Omega 3 fatty acids can help lower high blood pressure and cholesterol and bring down levels of triglycerides. Omega 3 fatty acid ALA, derived from plant sources, has been linked to reduced heart disease-linked deaths.If you have asthma, ALA could help decrease inflammation as well improve lung function.1
If you’re trying to increase your intake of omega 3 fatty acids, most people will suggest you try fatty fish or tell you to have cod liver oil. But what if you’re vegetarian and need a vegetarian source of omega 3 fatty acids? As it turns out, in spite of all the hype around fatty fish, there are actually a surprisingly diverse (and delicious) variety of plant-based foods that can get you those precious omega 3 fatty acids! We have a roundup of some of the richest sources you could consider. But first, a lowdown on the different kinds of omega 3 fatty acids and what you need to get in.
Types Of Omega 3 Fatty Acids And Recommended Intake
Depending on the dietary source, your omega 3 fatty acids could come in one or more forms. The most prominent omega 3 fatty acids are alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). DHA and EPA are mainly found in fatty fish and other kinds of seafood, while ALA is usually available in plant sources.2
ALA itself is an essential fatty acid so you can’t create it in your body, but EPA and DHA can be created using the ALA you consume. Unfortunately, this process of conversion of the ALA into the other two omega 3 fatty acids isn’t very efficient. Which is why it is important to keep yourself plied with a steady stream of omega 3-rich foods if you are vegetarian. It would even make sense to consult a nutritionist who can optimize your diet and ensure you’re getting enough omega 3 fatty acids.3
There isn’t technically a recommended dietary intake level for omega 3 fatty acids set by health or food safety authorities. What you do have to go by, however, is a daily value for fat intake – and that’s set at 65 gm a day for adults.4 So you certainly shouldn’t be having more than this amount across all kinds of fats that you consume, including polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats and saturated fats. There is, however, a level suggested for ALA intake.
- Women need to aim at 1.1 gm of ALA daily.
- Men need 1.6 gm of ALA daily.
- Pregnant women need 1.4 gm daily while breastfeeding mothers should try and have 1.3 gm of ALA a day.5
Keeping that in mind, here are vegetarian sources of omega 3 you should incorporate into your diet.
An ounce of walnuts: 2.75 gm
If you like nibbling on nuts, you’ll be happy to hear that there’s 2.57 gm ALA per ounce of walnuts. That’s about 14 halves or 7 whole walnuts.6 7 So go on and toss them into your apple and nut Waldorf-style salad, blitz them into your shakes and juices, add them to a parfait, or have some in your cereal. You might even find you have a palate for nut butter made from walnuts. If you enjoy baking, there’s nothing quite like a coffee walnut cake. But if all that sounds like too much effort, just whip out some goat’s cheese and enjoy it with your walnuts!
- A tablespoon of flaxseeds: 2.35 gm
- A tablespoon of flaxseed oil: 7.258 gm
Whole flaxseeds have about 2.35 gm of omega 3 fatty acids per tablespoon when ground, reason enough to buy them for your pantry.8 Add them to home-baked bread and muffins or put them in your muesli, yogurt, and parfaits. You could even give crumbed chicken or fish a boost by adding the seed to the panko or breadcrumbs. Flaxseed powder is even used as a replacement for egg in many vegan recipes.
Flaxseed oil has a whopping 7.258 gm ALA per tablespoon.9 10 But because of its concentrated form, it’s important that it’s taken in the right dosage so you can avoid ill effects. Do consult a doctor or alternative medicine practitioner before you start taking it.11
3. Chia Seeds
An ounce of chia seeds: 5.055 gm
Another seed that has come into its own is the diminutive chia, which swells to double or more its size after soaking. It is positively delightful in chia puddings made with coconut milk or any kind of milk. You could also eat it with oatmeal or add to muffins or even jams. Chia seeds have 5.055 gm of ALA per ounce.12
4. Mustard Seeds And Mustard Oil
- A tablespoon of mustard oil: 0.826 gm
- A tablespoon of ground mustard seeds: 0.239 gm
Mustard oil is a bit of an acquired taste but its distinctive pungent aroma can bring a wonderful heat to any recipe. With 0.826 gm ALA per tablespoon of mustard oil, it is worth a try.13 Make exotic recipes from the Indian subcontinent using the oil – it tastes delicious with potatoes and turmeric, or with chopped herbs, onions, and puffed rice.
