Omega-3 fatty acids are essential fats which are important in maintaining cell membranes, and which help to regulate metabolism, reduce inflammation, lower blood pressure and cholesterol, and may protect against heart disease.
Omega-3 fatty acids are particularly important during pregnancy and breastfeeding as they play a role in brain and eye development. As the main source of these fats in the diet is fatty fish, vegetarians generally have low intakes, however the implications of this is unclear particularly when vegetarians generally have lower risk of chronic disease.
A number of plant foods contain Omega-3 fats but in the short-chain form which must be converted to the longer chain fats (EPA and DHA) that our body uses. This conversion process may be inefficient in some people but can be optimised by choosing the right balance of fats in the diet.
Daily Omega 3 requirements
2.6g/ day for men
1.6g/ day for women
Tips for optimising your Omega 3 requirements
Consume a variety of whole plant foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids every day - the richest sources are chia seeds, linseeds (or flaxseeds) and hemp seeds.
Use less omega-6 oils and spreads (including sunflower, safflower, corn and sesame) and replace these with monounsaturated oils and spreads (such as olive and avocado oils)
Limit intake of processed and deep-fried foods high in trans fats
Consider using a vegetarian DHA supplement (from algae), particularly if you are pregnant or breastfeeding.
Source: Dr Kate Marsh BSc, MNutrDiet, PhD, Grad Cert Diab Edn & Mgt Advanced Accredited Practising Dietitian