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9 Vegan Alternatives to Fish Oil for Omega-3

Published on March 22, 2024

By Lisa Stockwell

Lisa Stockwell

Lisa Stockwell has worked as a copywriter, writer, author, and editor for 35 years, specializing in the field of healthcare since 2009. She recognized the need for reliable health information while supporting friends through unique health challenges and refocused her career to bring clarity and compassion to healthcare communications. Lisa is a graduate of the University of California, Berkeley and a lifelong Northern Californian.

Craving the health benefits of Omega-3s but avoiding fish oil? You're not alone! If you’re vegan or a plant-based eater, it can be a challenge to find good sources for this valuable nutrient. 

This article provides a comprehensive guide to navigating plant-based Omega-3 alternatives. We'll review the science behind Omega-3s, explore their crucial role in your well-being, and examine the diverse range of plant-based options, from the mighty microalgae to the humble chia seed. 

Omega-3 Fatty Acids: Essential Building Blocks for a Healthy Body

The human body requires fats for a myriad of essential functions. Fats are a crucial energy source and contribute to your body's overall vitality. Additionally, fats play a pivotal role in absorbing fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E, and K), insulating and protecting organs, and aiding in the synthesis of important hormones. 

Omega-3 fatty acids are a type of polyunsaturated fat that plays several essential roles in the body. They support the construction of cell membranes throughout the body and regulate their properties. They have also been shown to promote brain, heart, and eye health. Omega-3 intake, through food or supplementation, is often highlighted in healthy food plans because these nutrients are not currently being consumed in sufficient amounts in the typical American diet.

There are three main types of Omega-3 fatty acids:

  • EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid): This is found mainly in fatty fish and fish oils. Major sources include salmon, sardines, herring, mackerel, tuna, and shellfish. 
  • DHA (docosahexaenoic acid): The main dietary source is fatty fish and fish oils. DHA makes up a major part of the structure of the brain, skin, retinas, and sperm cells.
  • ALA (alpha-linolenic acid): The most common type of Omega-3 fatty acid in Western diets, ALA is found in plant oils, nuts, seeds, and some leafy green vegetables. 

While your body can produce most types of fats from other fats or carbohydrates, it is unable to generate Omega-3 fatty acids from scratch. Your body can convert ALA into EPA and DHA in small amounts, but the best way to consume adequate levels of EPA and DHA is through dietary sources, including supplements. 

The Best Plant-Based Sources of Omega-3 Fatty Acids

If you are vegan or eat a plant-based diet, you can consume adequate levels of ALA by eating seeds, nuts, and some leafy vegetables. However, research suggests ALA may not offer the same health benefits as its marine-derived counterparts, EPA and DHA. So you’ll have to work harder to build a diet rich in the full complement of Omega-3 fatty acids.

Fortunately, the food industry provides innovative EPA and DHA products sourced from non-animal origins. When you pair vegan-friendly options with other complementary fats and nutrients abundant in plant foods, you can build a diet rich in Omega-3s without compromising your values.

Vegan Sources for ALA

ALA represents the most abundant plant-based Omega-3 fatty acid. Your body can convert some ALA into EPA and DHA, but the process isn't always efficient. Therefore, to optimize your intake, consume larger quantities of ALA-rich foods. Here are some foods you should include regularly in your diet. 

  • Flaxseeds: These tiny nutritional powerhouses are your best source of ALA, with 6.48 grams per ounce. Enjoy them ground and added to your morning smoothie, sprinkled on salads or yogurt, or baked into muffins, bread, and granola.
  • Chia seeds: Another ALA superstar, chia seeds are incredibly versatile. Around 2 tablespoons of chia seeds give you just over 5 grams of ALA per ounce. Blend them into smoothies or pudding, or use them as a vegan egg substitute.
  • ALA-rich vegetable oils: Several vegetable oils provide a good dose of ALA. Flaxseed oil offers 7.26 grams per tablespoon, canola oil offers 1.28 grams, and soybean oil offers .92 grams. Use these oils for salad dressings or in baking.
  • Walnuts: Packing 2.58 grams per ounce, walnuts offer ALA and other beneficial nutrients. They make a satisfying snack or addition to salads, cereals, and trail mixes. They can also be used in pestos to spread on crostini or mix in pasta.
  • Leafy greens: Kale, spinach, Brussels sprouts, edamame, and other leafy greens contain some ALA. Enjoy them raw in salads, steamed, roasted, or sautéed.

