Vegan Omega-3 Sources

Omega-3 fatty acids are crucial for heart and brain health, and humans can easily get all the ALA, DHA, and EPA we need while maintaining a plant-based diet! Here are some vegan omega 3 sources and scientific reasons behind why they're so important.
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Plant-based food sources of vegan Omega-3 fatty acids on a table including walnuts, flaxseeds, and avocado.
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Navigating the world of nutrition as a vegan offers its own set of unique twists and turns, especially when it comes to essential nutrients that are frequently associated with animal products. Omega-3 fatty acids are one such nutrient, often touted for their significant roles in improving heart health, boosting brain functions, and reducing inflammation.

While fish and fish oils are the most commonly celebrated sources of these vital fats, they are not the only paths to achieving a heart-healthy omega-3 rich diet. Nature has provided an abundance of vegan options that are both effective and sustainable.

Flaxseeds, chia seeds, and walnuts don’t just add crunch and flavor to meals—they are potent allies in a vegan’s journey towards a balanced diet. But the journey doesn’t stop there; the exploration goes deeper into less charted territories, such as the fields of algae-based supplements, which offer direct sources of EPA and DHA without the fish.

What Are Omega-3s?

Omega-3s, scientifically known as omega-3 fatty acids, constitute a group of vital polyunsaturated fats that the human body cannot do without. Within this group, three primary dietary types hold particular significance for human health:

  • ALA (alpha-linolenic acid): ALA is a short-chain omega-3 fatty acid—which you can get from plant foods like walnuts, hemp seeds, and flaxseeds. ALA is the only essential amino acid that must be consumed through our diet. Our bodies can convert ALA to both EPA and DHA.
  • EPA (eicosapentanoic acid): EPA is one of the longer-chain omega-3s, recognized for its therapeutic benefits, especially in supporting cardiovascular health.
  • DHA (docosahexaenoic acid): Another longer-chain omega-3, DHA plays a pivotal role in the realm of brain health.

Omega-3s are integral components of cell membranes, contributing to their structural integrity.

Why ALA May Not Be Enough

ALA is a short-chain fatty acid found in plant foods including walnuts, chia seeds, flaxseed and hemp seeds. Since the body contains enzymes that can convert ALA to the longer-chain EPA and DHA, theoretically, you can make all the EPA and DHA you need from ALA alone.

White bowl filled with nuts, a candied walnuts recipe.

However, the enzyme that converts ALA to EPA, and EPA to DHA, also converts omega-6 fats and may not be able to convert all the ALA we eat to longer-chain omega-3s. While conversion of ALA to EPA tends to be OK, research suggests that conversion rates of EPA to DHA can be very low.

Since you don’t know how much ALA your body is able to convert to EPA and DHA, it’s a good idea to consume some longer-chain omega-3s for extra insurance. This doesn’t mean it’s not important to consume ALA. Vegans should still aim to eat several servings of ALA-rich foods daily.

Vegan Food Sources of Omega-3s

According to the National Institutes of Health, there are a few foods high in Omega 3—such as flaxseeds, chia seeds, walnuts, hemp seeds, some plant oils (flaxseed oil, soybean oil, and canola oil), and some seaweed and algae.

Vegan and vegetarian sources of Omega-3 are the preferred source for obtaining adequate amounts of Omega’s in your system. In a perfect world, where all bodies performed the same, you could call it a day, but if you’re relying on dietary foods alone, do your due diligence and consult a doctor or registered dietitian to confirm whether your body is getting enough of these essential fatty acids from food alone, or if you need to take a supplement.

Flaxseeds

These tiny powerhouses are packed with ALA, making them an excellent vegan source of omega-3s. Sprinkle them on oatmeal or blend them into smoothies for a nutritional boost. You can also use ground flaxseed mixed with water as a vegan egg substitute in most baking recipes.

A wooden tablespoon with ground flaxseed meal spilling out on a table.

Chia Seeds

Chia seeds are rich in ALA and can be incorporated into yogurt, pudding, or as an egg substitute in baking recipes.

Half cup of chia seeds in a gold measuring cup with a wooden handle.

Walnuts

Walnuts are not only delicious but also contain significant amounts of ALA. Snack on them or use them in salads and desserts for added nutrition.

White bowl filled with nuts, a candied walnuts recipe.

