When choosing a vegan lifestyle, you need to be aware that there are some types of nutrients that you have to consciously include by adding different types of foods. This is especially true when it comes to essential fatty acids (also referred to as polyunsaturated fatty acids, or PUFAs). Primarily found in fatty, cold-water fish (like herring, tuna, or salmon), these fatty acids are “essential” to your diet, in that your body cannot create them.
What are Essential Fatty Acids?
Essential fatty acids consist of omega-3 and omega-6. Omega-3 fatty acids can be produced by the body in small amounts, but not enough to ensure optimal function. Omega-6 fatty acids are found in foods, but most people consume them in foods that are high in trans fats or sugar. That's because cooking oils routinely used in processed foods (cottonseed oil, soybean oil and vegetable oil blends) are high in omega-6 fatty acids. It’s also important to note that unless you are consuming these fatty acids in the right proportions you may not be getting the optimal health effects. Most American diets are too high in omega-6 and too low in omega-3 - and this applies to both vegans and non-vegans. By ensuring that you have a regular source of essential fatty acids (that includes both omega-3 and omega-6) in your diet you can reduce inflammation (including arthritis) and reduce the risk of cancer and heart disease. Additionally, these components help to ensure optimum brain function (helping conditions such as depression, cognitive decline, and schizophrenia or bipolar disorder), as well as keep your skin healthy and lower the risk of diabetes and osteoporosis.
Vegan Sources of Essential Fatty Acids
When looking for good sources of plant-based essential fatty acids, nuts and seeds are your best bet. Great options include walnuts, hemp seeds, chia seeds, pumpkin seeds and flax seeds. It's easy to add them to your morning breakfast, smoothies, salads and soups. In addition, look for the oil version of these nuts and seeds. It's best to buy cold-pressed oils and use them in their natural state - do not heat them. Drizzle the oil on your salad or soup for an added boost of essential fatty acids.
Fish Sources of Essential Fatty Acids vs. Vegan Sources of Essential Fatty Acids
While fish sources of essential fatty acids (called EPA or DHA) can be used as-is by the body, plant-based sources have to be converted from ALA to EPA/DHA before they can be used effectively. Unfortunately, the body is not always totally effective in converting plant-based fatty acids. To ensure that your body is getting the right balance of essential fatty acids, you should discuss your diet with your doctor. After all, if you choose to adopt a healthy vegan diet, you want to make sure that your body is getting the best nutrition. At 22 Days Nutrition, we know how important it is to have a balanced vegan diet that includes everything our bodies need to run efficiently. You'll find essential fatty acid-rich ingredients like nuts, pumpkin seeds, hemp and flax in our vegan protein powder.