Besides fish oil and seafood, which are well-known dietary sources of omega-3s (DHA, EPA), algae, flaxseeds, walnuts, chia seeds, and hemp seeds are also great plant-based sources of omega-3s (ALA).
Omega-3 types: ALA, DHA, EPA
Omega-3 fatty acids belong to polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs). There are 3 main types:
- ALA (alpha-linolenic acid), mainly found in plant-based foods.
- DHA, mainly found in seafood and algae.
- EPA, mainly found in seafood and algae.
ALA and omega-6 fatty acids (linoleic acid) are essential fatty acids. The human body can’t synthesize them. We have to get them from food.
On the other hand, ALA can be converted into EPA and then to DHA. This conversion isn’t efficient, though. So, we have to consume DHA and EPA from food as well. Good sources of DHA and EPA are seafood and algae.
Health benefits of omega-3s
Omega-3s are important for health. Omega-3s may protect against:
- cardiovascular disease,
- high blood pressure,
- Alzheimer’s disease,
- age-related macular degeneration,
- dry eye disease,
- rheumatoid arthritis
- anxiety and high cortisol levels.
Furthermore, DHA is particularly high in the retina, brain, and sperm.
What’s the recommended daily dose of omega-3s?
The recommended daily intake of omega-3s is 1.6 g for men and 1.1 g for women.
Vegetable oils, such as flaxseed, soybean, and canola oils are very high in ALA. The omega-3 type, which is mainly found in plant-based foods.
Actually, flaxseeds are the richest dietary source of ALA. A tbsp of flaxseed oil contains 7.2g of ALA. Flaxseed oil is 53% ALA fatty acids. Moreover, a tbsp of whole flaxseeds contains 2.3 g of ALA. Whole flaxseeds are 23% ALA fatty acids. You could add a tbsp of ground flaxseeds to salads, oatmeal, or smoothies!
Plant-based foods, such as flaxseeds, chia seeds, hemp seeds, and walnuts are rich in ALA, but they don’t contain any DHA or EPA. ALA can be converted into EPA and then to DHA. Less than 15% of ALA is converted to EPA and DHA, though. Therefore, consuming foods that contain DHA & EPA is good for you. Seafood, fish oil, and algae are the only good sources of DHA and EPA.
How much DHA & EPA do we need a day?
There hasn’t been established an official daily dosage for EPA and DHA.
- According to the 2015–2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, a daily dosage of 250 mg of EPA and DHA provides great health benefits. That is the equivalent of eating seafood twice a week.
- The FDA recommends consuming no more than a total of 5 g of EPA and DHA a day. Furthermore, the FDA recommends consuming no more than 2 g of EPA and DHA from supplements per day.
- The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends breastfeeding women to consume 200–300 mg DHA per day.
- Finally, the European Food Safety Authority says that even higher doses of EPA and DHA are safe.
As a rule of thumb, a daily dosage up to 1,000 mg of EPA and DHA seems pretty safe. You can get it from an omega-3 supplement from algae or fish oil. You can find a wide variety of omega-3 supplements on iHerb.
Animal-based sources of omega-3s
Fatty fish is an excellent dietary source of omega-3s. Many fish provide more than 2 g of omega-3s per serving!
But, we shouldn’t consume too much fish. Seafood may be contaminated with heavy metals such as mercury and lead, or industrial chemicals, such as PCBs, as well as pesticides, such as DDT.
In addition, enriched eggs are animal-derived foods with decent amounts of omega-3s.
Omega-3 supplements from fish oil vs algae
Fish oil supplements are purified from contaminants. Certainly, they’re a healthier omega-3 source than fish. They still may contain negligible amounts of contaminants, though. Even tiny amounts of toxins may compromise health. Especially, after consuming them for a long time.
Don’t underestimate the dangers of these contaminates. Studies have shown that women may need up to 5 years to get rid of PCBs from their bodies. Moreover, we may need more than a year to significantly reduce the mercury levels in our bodies.
On the contrary, algae supplements are a great way to boost your daily intake of DHA and EPA. They don’t contain ocean pollutants, such as mercury. Commercial algae are grown in tanks, away from the ocean.
Fish oil is a great source of omega-3s. However, omega-3 supplements from algae are even better!
Plant-based foods rich in omega-3s
Avocado and purslane contain decent amounts of omega-3s as well.
As ground flaxseeds, chia seeds, and hemp seeds are mainly healthy fats, they’re great ingredients for keto smoothies!
Do we need omega-3 supplements?
Most people could benefit from omega-3 supplementation. Prefer omega-3 supplements with high doses of DHA and EPA. We can get high amounts of ALA from food.