Omega-3s are good for your health—but they're not always easy to get in a vegetarian diet. Here's where to find them.
Why Omega-3s Matter
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If you haven't heard, omega-3s help keep your heart ticking strongly and may also play a key role in brain and eye function. And they must come from food or supplements in one of three forms:
- Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA): a short-chain omega-3 fatty acid found in plant foods like flaxseeds, walnuts, and tofu.
- Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA): a long-chain omega-3 fatty acid that's marine-based, meaning it's found in fatty fish like salmon and trout as well as certain types of algae.
- Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA): another long-chain, marine-based omega-3 fatty acid that's also found in fatty fish and certain algae.
Many health organizations recommend adults get 800 to 1,100 milligrams ALA omega-3s and 250 to 500 mg EPA and DHA omega-3s daily—and the Global Organization for EPA and DHA Omega-3 suggests the upper end of that range to help lower the risk of coronary heart disease.
Good news: Even if you don't eat fatty fish, there are still vegetarian sources of omega-3 fatty acids, like the plant-based and fortified foods here. Eat up.
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ALA omega-3s—such as those found in flaxseed—are an important part of the human diet. The problem is they aren't utilized by the body super well: Only a small fraction of ALA converts to EPA and DHA in the body. Maximize that conversion with flax—just one tablespoon of ground flaxseed offers 1,600 mg ALA. Use it in a crust for baked chicken, or add to a broccoli slaw salad.
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In addition to providing heart-healthy poly- and monounsaturated fatty acids, walnuts also offer ALA omega-3s: Two tablespoons provide 1,140mg. Snack on them plain, use them for a stuffed date appetizer, or add some pumpkin spice and serve them as a fall-inspired snack.
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Eggland's Best Eggs
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Standard eggs contain a little bit of omega-3s, but Eggland's Best eggs contain more than double that amount, thanks to a special diet the chickens are fed: One egg offers 57mg ALA, 57mg DHA, and 2mg EPA. Use in a shakshuka recipe, or add to French toast.
Horizon Reduced-Fat Milk with DHA Omega-3
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EPA and DHA traditionally come from fish, but they're now available from certain types of algae—which is then used to fortify some foods, such as this milk from Horizon, offering 32mg DHA per cup. "Through a NASA program in the 1980s, researchers discovered that fish do not naturally have levels of EPA and DHA in their bodies, but they get their omega-3s from eating algae," explains Michael Lewis, M.D., M.P.H., M.B.A., founder of the Brain Health Education Research Institute and author of When Brains Collide. Mix the fortified milk into a strawberry-and-wild-blueberry smoothie, or use in a chia seed pudding.
Photo: Horizon Organic
Pompeian OlivExtra Plus with Omega-3 DHA
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This blend of olive and canola oils offers 16mg DHA per tablespoon. "When we talk about brain health, you really need to focus on EPA and DHA," says Lewis. "DHA is what is found in the brain itself, about 30 percent of the dry weight of the brain. While EPA is not typically found in high levels in the brain, it is incredibly important to help blood flow to the brain." Use this fortified oil to dress a lentil- or grain-based salad.
Fortified Tomato & Basil Pasta Sauce
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A half-cup serving of this tomato sauce offers 32mg DHA—an amount that may help heart health. "Omega-3s decrease the ability of our blood to clot, similar to what a baby aspirin does," says Lewis. "A heart attack is often caused by a blood clot that is sudden and often devastating. Omega-3s keep clotting balanced and from running out of control." Add this fortified sauce to an eggplant Parm recipe, or use in an open-faced sandwich.
Try the recipes: Spaghetti Squash Eggplant Parmesan (or Open-Faced Italian Grilled Cheese with Cauliflower Toast)
Photo: Francesco Rinaldi