QWhat are omega-3 fatty acids, and why do I need them?

Omega-3 fatty acid, also known as alpha linolenic acid (ALA), is considered an essential fatty acid.  It is essential because the body does not produce it and is the first “ingredient” in a chain reaction that yields docosahexaenoic acid (DHA).  Aren’t you now wishing you paid a little more attention in Biochemistry?  These fatty acids are renowned for their anti-inflammatory properties and in turn, aid in reducing one’s risk of illnesses such as cardiovascular disease and diabetes.

Until recently, fish and fish oil were viewed as the only sources of omega-3 fatty acid, but times are changing.  Walnuts, dark leafy greens, hemp seed, pumpkin seed, soy and canola oils are also good sources of omega-3; however, flax is the richest source of omega-3 fatty acid.  Unlike fish, your risk of consuming toxins, such as mercury and lead, is essentially zero when consuming flax.  And, you will not contribute to the needless death of any living creature.

Like with Vitamin B12, vegans need to make an effort to include omega-3 fatty acids in their diets.  Along with omega-3 fatty acids, there are omega-6 fatty acids, which are found mainly in cottonseed, corn, sunflower and safflower oils.  When we eat too many omega-6 fatty acids, we inhibit the absorption of omega-3 fatty acid.  Ideally, we would be consuming a ratio of omega-6: omega-3 of 4:1, however, most vegans typically consume a whacked out ratio of 15:1!

So what does this mean for you?  Ditch the corn oil for olive or canola oils. Flax should become your new best friend.  Though there is no gold standard amount of how much flax one should eat, 1 tablespoon of flax oil or 2 tablespoons of ground flax seed per day is a great place to start.  The oil can be added to dressings, hummus, or smoothies.  Ground flax seed can easily be added to muffins, pancakes, and smoothies as well.  Now go grab that coffee grinder and get to grinding!