Fact or Myth: Are Plant-based Omega-3s as Effective as Animal-based Omega-3s?

This is a MYTH.

In the battle of plant-based omega-3s vs. animal-based omega-3s, animal omegas come out the clear victor. If you’re a vegan or vegetarian who is hoping to ensure adequate omega-3 intake via flax, hemp, or pumpkin seed, chances are you’re not feeding your body the essential fatty acids it needs.  

fish oilTypes of Omega-3s

Omega-3s are praised for their anti-inflammatory benefits and proven to help treat and prevent:

  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Essential fatty acid deficiency in infancy (retinal and brain development)
  • Preventing premature delivery
  • Cancer (breast, colon, and prostate)
  • Autoimmune disorders
  • Crohn’s disease
  • Mild hypertension
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Parkinson’s disease

There are three types of omega-3s: DHA (Docosahexaenoic Acid), EPA (Eicosapentaenoic Acid), and ALA (Alpha-Linolenic Acid). Your body cannot manufacture fatty acids on its own, and depends on you to provide these essential nutrients. Not all omegas, however, deliver the same benefits. It’s DHA and EPA that have been shown to target the aforementioned health conditions.

Plant-based Omega-3s vs. Animal-based Omega-3s

Plant-based omegas such as flax seeds and nuts are rich in ALA, not DHA or EPA. ALA converts inside your body to DHA and EPA, but at such a low ratio as to be rendered virtually inconsequential. Less than 5% of ALA is transformed into EPA, and less than 0.5% into DHA! And consuming large amounts of ALA won’t make up for this low conversion ratio. Plant-based omega sources also require adequate levels of zinc, iron, and pyridoxine for conversion, and deficiency in one or more of these nutrients is common, especially among vegans/vegetarians.

Animal-based omegas, such as fish, fish oil, cod liver oil, and krill oil, however, contain copious amounts of DHA and EPA…no conversion required! Adding wild-caught, coldwater fish to your diet can help ensure omega-3 intake. You can also supplement with fish oil or krill oil. Krill oil has 48 times the antioxidant potency of fish oil, and also contains astaxanthin, an antioxidant that increases your body’s absorption of DHA and EPA.