Your health is important, so how do you get all the nutrients your body needs such as omega-3 if you’re a vegan?
Omega-3s, particularly marine-based EPA and DHA, are increasingly recognized as essential for good health. For example, 250mg of EPA/DHA daily was demonstrated to reduce heart disease by 36% in a meta-analysis of cohort studies and clinical trials. Other than heart health, omega 3s have been demonstrated to be effective in the management of a wide array of inflammatory chronic diseases, brain health, and reproductive health.
Furthermore, omega-3 is vital in the early development of human brains and is shown to reduce risks of neurodegenerative disorders both early and later in life. Omega-3 is clearly an important dietary addition, but with current recommendations of 250mg of DHA daily (1000 mg for those with heart disease) are fish and fish oils a viable option in terms of sustainability for even a fraction of our population? With fish stocks on the decline, is there another, more environmentally friendly, way we can achieve our DHA and EPA recommendations?
Firsts things first, what is omega-3? Omega-3s and 6s are examples of polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs); they cannot be made in the human body and must be acquired through the diet. The three primary omega-3s are alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA). Omega-3 has a counteracting action to omega 6; while omega 6s promote coagulation, angiogenesis and inflammation for example, omega 3s are anticoagulants, anti-angiogenic and anti-inflammatory. Human evolution was characterized by diets high in omega-3, while low in omega-6; the ratio was most likely close to 1:1. Today, with the rise of westernized diets, ratios reach an astonishing 30:1 (omega-6: Omega-3) at times; a big difference from our paleolithic diets. As a result, humans not adapted to such high levels of omega-6 are plagued with more and more inflammation regulated chronic diseases.
Where can we get omega-3s? While omega-6 is readily available in our diets, omega-3 is less prominent and should be actively incorporated. ALA omega-3 is present in many vegetables, nuts and seeds, with notably high concentrations in flax, chia, walnuts and avocados. Unfortunately, ALA may not be the most viable omega-3 source. In the human body, ALA must be converted to EPA and then to DHA in order for the beneficial end products to be produced; this conversion can be anywhere between 0.2% to 21%.
Microalgae are the most common primary producers in the majority of aquatic systems. They convert light and carbon dioxide to energy in the form of carbohydrates, fats, and proteins via photosynthesis. Algae for human use isn’t a new concept; it is already used as an alternative DHA source as well as in animal feed, vitamins, cosmetics, and food additives. Algae could also serve as a potential biofuel source for the future. Algae fats are both vegetarian and environmentally friendly and can grow easily on a large scale; they can ultimately be used to benefit multiple industries like biodiesel, animal feed, and neutraceuticals. While at present, algae production still needs to be improved, there are still many natural health companies making great algae omega-3 products.
My two favorites come from the companies NutraSea and Flora—definitely worth checking out if you’re interested in either a vegetarian or sustainable omega-3 source. These products come in both liquid and capsule forms and can be found at most health food stores (also available online).
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Claims on this site have not been evaluated by the FDA. Information on this site is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. We encourage you to do your own research.. Seek the advice of a medical professional before making any changes to your lifestyle or diet.
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