What is the best omega 3 option for a vegetarian?

Amaris Noguera
Nutrition & Dietetics
To better answer this question it might help to clarify that there are a couple of major types of Omega-3’s found in our diet. For simplicity’s sake we’ll refer to them by their abbreviated names: EPA, DHA, and ALA. Sources of EPA and DHA include: fatty fish and krill. DHA is also found in algae.

It’s important to note that EPA and DHA are made by marine algae (specifically, microalgae). So fish and krill are high in these omega-3’s because they consume this algae and it accumulates to high concentrations in their organs. Sources of the ALA omega-3 fatty acids include: canola oil, soybean oil, walnuts and walnut oil, flaxseed and flaxseed oil.

The link between omega-3’s heart-healthy, anti-inflammatory effects are credited largely to EPA and DHA according to the current available body of science. Another key point is that our bodies can only make a limited amount of DHA and EPA from ALA.

So for vegetarians, be sure to include plenty of Omega-3 plant sources such as the walnuts, flaxseed, and other oils, but it might be beneficial to also consider algal (algae) oil supplements.
Michaela Ballmann
Nutrition & Dietetics

In my opinion, the best Omega 3 option for a Vegetarian/Vegan would be an EPA/DHA microalgae supplement. Certainly, if you wanted to get your omega-3's from a whole food, you could turn to walnuts, flaxseed, and canola oil. Know, however, that you will be getting the ALA form, which then needs to convert into the longer-strand EPA/DHA. If your diet is high in omega-6 fatty acids, this conversion rate will be low, so I would advise you to decrease your omega-6 intake while increasing your intake of omega-3's. If you're open to a supplement, microalgae is the original source of EPA/DHA (not fish!) and the capsules are easy to take with no bad aftertaste.

Vandana  R. Sheth
Nutrition & Dietetics
Good vegetarian Omega 3 sources include flaxseeds and flaxseed oil, canola oil, soybean oil, soybeans, walnuts and walnut oil. If you do eat eggs, high omega 3 eggs might be a good option. Flax seeds and walnuts are the best vegetarian options for omega 3 fats. 1 Tbsp of flaxseed oil provides 7.5 grams of omega 3 and 1/4 cup of walnut halves provides 2.3 grams of omega 3 content.
Donna Feldman
Nutrition & Dietetics
Omega-3 fatty acids are unique nutrients that play key roles in brain structure and function, inflammation and cell regulation. There are 3 basic forms of omega-3 in foods:
  1. Alpha linolenic acid (an 18 carbon chain)
  2. Eicosapentaenoic acid or EPA (20 carbon chain)
  3. Docosahexaneoic acid or DHA (22 carbon chain)
EPA and DHA are the two omega-3 fats with known metabolic activity. Food and supplement sources of EPA and DHA will be limited for vegetarians and vegans, because they’re only available in foods of animal origin, like salmon, sardines, tuna and mackerel. Most omega-3 supplements are manufactured from fish sources, such as cod liver oil and salmon.

Vegetarians have to rely on the omega-3 found in plants, which is alpha linolenic acid. Humans have a limited capacity to make EPA and DHA out of the less biologically active alpha linolenic acid, by adding carbon atoms to the chain. Because this process is limited, vegetarians should be sure to include high-omega-3 foods in their diet.

The US Adequate Intake for adults is set at 1.1 to 1.6 grams of omega-3 per day, which is not a large amount to get from food. Foods that are particularly high in plant omega-3 are:
  • Canola oil
  • Walnuts and walnut oil
  • Flax
  • Chia seed
  • Soy oil
  • Avocado
High heat can cause omega-3 fats to oxidize, because they’re highly reactive. Avoid using excessively high heat when cooking with canola oil, and keep canola oil, walnuts and flax in the refrigerator.

Another omega-3 option for vegetarians is omega-3 eggs. These are eggs from chickens raised on omega-3 rich feed. Typically, the feed is high in DHA derived from algae, which is a vegetarian source. These eggs are more expensive, and the amount of omega-3 per egg will vary, so check the label for omega-3 and DHA content. So far, an algae process to create EPA has not been developed.

Vegetarians who want an omega-3 supplement will have to rely on flax, walnut oil or algae-derived DHA formulas. Another way to boost intake is to find food products made with high omega-3 ingredients. Flax, walnuts and canola are added to some cereals, breads, bakery products and snack bars. Soy and other alternative milks may be fortified with plant-based omega-3.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.