This week I wanted to look at the ways to ensure a balanced range of healthy fats and oils within a vegetarian lifestyle. Please read below the very interesting information as written by our expert nutritionist, Glen Matten MSc.
The Skinny on Fats by Glen Matten MSc
When it comes to healthy fats, most of us will have heard about omega-3 and its health benefits. This, it turns out, is an especially important subject for vegetarians, but all too often ends up a source of confusion and misunderstanding. Let’s take this opportunity to clear things up.
When we talk about the health benefits of omega-3, we are talking about omega-3 fats, which are known as EPA and DHA. These omega-3’s have impressive benefits for cardiovascular health, the brain and how it functions, and controlling inflammation in the body. Plants do produce a type of omega-3 called alpha-linolenic acid, which is especially found in flaxseeds/flaxseed oil, hempseed oil, rapeseed oil, and foods such as walnuts and soya.
But here’s the rub. Alpha-linolenic acid, the plant version of omega-3, lacks the potent health giving properties of EPA and DHA. In theory, the body can convert alpha-linolenic acid to EPA and DHA, but the truth is, that process just isn’t very efficient in humans.
So, what if you want to eat solely plant-based sources of omega-3? As well as increasing healthy sources of omega-3 fats (like those listed below) it would be advisable to reduce the consumption of omega-6 fats (known as linoleic acid), as these omega-6 fats reduce the body’s ability to turn alpha-linolenic acid into EPA and DHA. That means cutting back on omega-6 sources like sunflower oil/spreads (however sunflower seeds are fine! They bring many other highly beneficial nutrients – fibre, vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients etc), corn oil, safflower oil and grapeseed oil. Instead, of omega-6 fats, place a greater emphasis on consuming omega-9 monounsaturated fats, as found in extra virgin olive oil, rapeseed oil, nuts, and avocado.
Another solution to the omega-3 issue for vegetarians is to top up with a supplement of DHA-enriched micro-algae, which are increasingly available. This has the advantage of providing the body with preformed DHA (which the body can also turn into EPA).
Good vegetarian sources of omega-3
- Flaxseeds/flaxseeds oil
- Hempseed oil
- Rapeseed oil
- Green leafy vegetables
DHA enriched micro-algae supplements
- Extra virgin olive oil
- Rapeseed oil
Recommended by Glen: Vegan DHA