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Best Plant Based Sources of Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Omega-3 fatty acids are polyunsaturated fats essential to the human body. They play a vital role in supporting overall health and are particularly known for their beneficial effects on cardiovascular health, brain function, and inflammation.

Key takeaways:

Most people might associate omega-3 to fish, however there are many plant-based sources of these important fatty acids as well. Keep reading to learn more about omega-3 fatty acids, their importance to your health, and plant-based foods you can add to your diet to ensure you’re getting enough.

Omega-3 fatty acids

Most fatty acids are not essential nutrients, the body can make them as needed. There are only two fatty acids that are essential, omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. These cannot be synthesized in the body, so they must be obtained from food. Most people get plenty of omega-6 fatty acids as high levels are found in cooking oils and processed foods. In contrast, many people don’t get enough omega-3 fatty acids in their diet because they are less prevalent.

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While fish and seafood are commonly associated with omega-3s, there are excellent plant-based alternatives available to those following a vegetarian or vegan diet, or for those who don’t consume seafood products.

3 types of omega-3s

There are three main types of omega-3 fatty acids:

  1. Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA). EPA is known for its anti-inflammatory properties and is associated with cardiovascular health, reducing triglyceride levels, and supporting brain function.
  2. Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). DHA is crucial for brain development and function, especially in infants and young children. It is involved in maintaining the structural integrity of cell membranes and is essential for vision health.
  3. Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). ALA is known for its anti-inflammatory properties and is associated with reduced risk of cardiovascular disease. While it is not as biologically active as EPA and DHA, the body can convert ALA into EPA and DHA to some extent.

Plant sources are typically abundant in ALA, although seaweed and algae also contain EPA and DHA, making them a healthy option for people following a vegetarian or vegan diet.

Benefits of omega-3 fatty acids

Omega-3 fatty acids offer several health benefits, including:

  • Heart health. Omega-3s can help reduce blood pressure, lower triglyceride levels, decrease the risk of abnormal heart rhythms, and prevent the formation of blood clots. These effects contribute to a reduced risk of heart disease and stroke.
  • Brain health. DHA, in particular, is vital for brain health and development. It supports cognitive function, memory, and mood regulation. Omega-3s are also associated with a lower risk of neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's and dementia.
  • Inflammation and immune response. Omega-3s have anti-inflammatory properties and can help reduce chronic inflammation in the body. This can be beneficial for managing conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease, and asthma.
  • Eye health. DHA is a major component of the retina in the eyes, making omega-3 fatty acids crucial for maintaining good vision and reducing the risk of age-related macular degeneration.
  • Mental health. Omega-3 fatty acids have been studied for their potential role in managing mental health conditions such as depression, anxiety, and bipolar disorder. They may help improve mood, reduce symptoms, and support overall mental well-being.
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Omega-3 fatty acids have many benefits, including reduced risk of heart disease and possibly a reduced likelihood of behavioral problems, depression, and inflammatory conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis.

Omega-3 fatty acids are essential to both short and long term health and disease prevention.

Plant-based sources

While fatty fish are the richest sources of EPA and DHA, there are also plant-based sources of omega-3s. Most adults require 1–2 grams of omega-3 fatty acids each day. Some of the best plant-based sources include:


Flaxseeds are nutritional powerhouses and one of the best plant-based sources of omega-3 fatty acids. They are rich in ALA and can be consumed whole, ground, or in the form of oil.

Ground flaxseeds are more easily absorbed by the body. They can be added to smoothies, oatmeal, or baked goods. You can also use flaxseed meal as an egg substitute in baking recipes. Flaxseed oil is a good option for those who can’t consume whole seeds because of digestive issues.

One tablespoon of ground flaxseed has about 1.8 grams of omega-3s.

Chia seeds

Chia seeds are packed with ALA and provide a range of other nutrients like fiber, calcium, and zinc. Chia seeds have a unique ability to absorb liquid, forming a gel-like substance, which means they are ideal for making nutritious puddings and/or as a binding agent in baked goods. Chia seeds are great additions to yogurt, oatmeal, and smoothies.

One tablespoon of chia seeds contains about 2.5 grams of omega-3 fatty acids.

Hemp seeds

Hemp seeds contain a good amount of ALA and offer a balanced ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acids. They have a nutty flavor and can be sprinkled on salads, added to yogurt, used in granola and cereal recipes, and blended into smoothies. They are also a complete protein, providing all essential amino acids.

One tablespoon of hemp seeds has about 1 gram of omega-3 fatty acids.


Walnuts are not only delicious but also a fantastic source of plant-based omega-3 fatty acids. They contain a high concentration of ALA, making them a valuable addition to a plant-focused diet. A handful of walnuts can meet the majority of your daily omega-3 requirements.

A one ounce serving of walnuts has about 2.5 grams of omega 3 fatty acids.


Seaweed, spirulina, and chlorella are different forms of algae that many people eat for their health benefits. Seaweed is often eaten in sushi, soups, or as a dried, crunchy snack. Chlorella and spirulina are often seen as powders you can add to drinks and smoothies.

Algae oil is derived from algae and is a vegan source of EPA and DHA, the two most beneficial forms of omega-3 fatty acids. For those seeking a direct plant-based source of EPA and DHA, algae oil is an excellent option.

Omega-3 levels in algae supplements or foods that contain them depend on the source.

Final word

While these plant-based options provide omega-3 fatty acids, it's important to note that they predominantly contain ALA, which may not provide the same health benefits as EPA and DHA found in marine sources. If you're following a vegetarian or vegan diet, consider incorporating algae oil or supplements to ensure an adequate intake of EPA and DHA. Consulting with a healthcare professional or registered dietitian can also provide personalized advice for meeting your omega-3 needs.

Plant-based alternatives for omega-3 fatty acids are particularly valuable for individuals following vegetarian or vegan diets or those who prefer not to consume fish products. By incorporating these plant-based sources into your diet, you can ensure an adequate intake of omega-3s while enjoying the benefits of a plant-focused lifestyle.

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