If you’d like to play it safe and stick to more familiar flavors, have mustard seeds whole or ground in recipes. You’ll get 0.239 gm ALA out of every tablespoon of the ground seeds.14 Use it in curries or Indian inspired pies, or make your own pickled mustard with it.
- A cup of boiled frozen spinach: 0.704 gm
- A cup of boiled fresh spinach: 0.166 gm
Eat your spinach and you’ll be rewarded with omega 3 fatty acids too. A cup of boiled frozen spinach delivering 0.704 gm of ALA and a cup of boiled fresh spinach gives you 0.166 gm of ALA.15 16 Whichever you choose, you’ll find it can shine in a spinach based soup, pie, quiche, stir-fry or even pasta sauce. If you really love that green leafy flavor, you may even take to green smoothies that pack in that spinach with other veggies.
Half a cup of boiled mature soybeans: 0.51 gm
Soybeans have a surprisingly high amount of omega 3 fatty acids too. If you have just half a cup of boiled mature soybeans, that’s 0.51 gm of omega 3 fatty acids right there.17 You could turn those soybeans into a serving of saucy baked beans, with some spice or onions added in for fun. Rustle up easy midweek dinners using them in beanballs with spaghetti or in casseroles alongside your favorite veggies.
- Half a cup of tofu (made with calcium sulfate): 0.733 gm
- Half a cup of tofu (made with magnesium chloride and calcium sulfate): 0.210 gm
Tofu has long been a staple protein source for vegetarians. And with good reason too. Besides giving you a lot of protein, tofu also has omega 3 fatty acids. A half cup of traditional Japanese style firm tofu made using nigari or magnesium chloride (commonly found in seawater) contains 0.21 gm of omega 3 fatty acids.18 If you have easier access to tofu made with just calcium sulfate and not nigari, that’s actually got even more ALA – 0.733 gm per half cup to be precise.19 20
You can try hundreds of delicious Asian recipes for tofu, from sauce-laden stir-fries to noodles and fruity cold desserts. Since it is mildly flavored, it can work beautifully in a range of recipes so feel free to experiment. Make a curry with it or pan-fry it. Or how about some tofu steaks, kedgeree, or kebabs?
Half a cup of prepared edamame beans: 0.28 gm
Another Asian favorite, these young soybeans are harvested while young and tender, making them a delicious treat for the senses. A vibrant green, they can be great just lightly steamed and seasoned with salt. Half a cup of prepared beans has 0.28 gm of ALA.21 You can even try them in a coconut rice recipe, blend them into a unique tasting hummus, roast them off with spices, or add them to dumplings.
9. Beans And Lentils
Beans and lentils are a versatile food source of omega 3 fatty acids and there’s bound to be some variety that you particularly like. You could blend them into delicious creamy dips, make crunchy fritters with them, or serve up hearty bean or lentil soups, curries and dals, or casseroles. Even tacos and salads are more feeling with the addition of a cup of beans and lentils. Here’s the omega 3 content you can expect to get from some of the best sources when cooked:
- 1 cup of mungo beans: 0.603 gm.22
- 1 cup of navy beans: 0.322 gm.23
- 1 cup of lentils: .073 gm.24
- 1 cup of kidney beans: 0.301 gm.25
Even if you prefer pre-cooked beans, there’s plenty of omega 3 fatty acids in those too! Half a cup of refried beans have 0.21 gm of ALA and half a cup of canned baked beans has 0.07 gm of ALA.26
10. Wild Rice
A cup of wild rice: 0.156 gm
There’s plenty of reason to eat wild rice or at least introduce it into your diet. A cup of the cooked rice has 0.156 gm of omega 3 fatty acids per cup.27 By comparison, a cup of cooked white grain rice has 0.021 gm of omega 3 fatty acids.28 Wild rice has a mildly nutty flavor and a slightly more chewy texture, making it wonderful in salads and even soups or as filling for baked stuffed peppers. Pair that earthy flavor with mushrooms in any recipe and you won’t be disappointed!
