Omega-3 fatty acids are essential for heart health, brain health and fighting off inflammation—and unfortunately, most of us don’t get enough of them. It’s important to note omega-3 fats are found in three different forms—DHA, EPA and ALA, per the National Institutes of Health (NIH). ALA is most abundant in these plant-based sources, but adequate blood levels of DHA and EPA are more difficult to obtain on a vegan or vegetarian diet.
There are no established recommended amounts for omega-3 fatty acids, except for ALA. According to the (NIH), adult females only need 1.1 grams per day of ALA, while adult males need 1.6 g per day. And while it’s not a lot, getting your omega-3s can be easier said than done if you eat a typical American diet. It can be just as difficult for vegans and vegetarians who avoid fish.
But fish isn’t the only omega-3 claim to fame. This powerhouse nutrient is abundant in several different plants, as well. They will not only boost your omega-3 intake but also deliver dozens of other important nutrients for optimal health. Omnivores may want to incorporate these vegan sources of omega-3 fats into their diets, too!
Pictured Recipe: Vegetarian Sushi Grain Bowl
ALA can be converted into EPA and then into DHA, but conversion rates are less than 15%, according to the NIH. Because of this, you might want to ramp up your intake of omega-3 fats as a vegan or vegetarian to help give your body the nutrition it needs—and these eight foods are here to help.
Flax delivers more ALA omega-3 fatty acids than any other known food on the planet, offering more than double the amount of a woman’s daily recommended needs and nearly twice for men in a tablespoon, according to the USDA. A tablespoon of flaxseed oil supplies about 7 g of ALA, per the USDA.
A 2-tablespoon serving of flaxseed has about 4 g of fiber and 2.5 g of protein, according to the USDA. You can buy them whole to use in our Homemade Multi-Seed Crackers or buy them ground (or grind them yourself) to add to your favorite smoothie or morning bowl of oatmeal.
While a variety of nuts are considered superfoods, walnuts just might be one of the best for optimal health. Studies, such as the 2021 review in Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition, have found walnuts lower blood pressure, help us lose weight and maintain a healthy one, help us age better and even boost our gut health.
Just one ounce of walnuts contains 2.5 g of ALA, more than double the daily recommendation for women. You can easily get all the ALA you need in a day by sprinkling some walnuts onto a favorite salad, baking them into brownies and other treats and adding them to your vegetable sides. We love using them in pesto, like in our Chicken & Vegetable Penne with Parsley-Walnut Pesto.
3. Seaweed and Algae
Seaweed, spirulina, nori and chlorella are all forms of algae that are rich in omega-3 fats. These foods are especially important for vegans and some vegetarians to consume because they provide one of the only plant-based sources of EPA and DHA omega-3s.
We love using nori in homemade maki rolls, and it provides a fantastic umami flavor. You can purchase spirulina and chlorella powders and supplements to make the most beautiful smoothie bowls or sneak them into other recipes, like pancakes, without altering the flavor.
4. Canola Oil
Many people feel strongly about which cooking oil is the best, and canola oil gets our seal of approval. One tablespoon of canola oil contains about 1.3 g of ALA, which is more than a day’s serving for women and nearly a day’s serving for men.
We also love canola oil for its versatility—thanks to its light and neutral flavor and low-saturated fat content. It’s also a good source of vitamins E and K. We love using canola oil in our tasty Citrus Vinaigrette or when roasting our favorite veggies.
We love hempseeds for their amazing nutritional profile. A 3-tablespoon serving of hempseeds satisfies your daily ALA needs, per the USDA. But that’s not all. Hempseeds—also called hemp hearts—are also an excellent source of magnesium and a good source of plant protein and iron—to name a few!
These seeds are super versatile and can make their way to your plate at breakfast, lunch or dinner. Try adding hemp hearts to a favorite granola recipe or smoothie in the mornings, and you will love them in our Avocado Pesto.
Edamame is another nutritional powerhouse that certainly needs to find its way into your diet (as long as you’re not avoiding soy). A half-cup serving of edamame provides about 25% of a woman’s ALA needs as well as offering lots of complete protein, fiber and other essential nutrients.
While you may typically think of using edamame in Asian food—and it is pretty darn tasty in your favorite lo mein—these green soybeans can be used in a wide variety of dishes. Our Greek Salad with Edamame and Egyptian Edamame Stew are both delicious proof of that!
7. Kidney Beans
While kidney beans are one of the lower sources of plant-based omega-3s—offering about 15% of a woman’s daily ALA needs in a half cup cooked per the USDA—they are definitely still worth eating. Kidney beans are an excellent source of plant protein and are packed with fiber to keep you full until your next meal. They are also a good source of iron and folate—both important nutrients for a healthy pregnancy and overall health.
Kidney beans are super versatile and used in a wide variety of cuisines to add texture and plant protein. We love them in our Bean Salad with Lemon-Cumin Dressing, as well as in a hearty vegetarian chili, like our Four-Bean & Pumpkin Chili.
8. Chia Seeds
Last but certainly not least are chia seeds, which pack 5 g of omega-3s in just one ounce! Chia seeds made the superfood list—and for good reason.
One ounce of chia seeds is packed with over a third of your daily fiber needs and is a good vegan source of calcium. Chia seeds make for a super easy two-ingredient jam and can be used to make creamy, dreamy puddings, like our Blueberry Almond Chia Pudding.