Vegans and Omega-3s

You've probably heard that eating fish, especially oily fish (Salmon, etc.) helps improve your brain function and decreases the risk of dementia.  This is one of the things that gets pointed out to us frequently when we tell people we are vegan.  Our doctor, as a practice, recommends an overall vitamin supplement, baby aspirin, and fish oil for all his patients over 40.  Since we're vegans, we skip the fish oil and take a flaxseed supplement instead.  (You should consult your nutritionist for advice on what supplements may be right for you.)

Data from a trial of more than 800 older people initially showed that those who eat plenty of oily fish seem to have better cognitive function.  But factors such as education and mood explained most of the link.

Neil Hunt, chief executive of the Alzheimer's Society, said: "One of the best ways to reduce your risk of dementia is by eating a Mediterranean diet rich in fruit, vegetables, grains, fish and poultry.  "However, we still do not know which components of this sort of diet help the most.

~ Source:  BBC News

So, the jury is still out on fish oil.  We'll be watching to see what the data shows in the next round of testing.  Until then, there is no reason to consider looking to fish to improve your brain power in your later years.

Thanks to Gary at for pointing us to this study.


  1. You can also buy vegan Omega-3 supplements online I believe. This is derived from marine algae and is available online through the likes of (and others I’m sure).

  2. Great article from PCRM, last paragraph is pertinent to discussion about fish oil.

    Preventive Medicine and Nutrition

    Essential Fatty Acids

    Essential Fatty Acid Basics
    The body can synthesize some of the fats it needs from the foods you eat. However, two essential fatty acids cannot be synthesized in the body and can be taken in the diet from plant foods. Their names—linolenic and linoleic acid—are not important. What is important is that these basic fats are used to build specialized fats called omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids.1

    Omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids are important in the normal functioning of all tissues of the body. Deficiencies are responsible for a host of symptoms and disorders including abnormalities in the liver and kidney, changes in the blood, reduced growth rates, decreased immune function, depression, and skin changes, including dryness and scaliness. Adequate intake of the essential fatty acids results in numerous health benefits. Prevention of atherosclerosis, reduced incidence of heart disease and stroke, and relief from the symptoms associated with ulcerative colitis, menstrual pain, and joint pain have also been documented. 2,3, 4

    While supplements and added oils are not typically necessary in the vegetarian diet, good sources of omega-3 and omega-6 fats should be included daily. It is important to take these two fats in the proper ratio as well. Omega-6 fatty acids compete with omega-3 fatty acids for use in the body, and therefore excessive intake of omega-6 fatty acids can be a problem. The U.S. diet has become heavy in omega-6 fats and low in omega-3 fats, secondary to a reliance on processed foods and oils. It is necessary to balance this by eating a low-fat diet that is low in processed foods and with fat mainly coming from omega-3 fatty acids.

    Omega-6 Fatty Acids
    Omega-6 fats are found in leafy vegetables, seeds, nuts, grains, and vegetable oils (corn, safflower, soybean, cottonseed, sesame, sunflower). Other omega-6 fatty acids, such as gamma-linolenic acid (GLA), can be found in more rare oils, including black currant, borage, evening primrose, and hemp oils.3 Most diets provide adequate amounts of omega-6 fatty acids.

    Omega-3 Fatty Acids
    It is important for vegetarians to include foods that are rich in omega-3 fatty acids on a daily basis. Alpha-linolenic acid, a common omega-3 fatty acid, is found in many vegetables, beans, nuts, seeds, and fruits. The best source of alpha-linolenic acid is flaxseeds or flaxseed oil. For those seeking to increase their intake of omega-3 fats, more concentrated sources can be found in oils such as canola (also known as rapeseed), soybean, walnut, and wheat germ. Omega-3 fatty acids can be found in smaller quantities in nuts, seeds, and soy products, as well as beans, vegetables, and whole grains. Corn, safflower, sunflower, and cottonseed oils are generally low in omega-3s.

    Plant Foods Rich in Omega-3 Fatty Acids

    Ground flaxseed (flax meal)



    Mungo beans are particularly high in omega-3 fatty acids. They are sold in many Indian groceries and may be found under the name “urid.”

    Omega-3 Content of Natural Oils5,6

    Flaxseed 53-62%

    Linseed 53%

    Canola 11%

    Walnut 10%

    Wheat germ 7%

    Soybean 7%

    Flaxseeds for Omega-3s
    Flaxseed oil and ground flaxseeds are particularly good choices to meet your needs for omega-3 fatty acids. One teaspoonful of flaxseed oil or a tablespoonful of ground flaxseed will supply the daily requirement of alpha-linolenic acid. To protect it from oxygen damage, flaxseed oil or ground flax seed must be stored in the refrigerator or the freezer. Use a little in dressings for salads or baked potatoes. Don’t try to cook with this oil, however, as heat damages its omega-3s.For you to absorb what you need from flaxseeds, they must be ground. Simply put fresh flaxseeds in a spice or coffee grinder for a few seconds. Some people grind a cup every week or so and store it in the freezer. A spoonful can be added to a smoothie or sprinkled on breakfast cereal, a salad, or other dish.

