What are the best vegan sources of omega-3 and -6?
One of the most persistent myths about plant-based diets is that they lack essential nutrients, such as omega fatty acids.
We’re told seafood is the best source of omega-3 and -6. However, we can obtain these essential fatty acids on a plant-based diet.
In this guide, we explain why these fatty acids are important and how to ensure we get enough.
What are fatty acids?
There are four types of fat: saturated, monounsaturated, polyunsaturated and trans fats. Saturated and monounsaturated fats are called non-essential fats, as our bodies can make all they need of these.
Trans fats are described by Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health as “the worst type of fat for the heart, blood vessels, and rest of the body,” and are to be avoided at all costs.1
But then comes polyunsaturated fats, which are known as “essential fats” because we need to obtain them from our diets, of which there are two types: omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids.
Why are omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids important?
We need fatty acids to ensure the proper functioning of all our tissues, so it’s great that our bodies can make almost all the fatty acids we need.
But we do need to know about omega-3 and -6, as our bodies cannot make all the essential fatty acids. Deficiency is associated with kidney disease, heart disease, Alzheimer’s, osteoarthritis, bowel disease and depression.2
Getting the balance right
It is very easy to get sufficient omega-6 on a balanced diet as it can be found plentifully in leafy vegetables, seeds, nuts, grains and most vegetable oils, but this is where things start to get a little tricky.
In all people, regardless of their diet, omega-6 acids compete with omega-3 acids for use in the body. So, while we don’t need to worry too much about our omega-6, we do need to pay attention and ensure we are getting sufficient omega-3 on a daily basis.
There has been much discussion and debate about the optimal ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 fats, with some confusing advice arising as a result. The clearest, most useful advice, however, comes from Harvard Medical School3:
“Most Americans eat more omega-6 fats than omega-3 fats, on average about 10 times more. A low intake of omega-3 fats is not good for cardiovascular health, so bringing the two into better balance is a good idea. But don’t do this by cutting back on healthy omega-6 fats. Instead, add some extra omega-3s.”
So, in a nutshell, we need to make sure we include a good source of omega-3 in our diets every day.
Vegan omega-3 sources
Vegans should aim to consume 2-4g of ALA per day through our diets. As the only foods containing both EPA and DHA are sea greens, vegans should a high-quality microalgae supplement to ensure we get enough.
A reliable source of omega-3 is an algae supplement with at least 250mg of DHA for adults per day. During pregnancy and breastfeeding, research suggests we should aim to get 500mg of EPA and DHA combined each day.
This can be done alongside eating dietary sources of omega-3, including:
- Ground flaxseeds (also known as linseeds)
- Chia seeds
- Hemp seeds
- Rapeseed oil (also known as canola oil)
- Small amounts can also be found in other nuts and seeds, soya products, beans, vegetables and whole grains
Easy ways to get your omega-3
We should aim to get 2-4g of ALA per day through our diets. This can look like:
- Walnuts in salads, on breakfast cereals, added to bread or cake mixes, or just as a snack
- Flaxseeds added to smoothies, sprinkled over muesli or cereal, or used in place of eggs in baking
- Add flaxseeds or chia seeds to plant-based yoghurts, muesli, pancakes or flapjacks
5 delicious recipes with omega-3
Need some recipe ideas? Here are five ways to include omega-3 in your diet:
- These Mighty “Meatballs” are made with both kidney beans and walnuts
- Perfect for summer, try this Walnut and Pear Salad with date and balsamic sauce
- A fan of seaweed? You’ll love this Sweet & Sour Wakame Salad
- Strawberry Chia Seed Shortcakes taste so good
- We love this flavourful and healthy Chia Seed Pudding
Vegan omega-6 sources
Here are some plant-based sources of omega-6:
- Hemp seeds
- Sunflower seeds
- Safflower oil
- Avocado oil
1. Harvard (2018). Shining the Spotlight on Trans Fats. [online] The Nutrition Source. Available at: https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/what-should-you-eat/fats-and-cholesterol/types-of-fat/transfats.
2. Publishing, H.H. (2019). No need to avoid healthy omega-6 fats. [online] Harvard Health. Available at: https://www.health.harvard.edu/newsletter_article/no-need-to-avoid-healthy-omega-6-fats [Accessed 23 Nov. 2023].
3. Zivkovic, A.M., Telis, N., German, J.B. and Hammock, B.D. (2011). Dietary omega-3 fatty acids aid in the modulation of inflammation and metabolic health. California Agriculture, [online] 65(3), pp.106–111. doi:https://doi.org/10.3733/ca.v065n03p106.