Omega-3 fatty acids are a type of polyunsaturated fat with many health benefits.
We often associate omega-3 fats with seafood but did you know there are plant-based sources of these fats also. Read on to find out how you can reap the benefits of omega-3 fatty acids without seafood.
Omega-3 fatty acids fall into two categories:
1. Short chain omega-3 fatty acids: alpha-linoleic acid (ALA) which is an essential fatty acid. This means our body is unable to make this fat and we must get it through our diet. Sources of ALA are mostly plant-based.
2. Long chain omega-3 fatty acids: eicosapentaeinoic acid (EPA), docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), and docosapentaenoic acid (DPA). These fats are commonly associated with a diet rich in oily fish. Our body is able to make a small amount of EPA and DHA using the short chain omega-3 fat alpha-linoleic acid.
However, our body’s ability to convert ALA to EPA and DHA is limited with only a small percentage of dietary ALA being converted. This process is influences by the amount of ALA in our diet, our intake of other fats, and our life stage.
Studies show many health benefits of omega-3 fatty acids, particularly from the long-chain fatty acids (EPA, DHA and DPA).
Increased intake of long-chain omega-3 fatty acids (EPA, DHA and DPA) is associated with:
But what happens if you do not like seafood or you choose to avoid seafood for ethical reasons. Can you still get the benefits of these long-chain omega-3 fats?
Yes! And here is how.
As we know, some of the omega-3 fat ALA from our diet can be converted into the long-chain omega-3 fats EPA and DHA. Therefore, increasing our intake of ALA rich foods can help enhance our body’s production of these healthy fats.
Luckily ALA is found in many plant foods. Try to include these foods regularly in your diet to ensure you are meeting your ALA requirements:
The omega-6 fatty acid linoleic acid is a healthy fat found in many plant foods. However, it can reduce your body’s ability to convert alpha-linoleic acid into EPA and DHA. Many people consume omega-6 fats in foods that contain sunflower oil, sesame oil, and margarines or spreads made with sunflower oil.
Replacing some of these foods with foods rich in the omega-3 fats will help your body convert more alpha-linoleic acid into EPA and DHA. For example, if you regularly cook with sunflower oil you can switch to canola oil or if you use a margarine made with sunflower oil choose one that is made from canola oil or olive oil.
Olive oil is not a source of omega-3 fat, but it does not reduce our body’s ability to convert alpha-linoleic acid into EPA and DHA.
If you dislike the taste of seafood you can utilise foods that have been fortified. This means the manufacturer has added a source of long-chain omega-3 fatty acids into the product. This may not be suitable for people who are vegetarian or vegan as fish oil is often the source of omega-3 fats. However, some brands use flaxseed oil or microalgae which is appropriate for vegetarians and vegans.
You can find fortified products at your local supermarket. Most brands will include “Omega-3” on the label or you can read the ingredients and look out for fish oil, flaxseed oil, or microalgae.
Common fortified products include:
Algae is a rich source of long-chain omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA. Studies show that algae supplements are effective and safe. They also provide the same anti-inflammatory and heart protective properties as fish oil.
Long-chain omega-3 fatty acid supplements from algae sources may be helpful for people who do not consume seafood and:
You can speak with your doctor or dietitian about how best to incorporate these supplements into your diet.
There you have it! You don’t need seafood to get the health benefits of long-chain omega-3 fats.
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