As a vegan, I really wanted to discover that flax oil is the inarguable victor when it comes to getting those healthy omega-3 fatty acids, as opposed to fish oil that is. In a time when the Standard American Diet (SAD) simply isn't omega-3 rich, many of us have turned from whole food sources to the land of supplements to garner the vital health benefits of these particular fatty acids that are linked to the prevention of arthritis, asthma, cancer, cardiovascular disease, dementia, depression, diabetes, high blood pressure and schizophrenia. Important stuff!
Now, while I certianly cannot say that flax oil is better than fish oil with regards to omega-3s, there is a vegan alternative on the market that I would certainly prefer to an animal-derived supplement. Read on to get the complete scoop, one spoonful at a time.
The three dietary omega-3s are alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). In addition to flaxseed and flax oil, ALA is found in soybeans and soybean oil, pumpkin seeds and pumpkin seed oil, walnuts and walnut oil and purslane. EPA and DHA are found in cold-water fish such as halibut, herring, mackerel, salmon, sardines and tuna. These fish do not produce EPA and DHA themselves, but instead acquire it from the krill and algae they eat.
Flax Versus Fish
As it turns out, omega-3s from fish and fish oil are much more valuable (and easily assimilated by our bodies) than plant based omega-3s. The most important omega-3s are EPA and DHA, those found in fish and fish oils. ALA (plant omega-3) needs to be converted in the body to EPA and DHA, but only a low percentage of ALA can be metabolised as such. The extra step involved with flax oil ends up being pretty crucial, rendering fish oil victorious over flax oil. But...
A Vegan Silver Lining
You know how we mentioned that the fish themselves don't produce the healthy omega-3s we seek; they obtain it from their diet? Well, some smart folks are going straight to the source. And that means you don't need fish oil to get your fill of omega-3s. Check out Udo's Oil 3-6-9 Blend, which contains a balance (based on extensive research) of DHA with omega 3, 6 and 9 oils from flax, sunflower, sesame, evening primrose, coconut, rice and bran. The source of DHA is tank-grown algae, not fish.
At the end of the day, I can still say this (and believe it!): Animal foods are NOT essential for your health.
image: Jonas N