Omega-3 fatty acids are important fats that provide many health benefits.
Studies have found that they may reduce inflammation, decrease blood triglycerides and even reduce the risk of dementia.
The most well-known sources of omega-3 fatty acids include fish oil and fatty fish like salmon, trout and tuna.
This can make it challenging for vegans, vegetarians or even those who simply dislike fish to meet their omega-3 fatty acid needs.
Of the three main types of omega-3 fatty acids, plant foods typically only contain alpha-linolenic acid (ALA).
ALA is not as active in the body and must be converted to two other forms of omega-3 fatty acids — eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) — to bestow the same health benefits.
Unfortunately, your body’s ability to convert ALA is limited. Only about 5% of ALA is converted to EPA, while less than 0.5% is converted to DHA.
Thus, if you don’t supplement with fish oil or get EPA or DHA from your diet, it’s important to eat a good amount of ALA-rich foods to meet your omega-3 needs.
Additionally, keep in mind your omega-6 to omega-3 ratio, as a diet low in omega-3s but high in omega-6s can increase inflammation and your risk of disease.
Here are 7 of the best plant sources of omega-3 fatty acids.
1. Chia Seeds
Chia seeds are known for their many health benefits, bringing a hefty dose of fiber and protein with each serving.
They’re also a great plant-based source of ALA omega-3 fatty acids.
Thanks to their omega-3, fiber and protein, studies have found chia seeds could decrease the risk of chronic disease when consumed as part of a healthy diet.
One study found that consuming a diet with chia seeds, nopal, soy protein and oats decreased blood triglycerides, glucose intolerance and inflammatory markers.
A 2007 animal study also found that eating chia seeds decreased blood triglycerides and increased both “good” HDL cholesterol and omega-3 levels in the blood.
Just one ounce (28 grams) of chia seeds can meet and exceed your daily recommended intake of omega-3 fatty acids, delivering a whopping 4,915 mg.
The current daily recommended intake of ALA for adults over age 19 is 1,100 mg for women and 1,600 mg for men.
Boost your chia seed intake by whipping up a nutritious chia pudding or sprinkle chia seeds on top of salads, yogurts or smoothies.
Ground chia seeds can also be used as a vegan substitute for eggs. Combine one tablespoon (7 grams) with 3 tablespoons of water to replace one egg in recipes.
Summary: One ounce (28 grams) of chia seeds provides 4,915 mg of ALA omega-3 fatty acids, meeting 307–447% of the recommended daily intake.
2. Brussels Sprouts
In addition to their high content of vitamin K, vitamin C and fiber, Brussels sprouts are an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids.
Because cruciferous vegetables like Brussels sprouts are so rich in nutrients and omega-3 fatty acids, they have been linked to many health benefits.
In fact, one study found that an increased intake of cruciferous vegetables is associated with a 16% lower risk of heart disease.
A half cup (44 grams) of raw Brussels sprouts contains about 44 mg of ALA.
Meanwhile, cooked Brussels sprouts contain three times as much, providing 135 mg of omega-3 fatty acids in each half-cup (78-gram) serving.
Whether they’re roasted, steamed, blanched or stir-fried, Brussels sprouts make a healthy and delicious accompaniment to any meal.
Summary: Each half-cup (78-gram) serving of cooked Brussels sprouts contains 135 mg of ALA, or up to 12% of the daily recommended intake.
3. Algal Oil
Algal oil, a type of oil derived from algae, stands out as one of the few vegan sources of both EPA and DHA.
Some studies have even found that it’s comparable to seafood in regard to its nutritional availability of EPA and DHA.
One study compared algal oil capsules to cooked salmon and found that both were well tolerated and equivalent in terms of absorption.
Though research is limited, animal studies show that the DHA from algal oil is especially beneficial to health.
In fact, a recent animal study found that supplementing mice with a DHA algal oil compound led to an improvement in memory.
However, more studies are needed to determine the extent of its health benefits.
Most commonly available in softgel form, algal oil supplements typically provide 400–500 mg of combined DHA and EPA. Generally, it is recommended to get 300–900 mg of combined DHA and EPA per day.
Algal oil supplements are easy to find in most pharmacies. Liquid forms can also be added to drinks or smoothies for a dose of healthy fats.
Summary: Depending on the supplement, algal oil provides 400–500 mg of DHA and EPA, fulfilling 44–167% of the daily recommended intake.