If you’ve ever heard of omega-3 fatty acids, you may know that they’re a necessary part of a balanced diet—but unfortunately, you probably associate them with eating fish or taking fish oil supplements, right? Well, we have good news: You don’t have to eat the carcasses of dead fish or the oils derived from them in order to get a full, healthy dose of omega-3s. It’s easy to get all you need by eating vegan foods. Yay!
Consuming fish and fish oil isn’t just unnecessary and gross—it’s also cruel. Fish are social, intelligent animals who have unique personalities and value their own lives, just like other animals. They communicate with each other, use tools, and even gently rub up against each other because they like the physical contact. And guess what: They’re able to feel pain. Scientists agree that the pain response in fish is virtually the same as in mammals. Fish may look a lot different from us, but since when does looking different make someone less deserving of compassion? They’re just like us in so many of the ways that really matter. Plus, the fishing industry is destroying the environment, and eating fish is unhealthy because of the high levels of toxic chemicals in their flesh.
So let’s give our fish friends a break. We vegans have our omega-3s covered, cruelty-free style. Read on to find out what to eat in order to get your daily dose of omega-3s, with no fish harmed.
How to Get ALA Omega-3s
There are three main types of omega-3s that your body needs, and this one’s easy. So many vegan foods are naturally loaded with ALA omega-3s, so getting your daily dose as a vegan is no problem—you just need to know which foods to look for. And you probably already eat at least some of them on the regular—but if not, get to it, because they’re all delicious and nutritious.
Flax, Chia, and Hemp Seeds
These are the plant-based masters of ALA omega-3s. They top every list of foods rich in them, and for good reason. Flax, for example, has more than any other whole food. As for chia seeds, when you consider the amount they contain gram for gram, they beat out even salmon. All these seeds (as well as the oils derived from them) are perfect additions to smoothies, breakfast bowls, cereals, salads, and more.
If you’d rather eat foods that already contain these seeds, that’s totally doable. Where can you find flax? Look for beverages or baked goods, like vegan muffins, breads, and wraps, that are made with it. What about chia, which contains all eight essential amino acids? You can’t go wrong with a chia pudding or a refreshing chia-infused juice or kombucha. And hemp? Tons of energy bars, beverages, and even some veggie burgers contain it, so it’s easy to incorporate in your diet.
Just a single ounce of these nutrient-dense nuts will give you more than a full day’s supply of omega-3s, so grab a handful when you’re on the go for a healthy ALA-rich snack. Or bake them into your favorite chocolate chip cookies. You can also make a delish vegan cheese out of them. The possibilities are endless.
Soy is a powerhouse—it’s heart-healthy and packed with protein, it can improve your bone health and brain function, and it contains antioxidants. And guess why else it rules? Soybeans and other soy foods are amazing sources of omega-3s. Stock up on faves like tofu, tempeh, soy milk, and other healthy options to get your fix.
Spinach and Brussels Sprouts
We can thank green veggies for always coming through with massive health benefits. Incorporate these greens and sprouts in your meals as often as you can for their omega-3 power!
Need some recipe inspiration? Try Brussels sprouts cooked rosemary-lemon style or stuffed in Middle Eastern Pita Wraps. As for spinach, simple recipes like Spinach-Avocado Pasta, Soy Chorizo Spinach Hash, and Spinach Orzo Salad will give you your fix without sacrificing any flavor.
How to Get DHA and EPA Omega-3s
DHA and EPA, the other main types of omega-3s, are the more elusive versions of this fatty acid—a lot of people mistakenly think that you need to eat fish in order to get them. But that’s not true. The best source is actually algae. Yep, algae—the underwater plant that many fish eat (this is likely where they get so much omega-3, so by consuming it, you’re going straight to the source).
Our bodies can actually convert some ALA into DHA and EPA, but only in small amounts—which means you’d have to eat tons of ALA-rich foods for that to happen, and that’s just not realistic for everyone (I’m down with walnuts, but I’m not going to eat 10 pounds of them a day). But you don’t need to consume oil derived from dead fish bodies in order to get this coveted nutrient—using oil derived from algae is the way to go!
Algae are vegan and incredibly rich in omega-3s, so skip the cruel (and gross) fish oil and try this instead. According to studies, they actually contain a more concentrated form of omega-3s than fish oil does—so by using algal oil, you’re not only avoiding the cruelty inherent in the fishing industry but also making the more nutritious choice. You can easily add it to smoothies and salads. Plus, it’s flavorless, so it won’t mess up the taste of your food if you use it in a recipe. Sprinkle it on anything and everything for a super-healthy dose of EPA and DHA.
Not much of a chef? You can also get your daily dose of omega-3s by taking a vegan omega-3 supplement made from algae. Choose a formula that contains both EPA and DHA or DHA only, since your body can convert some of that into EPA. Check out the selection of supplements at VeganEssentials.com, or look for certified-vegan daily supplements at your local natural-foods or vitamin store.
Some vegan foods are fortified with omega-3s because algal oil has been added to them—including some vegan milks, juices, raw protein bars, and more—making it easy to meet your daily needs. Try Silk’s Soy Milk Plus Omega-3 & DHA, which is one of our favorite fortified daily staples.
So why do we care about omega-3s again?
Glad you asked. Omega-3s are fatty acids, and our bodies need them for some important things, such as keeping our hearts healthy, protecting us from all sorts of inflammation-related illnesses, and even reducing our risk of developing certain mental health conditions, like depression and bipolar disorder. They’re not all the same, so here’s the deal: There are a few main types—ALA, DHA, and EPA—that are necessary for your body to function properly. You need all three, so it’s important to make sure you’re eating the right things. ALA is easy to get—it’s way more abundant than the other two and is found in tons of plant-based foods. DHA and EPA can be a little trickier, but you can definitely get them by eating vegan foods, so there’s no excuse for hurting fish.