Following on from last week, I would like to use the next few weeks to look at some of the practical solutions we have come to for my vegan son to ensure he minimises the risk of deficiencies. If you are a vegan the nutrients that you might be low in include beneficial oils, protein, iron, Vitamin B12, Vitamin D, iodine and calcium. As a nutritional therapist I have learned about the importance of omega 3 for many aspects of health and the fact that the most biologically available omega 3 comes from fish and seafood. Benefits of a good omega 3 status include good mood, hormone health and brain development in terms of cognition, memory and focus. It is also protective of the heart and reduces inflammation. There is even a suggestion that one of the contributors to the evolution of human intelligence is because our ancestors ate a lot of fish. Dolphins (considered the second most intelligent species) also have a diet dominated by saltwater animal seafood, fish and shellfish. These food groups have a very specific range of micronutrients, specifically DHA and EPA omega 3 fatty acids and iodine. Without access to that exact combination in their food over hundreds of generations, a mammal species seemingly can’t evolve a large brain. E.g. sea cows haven’t evolved large brains, because they are aquatic herbivores and not carnivores.
Because of this, I had spent all my children’s formative years feeding them fish and giving them fish oil supplements when fish was less palatable to them. So a lack of omega 3 was my biggest single concern when my son became a vegan.
Whilst there are plant sources of omega 3, they appear to be less biologically available to us than fish-based omega 3. This means that our bodies need to process them to get them into a usable form and some people struggle with these conversions. The research I have read suggests that the best approach for a vegan is to increase their plant-based sources of omega 3 and reduce intake of omega 6 oils at the same time. The best vegan sources of omega 3 are chia seeds, flax seeds, walnut, walnut oils and dark leafy vegetables. My son now uses walnut, avocado, chia or flax oil in salad dressings, olive oil as opposed to sunflower oil in cooking, and a tablespoon per day of ground chia, flax or pumpkin seeds, as opposed to sesame or sunflower seeds on cereals, salads or smoothies. Together these give a good intake of plant-based omega 3.
However, research is still ongoing as to whether these plant-based sources are enough for optimum health. As such my son has taken the decision to take a vegan omega 3 supplement. The one he has is made from marine algae which are rich in omega 3. Indeed, this is the food that oily fish eat to provide their omega 3. There are several brands using marine algae. These include Biocare. Ora, Nordic Naturals ,Testa, Ovega and Vitality. For those who struggle with taking tablets there are soft gel options. Just google marine algae Omega 3 to find the one that appeals to you or your child.