3. Long-Chain Omega-3s
Omega-3 fatty acids can be split into two categories:
- Essential omega-3 fatty acids: Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) is the only essential omega-3 fatty acid, meaning you can only get it from your diet.
- Long-chain omega-3 fatty acids: This category includes eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). They are not technically considered essential because your body can make them from ALA.
Long-chain omega-3 fatty acids play a structural role in your brain and eyes. Adequate dietary levels also seem important for brain development and preventing inflammation, depression, breast cancer and ADHD (31, 32, 33, 34, 35, 36).
Plants with a high ALA content include flaxseeds, chia seeds, walnuts, hemp seeds and soybeans. EPA and DHA are mostly found in animal products such as fatty fish and fish oil.
Getting enough ALA should theoretically maintain adequate EPA and DHA levels. However, studies report that the conversion of ALA to EPA may be as low as 5%, whereas conversion to DHA may be near 0% (37, 38).
Additionally, research consistently shows that vegetarians and vegans have up to 50% lower blood and tissue concentrations of EPA and DHA than omnivores (39).
While no official RDA exists, most health professionals agree that 200–300 mg of a supplement containing EPA and DHA per day should be sufficient (39).
Vegans can reach this recommended intake through an algae oil supplement.
Minimizing your intake of omega-6 fatty acids from oils such as corn, soy, safflower, sunflower and sesame, as well as making sure to eat enough ALA-rich foods, may further help maximize EPA and DHA levels (40).
BOTTOM LINE:Vegans tend to have lower blood and tissue levels of long-chain omega-3 fatty acids. Therefore, they may benefit from supplementing with EPA and DHA.