Medically Reviewed by
Dr. Carla Montrond Correia ND, CNS
5 min read
Fish oil is a popular supplement because it can provide omega-3 fatty acids in a highly concentrated form. Omega-3 fatty acids consist of three main types: ALA, EPA and DHA, with each providing unique benefits. Fish oil is an excellent source of EPA and DHA. ALA is more commonly found in plant-based foods and needs to be converted in the body to EPA or DHA. Benefits of EPA and DHA include supporting a healthy heart and promoting brain cognition.
Fish oil is not vegan since it is made from fish. When fish such as salmon consume other fish, they store fatty acids in their body, which is then used to produce fish oil supplements. For vegans and vegetarians, the good news is that there are plant-based sources of omega 3 fatty acids.
The American Heart Association advises everyone to eat two servings of fish each week. Fatty, oily fish, like salmon and herring, contain high amounts of omega-3 fatty acids. Because fish can contain heavy metals, eating more fish than this is not recommended. High quality fish oil contains a higher concentration of omega-3s than could be consumed eating the recommended servings. Vegans and vegetarians who do not eat any fish may not be getting enough omega 3s from their diet.
Although there is no official recommended daily allowance for omega-3s, a good guideline to follow is for your intake to be between 1100 mg -1600 mg.
Some of the health benefits of omega-3 fatty acids include:
A vegan omega-3 supplement can provide the benefits that fish oil offers. While there are many sources of ALA omega-3, it can take a little investigating to find good vegetarian/vegan sources of EPA and DHA. However, some research is also finding that ALA sources, combined with a well-rounded diet of fiber, polyphenols, and sterols, can offer similar benefits.
Echium oil is a supplement that is derived from the seeds of the echium vulgare flower. Some research shows that this oil increases the levels of EPA and DPA (another type of Omega-3 found in fish). However, this research did not show similar increases in DHA levels. Still, there are other options for vegetarians and vegans who want to maximize their omega-3 intake.
Algae oil is similar to fish oil in that it can be taken conveniently in a capsule form and consumed as a supplement. It also contains DHA and EPA, omega-3s that can be a challenge to consume in a plant-based diet. It’s important to choose a source that provides adequate levels, since fatty acid levels can vary based on the type of algae used in formulation. Care/of’s Veggie Omega is sourced from sustainable microalgae and contains 540 mg of DHA and EPA in two softgels.
Seaweed may offer a sustainable vegan source of essential fatty acids. It provides omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids, highly unsaturated fatty acids, and monounsaturated fatty acids. Red and brown seaweeds can offer the highest concentration of fatty acids. Species such as Calliblepharis jubata and Undaria pinnatifida were highlighted in one study for their potential to be a useful source of omega-3 fatty acids.
Spirulina is a microalgae that grows in both fresh and saltwater. It’s known as a superfood because it contains a variety of beneficial properties in a small dose, such as antioxidants, carotenoids, and omega-6, which needs to be sourced through external sources. It has also been shown to be beneficial in supporting multiple systems of the body. One review found that this type of blue-green algae supported cardiovascular health while providing antioxidant protection. It is important to note that many environmental factors, such as sunlight and temperature, affect the composition of fatty acids in seaweed. One study found the levels of EPA and DHA were not consistent in their samples.
Flaxseed oil is also called linseed oil and is one of the most common plant-based sources for fatty acids. Flaxseed oil is high in ALA metabolites, but it is not a good source for EPA or DHA synthesis in the body.
Chia seeds can be a rich source of a variety of nutrients. They are dense in micronutrients like selenium, calcium, phosphorus, copper, manganese, and magnesium, as well as being a good plant protein. Chia seeds boast more omega-3 fatty acids than flax seeds while providing fiber and antioxidants. The main type of omega-3s in chia seeds are ALA.
Omega-3 fatty acids help to maintain a healthy heart while providing additional health benefits.
There are several types of omega-3 metabolites, each providing different benefits. To get the full benefits of these fatty acids, it’s important to consume sources of ALA, EPA and DHA. Fish oil is a popular fatty acid supplement because it provides a high concentration of these fats.
For vegans and vegetarians, fish oil is not an option because it is derived from the bodies of fish.
Plant-based diets can still include a variety of fatty acids in the form of foods like algae oil, seaweed, spirulina, flaxseed, and chia seeds. It’s important to understand which types of fatty acids a plant-based food or supplement contains, because many do not contain each type.
Care/of’s Veggie Omega is an excellent vegan source of omega-3 fatty acids. Using sustainably-sourced microalgae, it provides a source of both EPA and DHA, which can be a challenge for vegetarians and vegans to consume, since they are primarily found in fatty fish. Each serving of two softgels provides 600 mg of omega-3 with 360 mg of DHA.