Skipping the Middle Fish: Getting our Omega 3s Directly From the Source
Colleen Patrick-Goudreau, 30 Day Vegan Challenge
You would have to be living under a rock these days not to have heard about omega-3 and that we are supposed to be eating it. But what exactly is it, why do we need it, and where does it come from?
According to Wikipedia, omega-3s are “polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) with a double bond (C=C) at the third carbon atom from the end of the carbon chain,” and there are three types involved in human physiology: ALA, EPA, DHA. While the Wikipedia article is falling over itself to promote animal consumption, the information supporting Colleen’s contention that you don’t need to consume fish to get omega-3 requirements is in there, it just requires a less superficial reading. Some examples are given below.
Marine algae and phytoplankton are primary sources of omega-3 fatty acids.
Flaxseed oil consists of approximately 55% ALA, which makes it six times richer than most fish oils in omega-3 fatty acids. A portion of this is converted by the body to EPA and DHA, though the actual converted percentage may differ between men and women.
The microalgae Crypthecodinium cohnii and Schizochytrium are rich sources of DHA, but not EPA, and can be produced commercially in bioreactors.
Oil from brown algae (kelp) is a source of EPA. The alga, Nannochloropsis, has high levels of EPA.
The easiest omega-3 to source is ALA, which is found in plant oils. Good sources appear to be walnuts, flaxseed, hemp seed, or any edible seed.
Humans and other mammals have the ability to synthesize EPA from ALA, and DHA from EPA, but it is not as effective as getting the EPA and DHA directly from the source. This already ineffective conversion is hindered further by the ratio of omega-3 fatty acids to omega-6. The two fatty acids compete with each other for the same proteins in order to synthesise other proteins that regulate inflammation. Given the prevalence of serious inflammatory diseases, especially those related to heart health, it isn’t hard to understand the fuss about omega-3. Unfortunately, we consume a lot of oil these days, which flips the desirable ratio between omega-6 and omega-3 strongly in favour of omega-6, which is not so great for our metabolism. DHA also appears to be important for brain functioning,
Cold water oily fish are apparently an excellent source of EPA and DHA, although they are also likely to contain heavy metals, PBCs and dioxins as these substances accumulate the higher up the ‘food chain’ you go. Yet, the fish themselves don’t synthase the omega-3 fatty acids, they obtain them eating algae and plankton, or other fish who have.
DHA and EPA are also available in the eggs of birds fed insects, fish oil and grass (or allowed to run free and get their own grass and insects) and grass-fed mammals like cows slaughtered for meat. The ratio is 2:1 and 4:1 for grain fed cattle.
All of which begs the question, if cows, lambs, kangaroos and chickens can get the EPA and DHA they need from plant sources, why can’t we?
The point of Day 20, is show that we can. Eat more ALA omega-3 rich foods like ground flaxseeds, chia seeds and walnuts, and less omega-6 rich foods like oils to improve the ratio and help boost synthesis to EPA and DHA. Processed foods usually contain a lot of omega-6 because it helps to improve shelf life, whereas omega-3 fats tend to degrade quickly. Meat, dairy and eggs also contain plenty of omega-6.
How effectively an individual can convert ALA to EPA and DHA depends on the individual, some do great, others not as well. Signs that omega-3 fatty acid synthesis might be an issue for you include allergies, depression, diabetes, aged over 65 or consumption of a high fat diet. (Other types of fat hinder conversion). Therefore, you could eat like a salmon and munch on krill, or eat like krill and feed on the algae directly. DHA algae supplements are available and should probably be taken by anyone in a high risk group.
Colleen says that she takes a DHA supplement.
“Although I’m not in any of these groups and feel confident about my conversion, I also really like the insurance of periodically taking a DHA supplement. I may take the supplement for three months on and three months off while consuming ground flaxseed daily (and eating very few omega-6s), because I just like to be sure.”
Colleen Patrick-Goudreau, 30 Day Vegan Challenge
Doctor Gregor has a lot to say about omega 3 and omega-6 in his videos. I recommend searching his website for concise, research backed informtion on this and any other nutrition topic.
How do you achieve a good omega-3 to omega-6 ratio?
” … in terms of practical advice I’d encourage people to minimize their intake of the omega-6 rich oils (such as safflower, sunflower, and cottonseed, and all of the processed garbage manufacturers make with them), and try to eat healthy omega-3 rich whole foods such as walnuts and flax seeds every day (which have their own benefits–see for example my videos Fighting Inflammation in a Nut Shell, Black Versus English Walnuts, Breast Cancer Survival and Lignan Intake, and Just the Flax, Ma’am). And especially for men as well as women who are expecting, breastfeeding, or even thinking about getting pregnant I would encourage consideration of taking an algae- or yeast-derived long-chain omega-3 supplement.”