Vegan Omega-3 | Discover Plant-based Sources | DHA supplement
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Misbah Wasi

Functional Nutrition Specialist, Scientific & Regulatory Advisor for Health Supplements

Misbah Wasi is a seasoned professional in the field of Nutrition Science and Food Regulation for over 15 years. Currently, she is lendin her expertise in the area of Health Supplements and Nutraceuticals and is an active member of the Standards Review Group (SRG) - Nutraceuticals FSSAI Ms. Wasi is a post-graduate in Food and Nutrition. Certified Lead Food Safety Management Systems Auditor (FSMS, FSSC 22000) and a certified FoSTaC traine for Health Supplements and Nutraceuticals. She is also a Subject Matter Expert for ‘Food Regulations in India’ for IFLR (International Food Laws and Regulations) course at Michigan State University.

Vegan Omega-3: Discover plant-based omega-3 sources

There has been a surge in interest surrounding veganism in recent years, driven by concerns for animal welfare, environmental sustainability, and personal health. As more individuals adopt a plant-based lifestyle, questions arise about meeting essential nutrient requirements, such as Vitamin D, Vitamin B12, and particularly Omega-3 fatty acids. Traditionally sourced from fish oil, Omega-3s are crucial in heart health, brain function, and overall well-being. However, obtaining an adequate intake of Omega-3s can pose a challenge for those following a vegan diet. Fortunately, nature provides numerous plant-based sources rich in these essential fatty acids, offering vegans a pathway to optimal health without compromising their ethical beliefs. Before exploring vegan sources, it's essential to understand what Omega-3 fatty acids are and why they are crucial for our health.

 

Understanding Omega-3 Fatty Acids

 

Omega-3s belong to a group of polyunsaturated fatty acids. These polyunsaturated fats are primarily of two types: omega 6 and omega 3. They are termed essential fatty acids (EFA’s) since the human body is unable to produce them indigenously, like vitamins, minerals, and other essential nutrients, therefore they must be attained from diet. Omega-3 fatty acids are a type of polyunsaturated fats that help to lower triglycerides, promote blood flow and cardiac, and vascular function, and control thrombosis and inflammation. The three primary Omega-3 fatty acids are alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA).

 

  • Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA): functions to produce chemicals called eicosanoids, which help reduce inflammation and reduce symptoms of depression.
  • Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA): contributes to brain development and function.
  • Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA): is beneficial for the heart, immune system, and nervous system.

 

Role of Omega-3 fatty acids

 

Omega-3 fatty acids play a vital role in maintaining overall health and are essential for various physiological processes within the human body.

 

  1. Brain Health:

 

Omega-3 fatty acids, particularly EPA and DHA, are crucial for brain development and function throughout all stages of life. DHA, in particular, is highly concentrated in the brain and plays a critical role in maintaining its structure and function. Adequate intake of omega-3s has been associated with:

• Improved memory and cognitive function
• Reduced risk of age-related cognitive decline
• Lower incidence of neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's disease and dementia

     

    1. Heart Health

     

    Omega-3 fatty acids are well-known for their cardiovascular benefits. EPA and DHA have been shown to have several positive effects on heart health, including:

    • Lowering triglyceride levels in the blood
    • Reducing inflammation throughout the body
    • Decreasing the risk of arrhythmias (irregular heartbeats)
    • Lowering blood pressure
    • Preventing the formation of blood clots

       

      These effects contribute to a reduced risk of heart disease, heart attacks, and stroke, making omega-3 fatty acids an essential component of a heart-healthy diet

       

      1. Inflammation and Immune Function

       

      Omega-3 fatty acids possess anti-inflammatory properties that help regulate the body's inflammatory response. Chronic inflammation is associated with various health conditions, including arthritis, asthma, and inflammatory bowel diseases. EPA and DHA can help mitigate inflammation by reducing the production of pro-inflammatory molecules in the body. By modulating the inflammatory response, omega-3 fatty acids support overall immune function and contribute to a balanced immune system.

