omega-3 fatty acid foods

Plant Omega-3s Or Animal Omega-3s: Which is Better?

Introduction

Fats help the body run better. They are made up of fatty acids, which help the body direct a healthy inflammatory response, hormones, escort fat-soluble nutrients to cells for use and so much more. Some fatty acids are “essential” which means we need to get them in from food. Among these are Omega-3 fatty acids.

There’s a lot of confusion and misinformation about these fats out there i.e that there are on 2 or 3 types of Omega-3s (DHA, EPA, ALA) when there are actually more like 11! Also, where do Omega-3s come into play as far as inflammation is concerned? Are Omega-3 fatty acids from plant sources better than those from animal sources? What are Omega-3s in the first place?

  • This fatty acid is polyunsaturated (PUFA) which means it contains more than 1 double bond. PUFAs may help reduce inflammation, blood pressure and cholesterol.
  • Importantly, they are called essential because our body does not make them. So our nutrition is playing a critical role in bringing in the right elements and building blocks that are essential for our system to function properly.
  • In addition to EPA/DHA, there are multiple other types of Omega-3s. We hear about EPA/DHA so often as they’re often isolated and supplemented in various foods, but this isolation removes other compounds that the body can use. We shouldn’t just be looking at a singular component of a class of fatty acids.
  • Importantly, Omega-3s aren’t necessarily better than Omega-6s! Often, Omega-6s are sometimes flagged as inflammatory, but they in fact are not. It’s not Omega-3 VS Omega-6. Our inflammatory response depends on our ability to get a balanced intake of both. And in nature, there isn’t a single food material that has *only* one fatty acid — there’s always a balance of more than one. So we want to shift our perspective on how to get in a variety and balance of better unsaturated fatty foods.

Animal Omega-3s

seafood on tray

Animal Omega-3s come from — you guessed it animals! Quality is king with anything from an animal. Good sources include animals that are certified organic, non-GMO, grass-fed, pasture-raised, or seafood that’s wild-caught.

These are better choices because animals that eat better food produce healthier fats – so these are the ones to choose more often. Omega-3 rich fish is a great way to get your intake of omega-3s. You can also accessorize with grass-fed beef, dairy, and eggs.

Plant Omega-3s

PLANT OMEGA-3 FOODS

Good sources of plant Omega-3s are nuts, seeds, beans, and non-starchy vegetables along with tempeh, tofu, and soy milk.

There is another omega 3 called ALA which is found in plants. Our bodies don’t always do an effective job of converting ALA (plant omega 3) into EPA and DHA without a satisfactory supply of certain nutrients. These nutrients include vitamin B3, vitamin B6, vitamin C, and the minerals zinc and magnesium – so make sure you are getting those too.

The body can convert ALA into EPA and DHA (yup this sounds like alphabet soup) but how successfully it does that depends on health, genetics, gender, and other nutrients.

Supplements

vitamin pill in the middle of vegetable background

Are you relying on supplements for your Omega-3 needs? They can be a helpful addition to meet your needs, but make sure you meet your Omega-3 intake with whole foods more often. And when using supplements, choose better whole foods supplements as opposed to isolates of only one or two Omega-3s.

But, just what are your better Omega-3 needs? To meet your needs with whole foods means getting 1-2 servings of Omega-3 rich foods every day! For supplements, ask your healthcare practitioner about this!

Plant versus Animal

Plant vs Animal – If you are getting a mix of plant and animal sources of Omega-3, great! If your Omega-3s are only coming from animal sources, try to add some plants for variety. Include hemp, walnuts, flaxseeds, chia seeds, soybeans (edamame, tofu, tempeh), Brussels sprouts, broccoli, and cauliflower in your diet daily.

One source is not necessarily better than the other. It’s better to have a balanced intake from a variety of plant and animal sources as opposed to just one or the other. We need to shift our perspective on how to get in a variety and balance from both plants and animals.

If you’re vegan and don’t consume animal protein, you can meet your better Omega-3 needs by consuming plant protein in the form of whole, unprocessed foods (think quinoa, beans, cashews, hemp seed) or ‘kitchen’ processed (think hemp protein concentrate, almond butter, chickpea flour, etc. If you feel you need a little extra help, check with your healthcare practitioner about adding a whole foods supplement.

 

Conclusion

So, how would you rate your total Omega-3 intake? Balance is key — make sure you’re getting yours in from a variety of plant and animal sources!

While you’re getting in your Omega-3s, are you making any compromises? For example, are you consuming a source of Omega-3s, but it’s also a food that has 15g of added sugars in it? That’s not better either.

What quality are you getting with the Omega-3? We want to check in and see if our Omega-3 intake is of good quality or paired along with additional nutrients. For example, did you choose milk because it has added DHA, but that milk was coming from a major commercial farm that feeds their animals a very poor quality diet that doesn’t support their overall health, then that isn’t a better choice.

Can you commit to getting in 1 serving of better Omega-3s each day? Think about what you can incorporate from a food standpoint at 1 meal every day. You want to get your Omega-3s from high-quality foods — not isolated versions of supplements!

Remember: Aim for better, not perfect. Make choices that are delicious and doable for you that are rich in Omega-3s. Want to know if you’re getting in enough Omega-3s in your diet?

Download my free Omega – 3 Evaluation to see if you’re on the right track to meet your needs! Leave me a comment and let me know what you find out.

***Disclaimer: This post is for informational purposes only and should not be construed as medical advice***

About the author

Susan Taylor, RDN LD is a registered dietitian / nutritionist with 20+ years experience in the nutrition field.  Susan has worked in a variety of clinical settings including hospitals, longterm care, rehab, and private practice. She currently enjoys life in the Charleston, SC area and is always looking for ways to fit in a little more beach time.