Food is powerful. I rely on a particular diet and exercise to manage multiple autoimmune conditions, so choosing (and understanding) what fuels my body is a top priority.
Each day I track multiple facets of my gluten-free vegetarian diet, including omega-3 fatty acids, vegetables, proteins, and sugar. When I first started documenting my nutrition, I had to learn a lot about various foods and the elements that make them healthy. Since I don’t eat meat or fish, I had to find new sources of omega-3s.
What are Omega-3 Fatty Acids?
Don’t let the words “fatty” or “acid” sway your thinking. Omega-3 fatty acids are healthy, essential fats that our bodies can’t produce naturally, so we get them from foods. Omega-3s make up one of the two classifications of polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA).
In layman’s terms, they’re catalysts that aid in several body functions, most importantly forming cell membranes and improving the function of the cardiovascular, pulmonary, immune, and endocrine systems. Omega-3s are also known to help reduce inflammation, making them a key component of anti-inflammatory diets, like the one I follow.
Sources of Omega-3 Fatty Acids
The U.S Department of Health and Human Services National Institutes of Health recommends the following quantities of omega-3 fatty acids each day:
- All babies from birth to 1 year: 0.5 milligrams
- Males and females ages 1 to 3 years: .07 milligrams
- Males and females ages 4 to 8 years: .09 milligrams
- Males ages 9 to 13 years: 1.2 milligrams
- Females ages 9 to 13 years: 1.0milligrams
- Males ages 14 to 51+ years: 1.6 milligrams
- Females ages 14 to 51+ years: 1.1 milligrams
During pregnancy, women should increase their intake to 1.4 milligrams. When lactating and breastfeeding, women should decrease their intake to 1.3 milligrams. Omega-3 fatty acids are transferred to infants through breast milk.
You can find omega-3s in algae, black walnuts, canola oil, chia seeds, flaxseeds and flaxseed oil, leafy vegetables, and soybean oil. If you follow a relaxed vegetarian or pescatarian diet that allows for seafood, several types of fatty cold-water fish like salmon, mackerel, tuna, sardines, and herring, as well as fish oil and krill, are a good source of this beneficial acid.
Vegetarian Recipes to Try
It’s time to get some of these powerhouse acids into your diet. When I’m short on time, I like to add ground flaxseeds, spinach, or chia seeds to my morning fruit smoothie. The seeds add a pleasant, nutty flavor (plus they provide a boost in nutrients).
If you’re ready to do some cooking, there are plenty of simple vegetarian recipes that are rich in omega-3 fatty acids. Try switching out regular walnuts for black walnuts in this recipe for cereal bars. They are perfect for lunchbox snacks, or even a quick breakfast on the go, and get sweetness from honey, cinnamon, and chocolate. Some salad dressings can be made with flaxseed oil to make an already healthy plate of greens extra nutritious.
Adding chia seeds to any nut milk creates a creamy, yogurt alternative that you can top with your favorite fruits for a healthy dessert. Smoothies that include algae are packed with antioxidants, vitamins, and omega-3 fatty acids, and this ingredient can be blended with fruit and milk for a perfect breakfast. And since nothing is better than smelling freshly baked bread on the weekend, add flaxseeds to a classic yeast bread, like this one from the blog Another Root, for a healthy and flavorful boost.
How do you get your omega-3 fatty acids (vegetables, seeds, nuts, fish, or something different entirely)? Share your favorite recipe on Twitter, and tag @TomsofMaine so we can see what healthy dish you’re cooking up!
This article was brought to you by Tom’s of Maine. The views and opinions expressed by the author do not reflect the position of Tom’s of Maine.