Hemp Seeds

Hemp seeds offer a balanced ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acids, making them a valuable addition to your diet. Enjoy them in salads, on top of cereals, or in homemade energy bars.

Seaweed and Algae

Some types of seaweed and algae also contain omega-3s, providing a savory twist to your meals.

Vegan Omega-3 Supplements

In the quest for optimal health and well-being, many individuals are turning to vegan omega-3 supplements as a sustainable and compassionate alternative to traditional fish-based sources. These supplements offer a potent dose of essential fatty acids, particularly EPA and DHA. Many Vegan multivitamins also include a dose of plant-based Omega-3s!

Here are a few trusted brands that offer algae-derived DHA to meet your daily needs.

Ritual’s Omega-3 Capsules

Ritual’s Omega-3 DHA + EPA is a daily supplement offering a 500mg dose of vegan Omega-3, sourced from sustainable microalgae in La Forêt-Fouesnant, France. It features a pleasant citrus taste and minimal burp-back, thanks to its high-quality manufacturing process using patented technology to reduce oxidation. Priced at $33 per bottle with 30 servings, this supplement supports brain and heart health and provides a science-backed dose of DHA & EPA in a 2:1 ratio, reflecting the nutritional benefits found in a healthy Mediterranean diet.

A bottle of Ritual brand Omega-3 vegan capsules.
Photo credit: Ritual

Performance Lab Omega 3

This full-spectrum Omega-3 Essential Fatty Acid formula contains both EPA and DHA sourced directly from algal oil for purity and potency. It’s vegan-certified by The Vegetarian Society as well as Clean Label Project certified. These are gelatin-free softgel vitamins, and Performance Lab recommends taking three capsules each morning with a delicious vegan breakfast.

Yellow bottle of Performance Lab Omega-3 supplements on a pale studio background.

Naturelo’s Omega-3 DHA Vitamins

One Naturelo vegan DHA softgel contains 400 milligrams of DHA which should be plenty to meet your DHA needs.

Vegan DHA Vitamins from Algae | No Fish Oil Needed!

Barlean’s Vegan Omega Flax + Algae Oil

Derived from microalgae, this functional algal oil can be a potent source of vegan-friendly EPA and DHA. It can be consumed straight off a spoon or incorporated into salad dressings, soups, smoothies, and beyond.

A bottle of Vegan omega-3 vitamin oil from Barlean's on a flat table surrounded by fresh sea kelp.

Camelina Sun

Camelina Sun offers vegan omega-3 supplements derived from the camelina plant, a sustainable source rich in essential fatty acids. These supplements provide a plant-based alternative to fish oil, making them a great choice for getting vegan omega 3s.

A bottle of Camelina Sun brand vegan omega 3 capsules.

Fatty¹⁵

Fatty¹⁵ provides a unique take on omega-3 supplements with their focus on C15:0, a fatty acid that supports cellular health and overall wellness. These supplements offer a plant-based option for those seeking innovative and science-backed nutritional support. Perfect for vegans, Fatty¹⁵ combines traditional benefits with modern advancements in supplement technology.

A bottle of Fatty brand vegan omega 3 capsules.

Calgee Vegan Omega-3 Supplements

Also made from algae, Calgee’s softgels have a high concentration of both DHA and EPA, and are gluten-free, as well as third-party lab tested.

Calgee brand vegan omega-3 supplements.
Photo credit: Calgee

Deva Vegan Omega-3 DHA EPA Supplement

This is a vegan-friendly omega-3 solution with their DHA EPA Supplement, crafted from algae oil. This supplement is designed to support brain health, cardiovascular function, and vision, making it a great addition to any wellness routine.

Spectrum Essentials Soft Gels, Vegan Ultra Omega-3 EPA and DHA with Vitamin D

This vegan brand combines omega-3 EPA and DHA with Vitamin D in their Vegan Ultra Omega-3 Soft Gels, offering a holistic approach to wellness. This supplement aids in maintaining heart health, bone strength, and immune function.

Freshfield Vegan Omega 3, DHA, and DPA

This Omega 3 supplement brings the power of the sea to your supplement routine without the fish. This blend of DHA and DPA from algae supports brain, heart, and eye health. It’s a conscientious choice for those looking to sustain their body and the planet.

