Essential Fatty Acids for Vegetarians

What are essential fatty acids?

Essential Fatty Acids or EFA's are considered to be good fats.  These EFA's are polyunsaturated and are of critical importance to your health and well being.

EFA's are considered "essential" because they are absolutely necessary for your body to maintain good health but your body does not make them on its own.  In other words, they must be ingested through your diet or dietary supplements in order to stay healthy.  

Deficiency in EFA's can lead to many symptoms such as decreased immune function, depression, dry and scaly skin conditions, reduced growth rates, and changes in the blood.  It can also contribute to higher rates of heart disease, arthritis, and diabetes.

Taking adequate amounts of EFA's may help to prevent heart disease and strokes and provide relief from menstrual pain, joint pain, and skin conditions such as dryness or acne. Today people are also taking in more EFA's to help manage weight depression, and a stronger immune system.  The list goes on and on.  You can read all the research you want at

Two families of essential fatty acids

In order for the body to function at its highest, there must be a proper balance of the two families of EFA's.  A 3:1 ratio is suggested by current research.  Often times, the typical american diet, and yes, even the typical vegetarian diet has an over abundance of  Omega-6's from eating processed and refined foods.  

Omega-3's, or the lack there of, are a main contributor to chronic health conditions.  Heart disease, diabetes, arthritis, and depression are among the leading health problems that americans fight with today.  Omega-3's or EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) are now said to be one of the most beneficial EFA's for your health and maybe even the most popular dietary supplement on the market today.  

Omega-6 or GLA (gamma-linolenic acid) is also an important EFA in vegetarian health.  As mentioned earlier, getting these are not so hard to do through any regular diet, healthy or unhealthy.  If you want to learn more about this topic, definitely look into the vegetarian health institutes membership program.

Why are Essential Fatty Acids important for vegetarians?

Essential Fatty Acids help the body to produce eicosanoids which are present in every cell of your body and therefor have the ability to impact every system and function in your body.  Eicosanoids help your body with a natural antiinflammatory response. They also help with good circulation and blood pressure.  They protect the cells in your body kind of like a superman or superwoman.

The USDA suggests that we all ingest more EFA's. But too much of anything is not good so follow the recommendations of the FDA and dont ingest more than 3,000 mg per day.

Where can vegetarians find essential fatty acids?

As a vegetarian, supplementation can be even more confusing than how to navigate your way through a traditional american family meal. Getting your Omega-6's as a vegetarian are the easiest if you want to supplement with evening primrose oil or borage oil. Omega-3's are a different story.  Most people are now taking fish oils to obtain a adequate amount of Omega-3's.

Good new is that vegetarians are the least likely to have any of the health problems associate with a deficiency of EFA's but that does not mean you should not put a little extra effort in to making sure you are supplying your body with all it needs.

Omega-6's are found in seeds, nuts, grains, leafy vegetables, vegetable oils and other oils such as black current, borage, evening primrose, and hemp.  As you can see, if you eat a well rounded vegetarian diet you wont have any trouble getting your omega-6's in.

Omega-3's can be found in ground flax seeds, walnuts, soybeans, mung beans (or urid in an asian market).  ALA (alpha-linolenic acid) is an omega-3 that can be found in many fruits, vegetables, beans, nuts, and seeds.  It can also be found higher concentration in oils such as wheat germ, canola, walnut, soybean, and my favorite, flax.  

Although ALA is an omega-3, it must first be converted into an omega-3 by your body once you have ingested it.  Certain factors can help or hurt your body's ability to convert ALA to a usable omega-3.  If your diet is too high in omega-6's, they compete with omega-3's, making them less available for your body.  So do your best to avoid foods that contain partially hydrogenated oils as well as restaurants that cooks with soybean and corn oils that all have loads of omega-6's.

To assist your body in the uptake of healthy omega-3's you can also be sure to supplement your cooking with olive or canola oils that have much lower omega-6's in them.  You can also try adding a supplement of omega-3's for vegetarians such as Ascentia which is made of micro algae.  Studies are now showing this supplement to be highly absorbable!





One teaspoon of flaxseed oil or one tablespoon of ground flax seeds will give you all you need for a daily dose of Omega-3. Be sure to not cook these seeds or oils since heat damages them.  Also, try to store them in your fridge or freezer to keep them as fresh as possible.  I suggest you try using it in a salad dressing or even on a baked potato.  If you decide to use ground flax seeds instead of the oil you can buy the whole seed and grind them in a coffee grinder daily for super freshness. Then sprinkle it into a smoothie, onto cereal or salads.  You can really get creative with this stuff one you know how it tastes.

"The topic of omega-3 fatty acids, like many topics in nutrition, is fluid. Recommendations change as new studies provide more information." (VHI)  If you have any creative ways to get Omega-3's into your diet be sure to share with us all.

1 Comment(s)

  1. This article mentions canola oil, but from all the recent info that I have read, canola seems to be unhealthy; the same thing with soybean oil, organic or not.

    eddie | Reply

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  1. May 7, 2013: from Chia For Weight Loss & Chia Nutrition | Vegan Recipes Blog

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