It is commonly advised to eat fish regularly. However, fish do not produce omega-3 fatty acids themselves. They ingest it by eating algae. It is therefore much more efficient and animal-friendly to take algae oil supplements for omega-3 fatty acids.
ALA, EPA and DHA
Omega 3 fatty acids are polyunsaturated fatty acids. The three most important omega-3 fatty acids for the maintenance of the human body are: alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). ALA is found in soybeans, flax seed, chia seed, hemp seed, walnuts and rapeseed oil. EPA and DHA are mainly found in fatty fish and algae oil. EPA is important for proper blood clotting and blood pressure. DHA is an important part of our brain cells and cell membranes. ALA is important for the proper functioning of the heart.
ALA is an essential fatty acid, which means that the body cannot make it itself and you must get it through food.
The human body can convert ALA to EPA, and EPA to DHA. However, this conversion is not effective because it takes a lot of ALA to make some DHA. While vegetarians and non-vegetarians consume approximately equal amounts of ALA, dietary intake of EPA and DHA is low in vegetarians and virtually absent in vegans.
Vegan dietitians therefore recommend taking DHA supplements based on algae oil.
It is recommended to get 1% of your calories from ALA daily.
For example, if you need 2000 kcal per day, this equates to 2200 mg of ALA per day. If you need 2,500 kilocalories per day, this is about 2800 mg ALA. This can be achieved, for example, by eating 2 teaspoons of chia seeds (1400 mg), 3 walnuts (1000 mg) and 2 teaspoons of crushed flaxseed (1140 mg). Tofu and tempeh also contain a lot of ALA: 400 mg per 240 grams.
For vegans, it is recommended to take an algae oil supplement containing 200-300 mg of DHA per day.
The supplement may contain EPA, but it is not necessary if you consume enough ALA. Alternatively, you can also double the intake of ALA to 2% of your calories, because ALA is used to make EPA and DHA, and vegans do not get EPA and DHA from food.
Pregnancy and lactation
During pregnancy, extra DHA is needed for the development of the retina and brain of the fetus. DHA is also associated with a reduced risk of preterm birth.
Pregnant vegans are advised to take a supplement containing 250 to 450 mg of DHA per day. During breastfeeding, a DHA intake of at least 300 mg DHA per day is recommended.
Omega-6 and Omega-3
The conversion of ALA to EPA and DHA is influenced by many different factors, such as genetic predisposition, smoking, age, gender and consumption of omega-6 rich foods.
A high dietary intake of omega-6 fatty acids can lower the conversion of ALA to EPA/DHA. That is why it is important that vegetarians and vegans take in sufficient ALA and limit omega-6 fatty acids (from sunflower-, olive-, rice- and peanut oil, for example).
Therefore, preferably use rapeseed, linseed or walnut oil.
Coconut oil is also low in omega 6, but is less healthy because it contains mainly the ‘bad’ saturated fat.
Is omega 3 from fish healthier?
Our oceans have become so polluted that fish can contain various toxins, including dioxins, PCBs, pesticides and heavy metals, such as mercury, lead and cadmium, which can negatively impact our health. Algae oil is a good alternative to eating fish, as it is cultivated under controlled conditions and is therefore free from toxic contaminants.
- Voedingscentrum: https://www.voedingscentrum.nl/encyclopedie/omega-3.aspx
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