       

      1. Eye Health

       

      DHA, one of the primary omega-3 fatty acids found in the retina, is essential for maintaining optimal vision and eye health. Adequate intake of DHA during pregnancy and early childhood is critical for proper eye development. Additionally, omega-3 fatty acids may help reduce the risk of age-related macular degeneration (AMD), a leading cause of vision loss in older adults

       

      1. Pregnancy and Early Childhood Development

       

      Omega-3 fatty acids, particularly DHA, are essential for fetal development during pregnancy and early childhood. DHA is a major structural component of the brain and retina, and adequate maternal intake during pregnancy supports optimal brain and visual development in the fetus. Pregnant and breastfeeding women are often advised to consume sufficient omega-3s to ensure the healthy development of their babies.

       

      Omega-3 fatty acids are essential nutrients that play diverse and critical roles in the human body. From brain health and heart health to immune function and early childhood development, these fatty acids are integral to overall well-being at every stage of life. Incorporating omega-3-rich foods can help ensure adequate intake and support optimal health throughout the lifespan.  Contrary to common belief, Omega-3s aren't exclusive to fish and marine products. Several plant-based foods are abundant in ALA, the precursor to EPA and DHA. Here are some notable sources:

       

      1. Flaxseeds

      • Flaxseeds are one of the best plant-based sources of ALA, a precursor to EPA and DHA. Ground flaxseeds can be easily added to smoothies, oatmeal, or baked goods to boost omega-3 intake.
      • Flaxseed oil, extracted from the seeds, is another convenient way to incorporate Omega-3s into your diet, perfect for drizzling over salads or using in dressings. According to FSSAI, Flaxseed/Linseed Oil, up to 5 % of the total oil, may be added if the Multi-Source Edible Oil is claimed to have an ideal ratio of omega 3: omega 6

         

        1. Walnuts

        • One of the best sources of omega- 3 fatty acids required for optimal health. Studies, such as the 2021 review in Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition, have found walnuts lower blood pressure, help us lose weight and maintain a healthy one, help us age better and even boost our gut health.
        • It can be incorporated into the daily diet by sprinkling some onto a favorite or baking them into brownies, and other treats.

           

          1. Seaweed and Algae

          • Seaweed, spirulina, and chlorella are all forms of algae that are rich in omega-3 fatty acids.
          • These foods are especially important for vegans and some vegetarians to consume because they provide one of the only plant-based sources of EPA and DHA omega-3s. They can be used to prepare tasty homemade rolls as they provide a fantastic flavor. Also, spirulina and chlorella powders and supplements can be added to smoothies or other recipes, like pancakes, without altering the flavor.

             

            1. Canola Oil

            • It is one of the best cooking oil, known for its light and neutral flavor and low-saturated fat content. It's also a good source of vitamins E and K.

              1. Hempseeds

              • Hemp seeds boast an impressive nutrient profile, including a healthy dose of ALA. They offer a nutty flavor and can be consumed raw, toasted, or blended into smoothies. Hemp seed oil is another option for obtaining Omega-3s, with a mild, nutty taste that pairs well with salads and dips.

                 

                1. Kidney Beans

                • Kidney beans are an excellent source of plant protein and are packed with fiber. They are also a good source of iron and folate which is important for a healthy pregnancy and overall health. Kidney beans are super versatile and used in a wide variety of cuisines to add texture and plant protein.

                   

                  1. Chia Seeds

                  • Chia seeds are tiny powerhouses of nutrition, packed with ALA, fiber, protein, and various vitamins and minerals. The seeds can be used to make creamy, dreamy puddings, cakes, and bread. Chia seeds have greater contents of omega-3 acids than flaxseed. It is characterized by high contents of polyunsaturated fatty acids, mainly ALA.

                     

                    Adopting a vegan lifestyle does not mean sacrificing essential nutrients like Omega-3 fatty acids. By incorporating a variety of plant-based sources rich in ALA, such as flaxseeds, chia seeds, hemp seeds, walnuts, Brussels sprouts, and algal oil supplements, vegans can ensure they meet their Omega-3 requirements while supporting their ethical values.

                     

                    References

                     

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                    • D'Eliseo, D., & Velotti, F. (2016). Omega-3 Fatty Acids and Cancer Cell Cytotoxicity: Implications for Multi-Targeted Cancer Therapy. Journal of clinical medicine, 5(2), 15. https://doi.org/10.3390/jcm5020015

                    • Djuricic, I., & Calder, P. C. (2021). Beneficial Outcomes of Omega-6 and Omega-3 Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids on Human Health: An Update for 2021. Nutrients, 13(7), 2421. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu13072421

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