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You Ask, I Answer: Flaxseed and Omega-3 Fatty Acids

flaxseed_291_20090115-1524291I saw your recent tweet reminding vegetarians and vegans to supplement their diets with Omega-3 supplements that contain DHA and EPA Omega-3 fatty acids.

I would rather not take a pill, but can eat ground flaxseeds – how much do you think I should consume each day?

Otherwise, do you recommend a particular vegan omega-3 pill?

– Christine Ho
Location Unknown

The problem with relying on flaxseeds (or walnuts, for that matter) to get your omega-3 needs is that they only offer Alpha-Linolenic omega-3 fatty acids (ALA).

The human body can convert ALA into docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), the omega 3 fatty acids in fish oil.  However, this conversion does not happen very efficiently, and it takes very high amounts of ALA to get the necessary amounts of DHA and EPA (we’re talking ridiculously high amounts — think 1,000 calories just from flaxseeds).

This is not to say that the omega-3 fatty acids in flaxseeds and walnuts are useless.  They certainly offer their share of health benefits and are worth including.

However, I strongly encourage people with diets that are low in (or do not include) fish or sea vegetables — the only plant food that offers DHA and EPA — to supplement DHA and EPA.

In your case, Christine, I recommend looking for supplements that contain DHA and EPA extracted from algae (which, by the way, is where fish get their omega 3s from!).  While there are many brands out there, the one I am most familiar with is VPure (please note, I am not claiming this is the only “good” brand; simply the one I have come across most often).

The term “vegetarian” on an Omega-3 capsule is by no means a guarantee; often times, that simply means it only contains ALA!

Aim for 500 – 1,000 milligrams per day (EPA and DHA combined); ideally, you want at least 300 milligrams to come from EPA.

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