Vegan Sources for EPA and DHA

For direct sources of the essential EPA and DHA forms of Omega-3s, look to algae, specific plants, and supplements. 

  • Algae oil: Fish are rich in Omega-3s because they eat algae as part of their diet. Algae oil, made from microalgae, like Nannochloropsis or Schizochytrium, is one of the best vegan sources of both EPA and DHA. It is also considered an ecologically sustainable form of Omega-3s.REF#3778 Algae oil is available in supplement form and is easy to incorporate into your daily routine. Opt for high-quality, sustainably sourced algae oil supplements.
  • Seaweed: This versatile marine plant offers a variety of edible options, like wakame or nori. It can be enjoyed in various ways, such as sushi, salads, soups, and even snacks. Just be mindful of the variety you choose, as some seaweeds are higher in iodine than others.
  • Seaweed supplements: Some edible seaweeds, such as marine phytoplankton, provide EPA and DHA. Look for supplements made from these marine sources.
  • DHA-fortified foods: Some brands now fortify vegan foods like plant milk, breakfast cereals, eggs, and yogurt with microalgae-derived DHA. Consider getting your Omega-3s through fortified everyday items from brands or farmers you trust.

Remember, diversity is key! Combine ALA-rich options with direct EPA and DHA oils and supplements to create a well-rounded approach to maximizing your plant-based omega-3 intake.

The Potential Health Benefits of Omega-3 Fatty Acids

A growing body of research highlighting the potential benefits of Omega-3s has led to their increasing recognition as an important component of a healthy diet. Understanding their unique role and ensuring adequate intake through dietary sources or supplementation, can help you optimize your health and well-being.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids May Support Heart Health

Research has demonstrated that Omega-3 fatty acids offer cardiovascular benefits. Omega-3s — especially EPA and DHA — appear promising for supporting cardiovascular function and resilience in individuals who are at greater risk for heart issues later in life.REF#3779 REF#3780

Increasing intake may aid heart wellness by promoting healthy cholesterol, triglyceride, and blood pressure levels and supporting normal inflammatory responses. Omega 3s may offer a safe and accessible option for maintaining or optimizing heart health in high-risk and general populations.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids May Support Brain Health

Omega-3 fatty acids are considered essential for both brain growth and maintenance. A comprehensive review of studies on Omega-3 fatty acids and their impact on brain health found that intense supplementation with Omega-3s linked to improved mental performance and a reduced incidence of neuronal cell death and cognitive impairment.REF#3781

DHA is the most abundant Omega-3 fatty acid in the brain and higher intake has been correlated with greater gray matter (outer layer) brain volume and preservation of white matter integrity in areas related to cognition, behavior, and emotion regulation.

Studies also show that Omega-3s are critical nutrients for the neurodevelopment of a baby, affecting cognition and vision development, making Omega-3 supplementation critical during pregnancy.REF#3782

Omega-3 Fatty Acids May Support Eye Health

Omega-3 fatty acids may support eye health, specifically in the structure and function of the retina. DHA is a major structural component of cortical grey matter (the outer layer of the brain) and cell membranes in retinal photoreceptors. It accumulates in the brain and eye tissues in late fetal development and infancy, making Omega-3 supplementation critical during the third trimester of pregnancy. 