11. Winter Squash
1 cup of winter squash: 0.189 gm
Winter squash is an easy-to-use vegetable that can warm you up nicely as a soup or pie. But it can be just as good simply roasted off with spices or a dash of honey or brown sugar. And with 0.189 gm of ALA in 1 cup, you’ll be getting in some precious omega 3 fatty acids.2930 Sprinkle on some seeds and nuts and you’ll make this a recipe that’s high in omega 3 power.
- 1 cup of fresh blueberries: 0.086 gm
- 1 cup of frozen blueberries: 0.174 gm
Rounding off this list is a food that is probably already on your healthy foods list for its antioxidant power. But did you know a cup of frozen blueberries also has 0.174 gm of omega 3 fatty acids?31 If you’re eating them fresh, there’s usually 0.086 gm in 1 cup of blueberries.32 Scatter some on your yogurt, oatmeal, or cereal. Make them into a decadent pie – with walnuts to boost the omega 3 perhaps? Blend them into a smoothie or juice with other fruit. They’ll make eating healthy seem like a treat!
Now that you’ve seen how there is no dearth of vegetarian or even vegan sources of omega 3 fatty acids, get going on these foods. Done right, these foods will ensure your body doesn’t fear the absence of fatty fish or fish oils in your diet at all!
|↑1||Alpha-linolenic acid. University of Maryland Medical Center.|
|↑2||Omega-3 Fatty Acids.
|↑3, ↑21, ↑26||Omega-3 Fatty Acids. Office of Dietary Supplements.|
|↑4||Omega-3 Fatty Acids.
|↑5||Omega-3 Fatty Acids. Office of Dietary Supplements.|
|↑6||Omega-3 Fatty Acids.
|↑7||Nuts, walnuts, english. United States Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service.|
|↑9||Oil, flaxseed, cold pressed. United States Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service.|
|↑10, ↑20, ↑29||Food Sources of Omega-3 Fats. Dietitians of Canada.|
|↑11||Flaxseed oil. University of Maryland Medical Center.|
|↑12||Seeds, chia seeds, dried.United States Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service.|
|↑14||Spices, mustard seed, ground. United States Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service.|
|↑15||Spinach, frozen, chopped or leaf, cooked, boiled, drained, without salt.
|↑16||Spinach, cooked, boiled, drained, without salt. United States Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service.|
|↑17||Basic Report: 16409, Soybeans, mature seeds, cooked, boiled, with salt. United States Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service.|
|↑18||Tofu, firm, prepared with calcium sulfate and magnesium chloride (nigari). United States Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service.|
|↑19||Tofu, raw, firm, prepared with calcium sulfate.United States Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service.|
|↑22||Mungo beans, mature seeds, cooked, boiled, without salt.United States Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service.|
|↑23||Beans, navy, mature seeds, cooked, boiled, without salt.United States Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service.|
|↑24||Lentils, mature seeds, cooked, boiled, without salt. United States Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service.|
|↑25||Beans, kidney, all types, mature seeds, cooked, boiled, without salt. United States Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service.|
|↑27||Wild rice, cooked. United States Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service.|
|↑28||Rice, white, long-grain, regular, unenriched, cooked without salt. United States Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service.|
|↑30||Squash, winter, all varieties, cooked, baked, without salt. United States Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service.|
|↑31||Blueberries, frozen, unsweetened. United States Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service.|
|↑32||Blueberries, raw. United States Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service.|