Alpha linoleic acid or ALA is the plant-based, short-chain omega-3 fatty acid. The body converts ALA to the long-chain omega-3 acids – EPA and DHA. However, this conversion does not give the adequate quantities of EPA and DHA (thus other sources of EPA and DHA are required to fulfil the needs). The correct dosage of ALA is 2,200 mg per day. Vegetarians require at least 4,400 mg per day to compensate for the lack of DHA and EPA in their diet.
Best Vegetarian Sources of Omega 3 – ALA:
Some of the best vegetarian sources of omega-3 include flax oil, flax meal, hemp nut seeds and oil, canola oil, dried beans like kidney and pinto beans. Unfortunately, some ALA rich foods also contain high levels of omega-6 too much of which can cause serious health problems. Some of the ALA sources that contain high levels of omega-6 are walnuts and their oil, soybean oil. Of these soybean oils have excessive amounts of omega-6 and they are best avoided.
Great vegetarian source of Omega 3 : Flax
A bit bigger than sesame seeds, flaxseeds have a hard, shiny and smooth shell. Ground flaxseeds contain excellent nutritive properties and are quickly absorbed by the body. Flaxseed oil and flax meal contain rich vegetarian sources of omega-3 and have the added benefit of being low in omega-6 too. A full teaspoon of ground flax meal (available in cereal form) gives us 100% of our daily ALA requirement. These benefits along with the tasty, nutty and subtle flavors have made flaxseed foods a popular addition to diet. Under the ‘World’s Healthiest Food’ rating, flaxseeds are given an ‘excellent’ rating as a source of ALA fatty acids.
Great vegetarian source of Omega 3 : Canola products
1g of omega-3 in canola oil or its products has 2g of omega-6 fats. This is considered an ideal balance and therefore, canola can also be considered good vegetarian sources of omega-3. Apart from using canola oil for cooking, you can also get canola mayonnaise, margarine and salad dressings. Health experts suggest that reshaping diet by using heart-healthy oils like canola provides great benefits. Canola oil is categorized as one of the healthiest cooking oils since it possesses the least saturated fat and high ALA content among all cooking oils. All canola-based products have the label qualifying them as such, so they can be easily identified in stores.
Great vegetarian source of Omega 3 : Hemp
Apart from ALA, hemp also contains stearadonic acid. This acid has greater capabilities of converting ALA to EPA. Hemp food products include oil, nut butter, cereals and flour. Hemp seeds contain greater quantities of omega-3 than even walnuts. They have a nutty flavor but are more expensive when compared to other grains.
Great vegetarian source of Omega 3 : Chia seeds
Walnuts and its products
1g of ALA found in walnuts has 5g of omega-6 fats. So, the intake has to be controlled to prevent overload of omega-6. A diet that contains the right amounts of walnuts and walnut oils can reduce stress, LDL cholesterol and c-reactive proteins that are markers of inflammation.
Fresh or dried seaweeds are used commonly in Southeast Asian and Asian cuisine where you can find recipes for salads, soups, rice dishes, stir-fries and snacks that contain seaweed. They contain healthful quantities of omega-3 fats especially DHA and EPA and are a good source for vegetarians and non-seafood eaters.
Butternuts or white walnuts have good source of ALA but the trees are vulnerable to diseases that have wiped out most of them in many countries.
Of all the green leafy vegetables, purslane contains the highest concentration of ALA. What is more it also contains EPA. Middle Eastern and Mediterranean recipes use purslane and it commonly grows wild in many countries. 100g of fresh purslane leaves contain 12.2mg of ALA.
Perilla Seed Oil
Purple mint or Chinese basil are the other names given to the perilla plant. It is similar to flaxseed oil and contains rich vegetarian sources of omega-3 (61%). This plant is commonly used in Japanese cuisine as oil, pickled plums, sauce etc. The seeds are consumed in India, Korea and Thailand where they are also cultivated. Initial studies have found that perilla seed oil can improve lung functioning and reduce inflammation in asthmatics.
A cup of dried beans like pinto and kidney beans give us 1/5th of our daily ALA requirements. Dried and canned pinto beans are available throughout the year and added to brown rice provide an excellent fat-free and tasty protein meal. Similarly, kidney beans are also rich in nutrients and simmered and well-flavored dishes like gravies taste very good when made with kidney beans.
Green leafy vegetables
These are rich not only in many vitamins and other nutrients but are also excellent sources of omega-3 fatty acids. Spinach, broccoli, basil and romaine lettuce contain plenty of ALA. However, since green leafy vegetables contain naturally low quantities of fatty acids, we need to consume extra quantities to get our daily requirements.
Small quantities of omega-3 are found in raspberries, blueberries strawberries and acai berries. One cup of raspberries can give us 5% of daily omega-3 requirements.
Oils from seeds
Several berries can be used to make oils, jams and juices that contain omega-3 fats. Some of the common berries used for specialty oils include cranberry, boysenberry, marionberry, red raspberry, blueberry and blackberry. For example, boysenberry is a fruit bred from blackberry and found in North America. It is commonly available as juice and made into pies. A ten ounce serving of boysenberry gives us excellent source of vitamins, minerals, proteins, carbohydrates and unsaturated healthy fat. Scientists are also working on creating a cereal similar to flax meal out of the seeds of these berries.
We must ensure that our diet contains all omega-3 entities – ALA, EPA and DHA. In this article, we have seen the vegetarian sources of omega-3 and their benefits. Find out about the good sources of EPA and DHA and if you are a vegetarian, the options available to you of these fatty acids. This will ensure your diet contains enough omega-3 fatty acids to combat all types of illnesses.