The cortical gray matter is a crucial component of the visual processing system and the retina is responsible for converting light into visual signals that your brain interprets. The retina relies heavily on DHA for its structural integrity, since a high percentage of Omega-3 fatty acids found in the retina is DHA. 

Studies suggest adequate consumption of Omega-3 fatty acids may maintain eye health and help protect the eye from the effects of oxidative damage.REF#3783 However, more studies are needed to confirm this benefit.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids May Provide Immune Support

While Omega-3s have been found to influence the activity of key immune cells like macrophages and neutrophils and potentially support their ability to engulf and destroy pathogens, the exact science behind these immune-supporting effects is still evolving.REF#3784

Dosage Recommendations for Vegan Alternatives for Omega-3 Fatty Acids

There is no official recommended daily allowance (RDA) for Omega-3 fatty acids. However, the Food and Nutrition Board of the Institute of Medicine (IOM) (now called the National Academy of Medicine) has developed an adequate intake (AI) amount for ALA of 1.1 grams daily for people 14 and older assigned female at birth and 1.6 grams daily for people 14 and older assigned male at birth. Remember, however, that conversion of ALA to EPA and DHA might be limited.

The combined daily recommendation for EPA and DHA varies based on age, health, and specific needs. Generally, 250 to 500mg combined EPA and DHA is considered beneficial. This may be achievable through two to three servings of four ounces of oily fish per week — or alternative sources like algae oil supplements for vegans.

Continued research is expected to refine specific recommendations. Speak to your doctor or a registered dietitian for personalized recommendations.

Balancing Omega-3 and Omega-6 Intake

Omega-6s, found in vegetable oils and some meats, are another type of fatty acid that supports inflammatory processes and energy production. Historically, our diets leaned towards a 1:1 ratio between Omega-6 and Omega-3 fatty acids, but modern lifestyles favor processed foods rich in Omega-6s, tipping the scales to a concerning 10:1 or even 20:1 ratio. Some research indicates that this imbalance may lead to chronic inflammation, linked to various health issues. 

More research is needed to confirm the effects of Omega-3 and Omega-6 imbalance. In the meantime, when considering Omega-3 intake, focus on restoring balance. Aiming for a balanced ratio of Omega-6 to Omega-3 may help support overall health and well-being.

Sourcing Your Plant-Based Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Become a smart shopper when looking for the right vegan alternatives for Omega-3s.

  • Read labels: Choose products high in ALA (flaxseeds, chia seeds) or fortified with EPA and DHA (algae oil, plant-based milk).
  • Compare prices: Explore bulk options for seeds and nuts, and consider subscriptions for reliable algae oil brands that may bring their price down.
  • Seasonal awareness: Opt for in-season fruits and vegetables, often richer in ALA.
  • Sustainability matters: Choose sustainably sourced algae oil and seafood-free Omega-3 supplements with high EPA and DHA content. Check for certifications and third-party testing for purity and potency. 

Remember, whole foods are the healthiest way to increase your intake of all of the essential nutrients. Supplements are best used to complement a balanced diet, not replace it. 

Experiment, explore, and enjoy the process of nourishing your body with Omega-3s. With greater awareness of your options, you can unlock the power of plant-based Omega-3s and keep yourself on the path to lifelong health and wellness.


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  • 2. , "Benefits of supplementation with microbial omega-3 fatty acids on human health and the current market scenario for fish-free omega-3 fatty acid", Trends in Food Science & Technology.
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  • 4. , "Effects of Omega-3 Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids on Brain Functions: A Systematic Review", Cureus.
  • 5. , "Omega-3 Fatty Acid Dietary Supplements Consumed During Pregnancy and Lactation and Child Neurodevelopment: A Systematic Review", The Journal of Nutrition.
  • 6. , "Antioxidant Activity and Neuroprotective Role of Docosahexaenoic Acid (DHA) Supplementation in Eye Diseases That Can Lead to Blindness: A Narrative Review", Antioxidants.
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