The importance of getting adequate omega-3s in our diet has been drilled into our heads. “These fatty acids are crucial to consume, as they’ve been shown to help reduce cholesterol and triglyceride levels, and protect against inflammation, heart disease, and even cancer,” says Samantha Lynch, R.D. But these essential nutrients are mostly found in foods like fatty fish and eggs—not exactly vegan-friendly.
However, alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) is a type of omega-3 found in plentiful amounts in plant sources such as soy, walnuts, canola oil, and chia, flax, and hemp seeds and their oils. And experts say as long as you get adequate ALA, you don’t need to worry about two other types of omega-3s, eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), which are found in non-vegan sources.
“If you’re a vegan and in good health, your body can most likely convert high amounts of plant-sourced ALA into EPA and DHA,” Lynch says. “Plus, thanks to the health benefits of avoiding meats and dairy, vegans and vegetarians are already at a much lower risk than meat-eaters for issues like inflammation and heart disease.”
Still, it’s crucial that vegans follow a careful meal plan and make sure to consume a variety of omega-3-rich foods most days of the week, says Sarah Krieger, M.P.H., R.D.N., a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
RELATED: Get your ALA the tasty way with these quick and easy chia seed recipes.
“Aim to consume about 1,100mg of ALA daily, which is the recommended adequate intake for women,” Krieger says. (Higher amounts are recommended for women who are pregnant or nursing.) If you’re vegan, you can find ALA in sources such as:
- 4 teaspoons ground flaxseed or flaxseed meal (2,470mg)
- 1 teaspoon flax oil (2,420mg)
- 2 tablespoons walnuts (2,470mg)
- 1 tablespoon chia (2,440mg)
- 1 teaspoon help seed oil (833mg)
As long as you eat well, you don’t need to supplement, but talk to a registered dietitian if you have any concerns, Lynch says. For example, if you’re newly vegan, have a hard time integrating omega-3 sources into your diet, or have had health issues in the past, you may want to consider taking an additional DHA supplement.
If you decide to pop a pill, look for one that has 200 to 400mg of DHA, Lynch advises. Two vegan supplements that don’t include fish oil that Lynch recommends are Deva Omega-2 DHA Softgels and Ovega-3. Whatever you choose, be sure the supplement has been verified by an independent third party, such as the U.S. Pharmacopeial Convention or Consumer Lab.