Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Essential fatty acids (like Omega-3 and Omega-6) in a vegan diet?

Monique; If you are a vegan how do you get essential fatty acids in your diet? Do you have to take supplements? Daniel, Nashville, TN

Answer: No, you do not have to take supplements to get essential fatty acids, like Omega-3 and Omega-6, in a vegan diet. Fats contain building blocks called fatty acids. The three main types of fatty acids include saturated, unsaturated, and monounsaturated. Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids are unsaturated. These fatty acids are essential to our diets because we cannot synthesize them in our bodies. We must obtain them from dietary sources. While fish is known to contain high amounts of these nutrients, there are some terrific plant sources for them as well. Since vegetarian and vegan diets are rich in seeds, nuts, vegetable-based oils, dark green leafy vegetables, beans and legumes; you can achieve a proper intake of these essential fatty acids without too much difficulty.

Some excellent plant sources of Omega-3 fatty acids include flax seeds, flaxseed oil, walnuts, walnut oil, hemp seeds, soybeans and other legumes, green leafy vegetables and purslane (a small weed-like green plant with brightly colored little flowers whose leaves can be added to salads, soups and salsa).

According to the Vegetarian Resource Group, Omega-3 fatty acids contain "... alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), eicosapentanenoic acid (EPA), and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). ALA is found mostly in plant foods; EPA and DHA are found mostly in fish. Our bodies convert ALA into EPA and DHA: consuming 10 grams of ALA yields roughly one gram of EPA and DHA. This means that those of us who don't eat fish get most of our omega-3's as alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), which is then converted by our bodies into EPA and DHA."

Flax seeds and walnuts are the best and easiest way to boost your consumption of Omega-3 fatty acids in your diet. Just sprinkle some freshly ground flax seeds on soups, salads or cereals. Also, ground flax seeds can be used as an egg substitute in baking. When 1 tablespoon of ground flax seeds is mixed with 3 tablespoons of water and allowed to sit for about 10 minutes, the mixture gets thick -- like the consistency of raw egg whites (this recipe is equal to one egg). This helps add moisture and binding properties to baked goods and veggie burgers. You can also add ground flax seeds to salad dressings to thicken them up as well, and reduce the need for oil.

Dr. Andrew Weil recommends adding 1-2 tablespoons of ground flax seeds daily to foods like cereals, soups, salads, or rice. Besides being high in Omega-3, according to Dr. Weil, flax seed "... also provides fiber and is one of the richest dietary sources of lignans, a class of phytoestrogens thought to help protect against breast, prostate, and colon cancers."

Flax seeds can be found at most health food stores. Keep seeds in refrigerator or freezer to maintain freshness. Flax can easily go rancid if stored in a warm environment. If the seeds begin to smell like paint, they are no longer good for consumption.

Omega-6, which provides GLA (gamma-linolenic acid), promotes healthy growth of skin, hair, and nails. It can be found in safflower oil, corn oil and more rare oils, such as evening primrose, black currant, borage and hemp oils. You can find these at most health food stores.

For more information read:

(1) "Essential Fatty Acids" at
(2) "American Heart Association Calls for Eating Fish Twice Per Week - What's a Vegetarian To Do?", Vegetarian Journal Sept/Oct 2001, at 

(3) "Essential Fatty Acids" at 

Also read these books...

Plant Based Nutrition and Health
by Stephen Walsh

Becoming Vegan: The Complete Guide to Adopting a Healthy Plant-Based Diet
by Brenda Davis and Vesanto Melina

The Food Revolution: How Your Diet Can Help Save Your Life and Our World
by John Robbins

Virtues of Soy: A Practical Health Guide and Cookbook
by Monique N. Gilbert

Veganomicon: The Ultimate Vegan Cookbook
by Isa Chandra Moskowitz

You may also want to visit the
Virtues of Soy website.

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Monique N. Gilbert, BSc. has offered guidance in health, nutrition, fitness and stress management since 1989. Through her writings, Monique motivates and teaches how to improve your well-being, vitality and longevity with balanced nutrition, physical activity and healthy stress-free living.

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