What Are Omega-3s?
Plenty of well-meaning (and ill-informed) people criticize vegan diets. A common refrain, after questioning protein and calcium intakes is: “But you need omega-3s from fish!”. So, what are these critics talking about and is it true?
Let’s start with addressing what are omega-3s? Omega-3s, along with omega-6s, are known as the two essential fatty acids (EFAs). They get their name from the fact that they are essential nutrients we must digest to thrive and be healthy. Our bodies are pretty amazing machines that can synthesize all of the fatty acids we need for optimal function by breaking down and re-arranging the two parent fatty acids: omega-3 and omega-6. The key here is that we need a balance, because they both compete for the same enzymes in order to transform into their “baby” acids. Therefore, an excess of one can lead to a lack of conversion for the other.
EFAs (think: hormone-like compound) carry out a slew of important functions in the body. While both are helpful, we don’t want to miss out on badass omega-3s. These build brains, maintain a healthy nervous system and healthy cell membranes, are highly anti-inflammatory, and are key components in warding off and fighting the biggest, ugliest diseases we face today like cardiovascular disease, autoimmune disease, cancer, and dementia to name a few. Consequently, finding a sufficient source of vegan omega-3 is vital!
Vegan Sources of Omega-3s
Do we need to eat fish to get a hearty dose of friendly omega-3s? No! However, they are harder to come by in a vegan diet, so we need to mindfully work them into our daily routine. The go-to, pack-a-punch food sources to reach for are flax seeds, chia seeds, and walnuts. Many health food stores or aisles carry ground chia and flax seeds or even a blend of the two. Sprinkle some in your morning smoothie, put a dusting on top of your oatmeal, or even freckle your hummus or salads with the stuff! They have a light, slightly nutty taste that blends well into a lot of foods, so experiment and see what works for you.
Walnuts can also be incorporated into many foods you already eat, or can just be snacked on, but they have a more distinct taste. If the taste of plain walnuts isn’t your favorite and you have a food processor, then make yourself some rockin’ raw brownies.
Rockin’ Raw Brownies
- 1 ½ cups chopped dates
- 1 ½ cups chopped walnuts
- 2-4 tbsp cocoa powder
- 2 tbsp dried cherries or blueberries (optional)
- A dash of vanilla extract
Pulse blend and then press into a pan! Healthy brownies? Yes, please! Now go rock on with your bad omega-3 rich self and the next time someone asks you if you can be healthy without eating fish, smile, and reply that you make sure to eat plenty of brownies to make up for it!