
Ladies, if you struggle at certain times of the month, I guarantee that you’re not alone – we’ve all been there! There are many things you can do to support your hormones (a separate post in itself!), but you may also want to consider upping your omega-3s. Studies have shown that omega-3 may ease certain symptoms, including bloating, mood swings and sore breasts. Some studies have even shown that an omega-3 supplement can be more effective than Ibuprofen at treating period cramps.
Many people don’t realise that omega-3s may also help to improve the quality of our sleep. Researchers have demonstrated that children who ate an omega-3 supplement before bed slept longer and woke up less. This may be because omega-3s (in particular, DHA) help our bodies to create the sleep hormone melatonin, which is key in helping you to drift off.
When my body was low in omega-3s, one of the main things I noticed was that my skin was dull, dry and lacked in glow. Omega-3s help to freshen and plump up the skin, add hydration and may even calm certain skin conditions, such as psoriasis, eczema and even acne.
Support Brain Health
Omega-3s are part of the structure of the brain, so it’s no surprise that they are linked to brain health. It’s thought that not only can they boost our memory (this is believed to be down to DHA, which helps nerve cells to communicate more freely with one another), but these wonderful fatty acids may also lower our risk of developing conditions such as Alzheimer’s.
GETTING MORE OMEGA-3 IN PLANT-BASED DIETS
- Aim to include plenty of sources of ALA in your diet, such as flaxseed (opt for ground) or flax oil, hemp seeds, chia seeds, walnuts.
- Ensure you strike the right balance between omega-3s and omega-6! To do this, avoid those processed oils such as sunflower oil.
- Consider Supplementing: I recommend taking a good quality omega-3 supplement if you’re concerned about getting plenty in your diet. I love Vegums (see my review below), which I take with my breakfast.
Just a word of warning: too much of a good thing is possible! Always stick to suggested dosages, and chat with a GP or nutritionist if you are unsure.
VEGUMS: MY FAVOURITE VEGAN OMEGA-3 SUPPLEMENT
Vegums make an incredible supplement – their Fish-Free Omega-3 – which I take daily (you need to eat it alongside a meal). These orange-flavoured gummies taste delicious and are kid-friendly, too (my boys all love them) and are made using omega-3s from marine algae. They are also made with natural colourings and flavours and come in 100% recyclable packaging.
Each daily dose gives you 80mg of DHA needs, helping you to maintain healthy eyes, skin, heart and brain – this is especially important for little ones! They also contain immune-boosting (and skin-loving) vitamin E.
Want to get some vegan omega-3 goodness in your life too? You can buy them here.