If you’re reading this then I’m sure you’re already aware of the importance of all three major omega 3 fatty acids in our diets. There’s ALA, DHA and EPA. As a vegan, Omega 3 with DHA and EPA, whether it be in supplement form or from plant food sources is key to ensuring you’re getting enough of all 3 types. This article follows on from my previous one and looks a little more deeply into the 3 major omega 3s, supplements vs food sources and the fascinating effects these good fats have on the human body.
ALA, DHA and EPA – Why We Need All Three
The human body is an amazing feat of evolution. Hundreds of systems working away tirelessly every day without us even noticing! When it comes to synthesizing fats, our bodies do a pretty good job with most, creating them from other fats or certain raw materials. Omega 3 is a different story though. We cannot make these good fats and so the only place to get them is from our diet.
Supplementing your diet using a vegan Omega 3 with DHA and EPA included is highly recommended since a vegan diet excludes fish oils along with all other animal products as much as is humanly possible! It is now very well-known that fish oil is one of the main sources of DHA and EPA. It’s the reason the fish oil supplement market has absolutely exploded over the last 5 – 10 years.
ALA was, for many years, somewhat overlooked by the scientific community with studies focusing more on DHA and EPA. But there is strong evidence to suggest ALA is just as important with benefits including maintaining energy levels and heart health, among others. We’ll have a closer look at the benefits in the next section below.
It is also worth remembering that ALA is the parent molecule with DHA and EPA synthesized from the parent. The longer chain fatty acids of DHA and EPA are also vitally important for our heart, brain and nervous system so we need to ensure we’re consuming enough of all three varieties in our diet, especially when following a vegan lifestyle.
The Many Health Benefits of Omega 3 Fatty Acids
Omega 3s have been studied extensively for decades now and few other nutrients have been investigated more comprehensively. We have discovered many different health benefits linked with getting enough of these essential fatty acids in our diet. Let’s quickly run through just a selection …
- Maintaining Healthy Eyes
As Johnny Nash famously wrote: “Eye can see clearly now” … sorry, excuse the terrible pun 🙂 But seriously, Omega 3 has been shown to contribute to the health and preservation of your eyes. In fact, you may be surprised to learn that DHA is the major structural fatty acid component of the retina as well as the brain! It would seem logical then that studies have linked a diet rich in DHA with slower degeneration of the retina – the major cause of eyesight loss in the older generation.
- Reducing Child ADHD Symptoms
ADHD seems to have become more prevalent in modern times. 20 years ago you didn’t really hear about it but now it is cited as a problem in classrooms across the land. Maybe we have become more attuned to this disorder and previously the kids were just labeled disruptive … I don’t know. What I do know is Omega 3 has been linked to a reduction in the symptoms of ADHD in children helping with inattention, hyperactivity and aggression. DHA and EPA in particular seem to have the strongest effect so if you’re raising your kids plant-based you should consider using a vegan Omega 3 with DHA and EPA included in the mix.
- Improving Your Skin Health
Believe it or not, your skin is the largest organ in your body and the DHA Omega 3 is a major component of the skin, being an integral component of the cell membranes. Unsurprising then that maintaining good levels of DHA in your body helps to keep your skin healthy. Again, us vegans can be lacking the DHA variety so it’s important to look for this key constituent when sourcing a supplement or food.
- Easing Joint Pain & Inflamation
The well documented anti-inflammatory properties of Omega 3 makes this one of the biggest health benefits. As the human body ages we generally start to become more aware of aches and pains in our joints, especially under load-bearing exercise. This is due to our connective tissues, or cartilage, becoming less effective at cushioning the impact of every day life! Omega 3 reduces the inflammation around our joints and so lessens the pain.
- Getting a Good Night’s Sleep
We all know how important sleep is in keeping us operating optimally. My teenage daughter definitely seems to know how important it is, especially at the weekends 🙂 Lack of sleep affects concentration, mood, cognition, decision-making and many other things we need to go about our day effectively. There is an increasing body of evidence to suggest that Omega 3 helps with getting a restful and regenerative sleep by facilitating release of the sleep hormone, melatonin.
- Keeping The Brain Healthy & Happy
This probably the most widely accepted major health benefit of Omega 3. That ole’ grey matter loves a good dose of essential fatty acids. As it happens, the brain is the most fatty organ in the human body and consists of around 60% fat. The brain absorbs DHA in preference to other Omega 3s and many studies have shown a link between maintaining optimum Omega 3 levels in the diet to a reduced incidence of Alzheimer’s disease and brain degeneration. DHA has been shown to be instrumental in the normal development of the infant brain and the maintenance of effective brain function in adults.
This is just a selection of health benefits of Omega 3s. Vegans tend to find it more difficult to get enough DHA and EPA especially, so make sure you choose a supplement which includes all three major fatty acids.
Natural Food Sources for The Major Omega 3s
Given that vegans don’t buy fish oil, where can we go to find a natural plant based source of DHA and EPA? Well … the fish build up concentrations of both in their bodies and where do they get it from? … it’s in the algae! Fish consume vast amounts of microalgae over the course of their lives and this is the source.
It logically follows that if we just leave out the fish from the equation and eat the microalgae ourselves there is a perfect natural food source of DHA and EPA. I’m not suggesting you spend your days swimming the oceans in search of Spirulina 🙂 In all good health food shops you’ll find a dazzling array of choice. Gone are the days when you’d need to harvest the stuff yourself.
Another source of DHA and EPA is seaweed and there are many ways to incorporate seaweed into your diet. It’s actually very versatile and you can use it in all manner of dishes from salads to sushi to burgers. Just use your fave search engine to serve up some delicious dishes!
Supplements vs Plant-Based – Is There a Difference?
The other way to ensure you get enough of these vital nutrients into your body with a vegan diet is, of course, to use supplements. For those of us who are rushing around, mad busy, trying to sort the kids out it can be much more convenient to pop a couple of capsules with our meal and this is absolutely fine.
Vegan supplements of Omega 3 with DHA and EPA can be found all over the internet and again, in most health food stores so there’s no need to be without these hugely important fatty acids in the modern times which we live in.
So to answer the question posed in the headline above, there is no difference whatsoever in where you get your Omega 3s, be it a supplement or from a vegan cheese burger seaweed quarter pounder!
Hmmmm … I feel hungry now!
Live Your Healthy, Happy Vegan Life!
I hope you enjoyed reading this article and hope it has helped you understand more about the importance and benefits of Omega 3s and specifically, the pivotal role DHA and EPA play in the overall mix. Please leave your comments below and I will do my best to answer any questions you have on your vegan journey 🙂