A bottle of Freshfield brand omega 3 supplement.
Photo credit Freshfield

MaryRuth’s Omega 3-6-7-9 Gummies

Enjoy your omegas in a delightful way with MaryRuth’s Omega 3-6-7-9 Gummies. These tasty treats pack a punch of essential fatty acids in a fun, chewable form, making them perfect for both kids and adults looking to boost their intake in a delicious manner.

A bottle of Mary Ruth's omega 3 supplement.
Photo credit: Mary Ruth’s

Purity Products Vegan Omega 3-6-9

Embrace the full spectrum of omega fatty acids with Purity Products Vegan Omega 3-6-9. This comprehensive formula supports heart, brain, and joint health, blending plant-based sources for a well-rounded approach to wellness.

Nature’s Way NutraVege Omega-3 Plant-Based Softgels

These softgels offer a high-strength, plant-based omega-3 supplement in a convenient softgel. It’s designed for those who wish to support their heart, brain, and eye health with a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle in mind.

A bottle of NutraVege omega 3 supplement.

Before beginning any new dietary supplements, be sure to discuss it with your health care provider. For personalized nutrition advice, work with a registered dietitian nutritionist.

Taylor offers one-on-one nutrition counseling to help vegans eat nutritious and delicious meals and snacks they love.

Unseen Contaminants That May be Lurking in Fish

Fish can contain toxins and heavy metals that are harmful to human health, and this is a growing concern in many parts of the world. Some of the common contaminants found in fish include:

Mercury: Mercury is a heavy metal that can accumulate in fish, especially in larger predatory species like shark, swordfish, king mackerel, and certain types of tuna. Consuming fish with high mercury levels can lead to mercury poisoning, which can have adverse effects on the nervous system, especially in pregnant women and children.

Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCBs): PCBs are industrial chemicals that were once used in various manufacturing processes and have found their way into the environment. They can accumulate in fatty fish, posing health risks if consumed regularly. PCB exposure has been linked to developmental issues, hormonal disruptions, and certain cancers.

Dioxins: Dioxins are environmental pollutants that can enter aquatic ecosystems and accumulate in fish. Prolonged exposure to dioxins through fish consumption may increase the risk of cancer and have adverse effects on the immune and reproductive systems.

Pesticides and Herbicides: Residues of pesticides and herbicides used in agriculture can wash into water bodies and contaminate fish. While these contaminants may not always be present in high levels, long-term exposure can be a concern.

Microplastics: Fish can ingest microplastic particles present in the oceans, and these particles may be transferred to humans upon consumption. While the health effects of microplastic ingestion are still being studied, it is a growing concern.

Bacterial and Viral Contaminants: Some fish can harbor harmful bacteria and viruses, particularly if they are caught or processed in unsanitary conditions. Cooking fish thoroughly can help reduce the risk of foodborne illnesses.

What's Wrong With Fish? Illustration showing mercury, toxins, and cholesterol.

Vegan omega-3s are a vital component of any diet, offering numerous health benefits and supporting overall well-being. By incorporating more ALA-rich foods into your meals and choosing high-quality algal oil supplements you can easily ensure that you’re meeting your omega-3 requirements while staying true to your ethical and environmental values.

For more about vegan nutrition, check out our guide on how to get all your nutrients as a vegan as well as whether vegans need to take vitamins.

Common Questions About Omega-3s

Can I get enough omega-3s from my vegan diet alone?

While it’s possible to meet your omega-3 needs through a vegan diet rich in ALA sources, supplements can provide a much more reliable, convenient, and concentrated source of EPA and DHA.

Is Algal Oil Sustainable?

Yes, algal oil is considered one of the most sustainable sources of omega-3s as it doesn’t deplete fish populations and doesn’t contribute to overfishing.

Are there any side effects of omega-3 supplements?

Generally, omega-3 supplements are safe when taken as directed. However, consult with a healthcare professional before starting any new supplement regimen, especially if you have underlying health conditions or take medications.

How do I ensure proper omega-3 absorption?

Consuming omega-3-rich foods with a balanced diet, low in omega-6 fatty acids, can optimize absorption. Additionally, taking supplements with a meal can enhance absorption.

References and Resources

This vegan DHA article was written with support from registered dietitian Taylor Wolfram RD for World of Vegan. The information presented here is not to be construed as medical advice or used to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any condition or disease.

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