I have been hearing a lot of people talking about the importance of fish in their diet – that they could never become vegan because they know how fish, and fish oil, is good for them. If you only skim this article, please read carefully the paragraph in bold marked ***Bingo***!
There was a ton of great information available on the 30-Day Vegan Challenge with Colleen Patrick-Goudreau. One of the messages was so important, that I want to share it with you on this site. In one of the sessions, Patrick-Goudreau is talking about the importance of the consumption of Omega-3 fatty acids, and also the absorption of these essential nutrients. She writes:
A nutrient – like protein and calcium – that has been touted as strictly animal- based is Omega-3 fatty acids. Fish oil supplements are flying off the shelves, and fish is routinely recommended as the best source of omega-3 fatty acids. Not only is this doing serious damage to the oceans and killing millions of marine animals each year, people are taking in mercury, other heavy metals, a variety of environmental contaminants (PCB’s DDT, dioxins, etc.), as well as saturated fat and dietary cholesterol.
That doesn’t sound so good.
So, we are offered another solution: eat farmed-raised salmon.
Having pretty much wiped out the wild salmon population on the East Coast and having almost succeeded in doing the same on the West Coast, 90 percent of the salmon now consumed in the United States is – in fact – farm-raised. Of course, as with all animal factory systems, the fish are kept in intensive confinement, where they absorb and consume antibiotics and pesticides, along with 100 other pollutants. What’s more, they’re fed a cheap diet of fish-meal, which is comprised mostly of wild-caught fish; in other words, farm-raising fish contributes to even more animals taken from the ocean. And of course you still have your contamination from heavy metals (because the farmed fish are eating the mercury-laden wild-caught fish), and you still have your unhealthful saturated fat and dietary cholesterol.
It seems to me that we have ANOTHER option – a better option for everyone involved – for obtaining essential fatty acids! We can stop going through the fish to get to the nutrients the fish get from eating plants, and go directly to the source!
Original watercolor by Madeleine Tuttle
What are essential fatty acids and why are they important?
Our bodies absorb and convert fatty acids into a form that our bodies can use. This form is called DHA. Omega 3 fatty acid, or alpha linolenic acid, also known as ALA, is one of the two primary essential fatty acids. Essential means our bodies can’t manufacture it, so it’s essential we get it from our diet. Another is Omega 6 fatty acids, linoleic acid, or LA. We want to maintain a balance between these. The problem is, most people don’t get enough omega 3’s and get too much of the Omega 6’s, because they are cooking with oils such as corn oil, sunflower oil, safflower oil, and vegetable oil. Also, people are eating a lot of packaged foods that contain these fats, and are consuming a diet heavy in meat, dairy, and eggs. So, one solution to finding a healthy balance of these fatty acids is eating fewer omega 6 fatty acids, and increasing our consumption of omega 3 fatty acids.
Omega 3 fatty acids – EPA and DHA are essential because they reduce inflammation all throughout the body thereby increasing blood flow, and preventing heart disease and stroke, joint pain/arthritis, and because they concentrate in the brain, they’re also very beneficial for cognitive and behavioral function. These essential fatty acids protect against diseases such as Alzheimers, as well as reducing depression and fatigue.
So, these are very important nutrients to consume, but we don’t need fish to do this. Fish don’t make EPA and DHA. These are made by algae and phytoplankton. Because the fish eat other smaller sea creatures like krill, and the krill eat the phytoplankton and algae, the fish take in these nutrients through the plants, and we can do the same thing. The algae, not the fish, provide these important nutrients. (***Bingo***)
For the sake of our health, and for the sake of marine life, and for the health of the oceans, we need to skip the middle fish and go straight to the source.
We need to:
- consume plant foods rich in omega 3 fatty acids
- increase our absorption of these fats
- decrease our consumption of omega 6 fatty acids
How do we get plant-based omega 3 fatty acids?
Flaxseeds and hempseeds are great sources of omega 3’s. Flaxseeds need to be ground first, and you can do this in a coffee grinder. Store the ground flaxseed in a jar in the freezer or frig. The whole seeds do not need to be refrigerated, so you can simply store them on your pantry shelf. Both golden and brown flaxseeds are nutritionally similar. Add these to smoothies, oatmeal, sprinkle over salads, etc. Hemp seeds and walnuts are other good sources.
Consume 1 tablespoon per day of ground flaxseeds or 3 tablespoons per day of shelled hempseeds (don’t need to grind) or about 14 halves of walnuts a day, or about 1 teaspoon of flax oil. You can also bake with flaxseeds, ground or not, but don’t cook with flax oil. Take it by spoon or put it in a smoothie.
So now you’re eating more of the healthy omega 3 fatty acids, and less of the omega 6 fatty acids. We want to increase the absorption of these nutrients, and improve your body’s ability to convert these omega 3’s in to a form your body can use, namely into EPA and DHA. How do we do this, and does everybody’s bodies convert these fats equally well? EPA and DHA are found mostly in sea vegetables such as the algae mentioned above, so one of the things we can do is go straight to the DHA supplement sourced from algae and skip the heavy metals, skip the saturated fats, skip the pollutants in all of the fish, and go straight to the plant! You get all the good stuff without the harmful stuff.
Do we need to take a DHA supplement? Are most people fine with simply consuming their flaxseed, hempseed, or walnuts? Yes, most people are fine with simply increasing the omega 3’s in their diet, and reducing the omega 6’s. However, there are some people who do not efficiently convert omega 3 fatty acids in to DHA. These are people who may be more prone to allergies and prone to depression. Also, people with diabetes don’t efficiently convert ALA into EPA and DHA. Also, the rate of conversion of these fatty acids slows down as we get older.
Experts surmise from the evidence available that if you have diabetes, if you’re over 65, if you’re pregnant or lactating, if you’ve been suffering from depression, allergies, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, schizophrenia, alzheimer’s disease, you might want to take a direct DHA supplement. If you’ve been consuming a lot of omega 6’s, you might want to take a direct DHA supplement while decreasing your consumption of these omega 6 fats, and increasing your consumption of the omega 3 fatty acids.
If you’re not in one of these groups, you may not need to take a direct DHA supplement, but I take one a few months on and a few months off, while consuming my ground flaxseeds daily, and avoiding much of the omega 6 fats, just as an insurance for optimal health.
If you want to find out about my favorite DHA supplement, visit my website at www.compassionatecook.com.
(The Joyful Eater again here) I hope you have found this information helpful. There is increasing evidence that the protein and fats we get from animal-based products is detrimental to our health in many ways, and that plant-based eating is the healthiest way to eat – for our own well-being, and for the well-being of all living things, and for the well-being of our planet.