Omega-3 is critically important to every cell in the body. It also has numerous other health benefits, especially for the heart and circulatory system, the brain, the immune system, and its overall anti-inflammatory effect on the body. When you think of good sources of omega-3, the first food that comes to mind is seafood—especially fatty fish like mackerel, salmon and tuna. But what if you are a vegetarian? Thankfully, there are plant-based sources of omega-3. Of the three types of omega-3—ALA, DHA and EPA—plant sources offer ALA. Although ALA cannot be used directly by the body, our system can convert it to the two other usable forms.
The following are some ways that vegetarians (or those who dislike fish) can obtain omega-3 from their diets.
Fruits and Vegetables—Leafy green vegetables like spinach and chard have the most omega-3, but other sources include cruciferous vegetables like cauliflower, broccoli, cabbage, brussels sprouts and radishes. Pumpkin and pumpkin seeds also contain omega-3, as do other winter squash like acorn or butternut. Regarding fruits, strawberries, blackberries, raspberries and blueberries provide omega-3 as well.
Nuts and Seeds—Chia seeds have some of the highest amounts of omega-3 among nuts and seeds, but good choices are also walnuts, flax seeds and hemp seeds. Add them to smoothies, yogurt, cottage cheese or oatmeal for a delicious way to consume these in your diet.
Plant Oils—Since flaxseeds are high in omega-3, so is the flaxseed oil derived from them. Adding olive oil or soybean oil to your diet can also give you more omega-3. Try to consume these in the fresh form, as the omega-3 content is reduced during cooking. Drizzle olive oil on your salad, or use it as a dipping sauce for bread. Flaxseed oil can be mixed with juice or tea, or added to oatmeal, cereal, soups and stews (but after cooking).
Supplements—Even for people who aren’t vegetarians, it can be difficult to ingest enough omega-3. Luckily, it can also be taken in supplement form. Obviously if you are vegetarian, you will want to select a plant based omega-3 supplement rather than fish oil capsules, but there are many options available at your local pharmacy.
As with any supplement, before adding it to your daily regimen, please consult a doctor who is familiar with your health history. Some people with bleeding disorders or other preexisting conditions should not take additional omega-3 because of its blood thinning properties.