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Making Sense of Essential Fatty Acids: Omega–3 Fatty Acids

Alpha–linolenic acid, a common omega–3 fatty acid, is found in many vegetables, beans, nuts, seeds, and fruits. It is important for vegetarians to include foods that are rich in omega–3 fatty acids on a daily basis.

The best sources of alpha–linolenic acid are flaxseeds and flaxseed oil. More concentrated sources can be found in oils such as canola, soybean, walnut, and wheat germ. Omega–3 fatty acids can be found in smaller quantities in nuts, seeds, and soy products, as well as beans, vegetables, and whole grains. Corn, safflower, sunflower, and cottonseed oils are generally low in omega–3s.

Plant Foods Rich in Omega–3 Fatty Acids

  • Green leafy vegetables (lettuce, broccoli, kale, purslane, spinach, etc.)
  • Legumes (mungo*, kidney, navy, pinto, or lima beans, peas or split peas, etc.)
  • Citrus fruits, melons, cherries
  • Ground flaxseed

*Mungo beans are particularly high in omega–3 fatty acids. They are sold in many Indian groceries and may be found under the name "urid."

Omega–3 Content of Natural Oils5,6

  • Flaxseed 53–62%
  • Linseed 53%
  • Canola 11%
  • Walnut 10%
  • Wheat germ 7%
  • Soybean 7%

Flaxseeds for Omega–3s

Flaxseed oil and ground flaxseeds are particularly high in omega–3 fatty acids. One teaspoonful of flaxseed oil or a tablespoonful of ground flaxseed will supply the daily requirement of alpha–linolenic acid.

To protect it from oxygen damage, flaxseed oil or ground flax seed must be stored in the refrigerator or the freezer. Don't try to cook with this oil, however, as heat damages its omega–3s.

For you to absorb omega–3s from flaxseeds, they must be ground. Simply put fresh flaxseeds in a spice or coffee grinder for a few seconds. Some people grind a cup every week or so and store it in the freezer. A spoonful can be added to a smoothie or sprinkled on breakfast cereal, a salad, or other dish.

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