    Pregnancy and Lactation
    In pregnancy and lactation, it is especially important to obtain adequate essential fatty acids from the diet. Recent research suggests that pregnant women may have increased needs for these fatty acids, as they are needed for fetal growth, brain development, learning, and behavior. Essential fatty acids are also important for the infant after birth for growth and proper development, as well as the normal functioning of all tissues of the body. Infants receive essential fatty acids through breast milk, so it is important that the mother’s diet contain a good supply of omega-3s. Pregnant women and lactating mothers may also opt to take a DHA supplement (DHA, or docosahexaenoic acid, is a form of omega-3 fatty acids). A DHA supplement made from algae, under the trademark V-pure, is available online .

    Fish for Essential Fatty Acids?
    Some people may have heard that fish are good sources of essential fatty acids. However, the high amounts of fat and cholesterol and the lack of fiber make fish a poor choice. Fish are also often high in mercury and other environmental toxins that have no place in an optimal diet.

    Fish oils have been popularized as an aid against everything from heart problems to arthritis. The bad news about fish oils is that omega-3s in fish oils are highly unstable molecules that tend to decompose and, in the process, unleash dangerous free radicals. Research has shown that omega-3s are found in a more stable form in vegetables, fruits, and beans.7, 8

    Whether you are interested in promoting cardiovascular health, ensuring the proper growth and development of your child, or relieving pain, a vegetarian diet rich in fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and legumes can help you achieve adequate intake of the essential fatty acids.

    1. Groff JL, Gropper SS, Hunt SM. Advanced Nutrition and Human Metabolism. West Publishing Company, New York, 1995.
    2. Linscheer WG, Vergroesen AJ. Lipids. In: Modern Nutrition in Health and Disease. Shils ME, Olson JA, Shike M, eds. Lea and Febiger, Philadelphia, 1994.
    3. Barnard N. Foods That Fight Pain. Harmony Books, New York, 1998.
    4. Omega-3 fatty acids and depression: new data. Harv Ment Helath Lett 2003 Jun;19(12):7.
    5. Hunter JE. n-3 Fatty acids from vegetable oils. Am J Clin Nutr 1990;51:809-14.
    6. Mantzioris E, James MJ, Gibson RA, Cleland LG. Dietary substitution with an alpha-linolenic acid-rich vegetable oil increases eicosapentaenoic acid concentrations in tissues. Am J Clin Nutr 1994;59:1304-9.
    7. Odeleye OE, Watson RR. Health implications of the n-3 fatty acids. Am J Clin Nutr 1991;53:177-8.
    8. Kinsella JE. Reply to O Odeleye and R Watson. Am J Clin Nutr 1991;53:178.

  3. skip the fish eat their food, thats where they accumulate the omegas from, but read dr. mcdougall not fat is a good fat!

  4. Thanks everyone for the comments.

    Tristan, I hadn’t seen that article from PCRM. There is some good information in there.

    As I mentioned in the post, we don’t take fish oil supplements. But I do know a few people who are otherwise vegan who do. We’ll definitely point them to some of the info provided here.

  5. I take Omega-3 capsules every morning with breakfast, as I have read that they are important to circulatory health and brain function.

    I take Omega-3 because I don’t eat fish; never have liked it.

    There’s an excellent article that I read on (here’s the link: that discusses the benefits of Asian dietary habits, due, in part to the plentiful intake of fish and sushi. Plus, people in both cultures eat plenty of vegetables.

    I’m not a vegan, but I’m with you on not eating fish, especially with the risk of mercury poisoning these days. So, I’ll keep taking my Omega-3 capsules.

    Best, Don

  6. You may want to check out echium seed oil as a novel source of omega-3 for vegetarians and vegans. It is unique because unlike flaxseed oil or hemp oil, it contains high levels of stearidonic acid or SDA which converts more efficiently to EPA than ALA. Because the conversion step from ALA to SDA by delta-6 desaturase is rate limiting, many vegans and vegetarians can struggle to achieve optimal levels of the long chain fatty acids EPA and DHA. By bypassing this step with the inclusion of SDA in an oil significantly increases the levels of EPA and DHA. Because echium seed oil has only recently gained novel food approval it is relatively unfamiliar to many people. If you want more info then check out the site below.

  7. There are still too many things that I need to learn about being a vegan, as to what I can eat and what I can’t eat. Apparently there are many sources of vegan oils to take that match well against the fish counterparts, but I am still not certain. I came across as there is some information here about krill oil benefits, side effects, and how it stacks up against fish oil. Thanks!

  8. Krill oil isn’t suitable for vegetarians and vegans.
    Flaxseed oil is rich (about 58%) omega-3 ALA
    Hemp seed is predominately omega-6

    The best options are:

    Algae oil which is pure DHA. However most have no EPA at all. The issue with this is that you end up with a surplus of DHA which the body can’t take up. DHA levels remain relatively constant as it is primarily structural.

    To increase EPA look at taking echium seed oil. Echium seed oil which has an excellent ratio of omega-3/omega-6 and is unique because it produces much higher amounts of the long chain EPA and DHA than either flax or hemp due its high content of SDA.

  9. I’m not sure if you have heard of them, but there are a couple of great professional-grade products that are used for this. One is Orthomega by Ortho Molecular Products and the other is a fish oil I can’t think of the name right now, but it is by Renew Life. There is a website I have bought from before that sells both of these –

    Hope that helps!

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