Healthy Fats for Vegetarians and Vegans: Balance Omega-3s and Omega-6s in Your Diet

One of the biggest challenges for a vegan and vegetarian is getting the right balance of healthy fats. Due to the abundance of industrial products, it is easy to become deficient in the essential fatty acids found in omega-3 fats.

This is especially true for people living in wealthy, industrialized countries. Their diet is usually full of “bad fats”. Most degenerative diseases are associated with the wrong kinds and wrong amounts of dietary fats.

Eating healthy fats reduces the risk of heart disease, cancer and diabetes and increases our chances of living a healthy life. And it’s so easy to get omega-3 fatty acids from our food.

Omega-3 and omega-6 are the two main types of essential fatty acids (EFAs) that are important for good health. They are not produced by our bodies and must be obtained from food or supplements. Omega-9 fats are essential for health, but the body can produce them on its own.

Fatty acids are essential for the functioning of the nervous, immune, reproductive and cardiovascular systems. Fatty acids are involved in the formation of cell membranes and the absorption of nutrients into cells. Fatty acids are important for everyone, from babies to the elderly.

Americans are generally deficient in omega-3 fats. Surprisingly, vegetarians and vegans are especially vulnerable to omega-3 fatty acid deficiencies. The Department of Food Science at the University of Australia has indicated that typical omnivores have higher levels of omega-3s in their blood than vegetarians.

Another study, conducted at the Research Institute of Nutrition in Slovakia, studied a group of children aged 11-15 years for 3-4 years. 10 children were lacto vegetarian, 15 were lacto-ovo vegetarian and seven were strict vegans. The performance of this group was compared with that of a group of 19 omnivores. While lacto-ovo vegetarians and omnivores had the same amount of omega-3s in their blood, lacto-vegetarians lagged behind. The vegan group had significantly lower omega-3 levels than the rest.

In America, where omega-3s are typically obtained from fish and flaxseed oil, many vegetarians don’t get the right amount of omega-3s in their diet. A disproportionate amount of omega-6s can accumulate in the tissues of the body, which, according to the study, can lead to diseases – heart attack and stroke, cancer and arthritis.

Other studies show that omega-3 fatty acids can minimize inflammatory responses, reduce risk factors for cardiovascular disease and cancer.

Omega-3s are essential for nerve development and good vision. Omega-3s are highly concentrated in the brain, they help: memory, brain performance, mood, learning, thinking, cognition and brain development in children.

Omega-3s also help treat conditions such as diabetes, arthritis, osteoporosis, high cholesterol, hypertension, asthma, burns, skin problems, eating disorders, hormonal disorders, and allergies.

The three main omega-3s we get from food are alpha-linolenic acid, eicosapentaenoic acid, and docosahexaenoic acid.

Eicosapentaenoic acid is associated with a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease and proper development and function of the nervous system and brain. Our bodies need to convert omega-3s, but some people may have a problem with this conversion due to the peculiarities of their physiology.

To get eicosapentaenoic and docosahexaenoic acids, vegetarians should concentrate on greens, cruciferous (cabbage) vegetables, walnuts, and spirulina.

Other vegetarian food sources provide alpha-linolenic acid. One tablespoon of flaxseed oil per day is enough to provide the required amount of alpha-linolenic acid. Hemp seeds, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds are also good sources of alpha-linolenic acid. Brazil nuts, wheat germ, wheat germ oil, soybean oil, and canola oil also contain significant amounts of alpha-linolenic acid.

The main type of omega-6 is linoleic acid, which is converted in the body to gamma-linolenic acid. It provides natural protection against the development of diseases such as cancer, rheumatoid arthritis, eczema, psoriasis, diabetic neuropathy and PMS.

Although most Americans consume a disproportionate amount of omega-6, it cannot be converted to gamma-linolenic acid due to metabolic problems associated with diabetes, alcohol consumption, and excess trans fatty acids in processed foods, smoking, stress, and diseases.

Eliminating these factors is necessary to maintain health and well-being. By taking evening primrose oil, borage oil, and blackcurrant seed oil capsules, you can supplement the dietary sources of gamma-linolenic acid listed below. Only nature can balance omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids so perfectly in foods like flax seeds, hemp seeds, sunflower seeds, and grape seeds. Food sources of omega-6 fatty acids include pistachios, olive oil, chestnut oil, and olives.

Many of the oils we use for cooking are made up of linoleic acid, which creates an imbalance in the ratio of fats in our body. To avoid excessive consumption of omega-6 fatty acids, reduce your intake of refined oils and processed foods, and read labels.

Omega-9 fatty acids contain monounsaturated oleic acid, that is, they have a positive effect on reducing risk factors for cardiovascular disease, atherosclerosis and cancer. 1-2 tablespoons of olive oil daily is a good way to get omega-9 fatty acids in your diet.

Other foods rich in omega-9 fatty acids are: olives, avocados and pistachios, peanuts, almonds, sesame seeds, pecans and hazelnuts.

Omega-3s and omega-6s are involved in a wide range of metabolic processes, and they must be supplied in the correct balance for healthy functioning of the body. When omega-3 fatty acids are deficient and omega-6 are in excess, it leads to inflammatory diseases. Unfortunately, many people suffer from chronic inflammation due to a lack of omega-3 fatty acids and an abundance of omega-6s. This imbalance has long-term catastrophic consequences such as heart disease, cancer, diabetes, stroke, arthritis, and autoimmune disease.

The correct ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 is between 1:1 and 1:4. The typical American diet can contain 10 to 30 times more omega-6s than omega-3s. This is due to the consumption of beef, pork and poultry, as well as high omega-6 polyunsaturated oils often used in fast food restaurants, and processed foods.

To prevent fatty acid deficiencies, vegans should be careful to obtain alpha-linolenic acid from food or supplements. Vegan women are recommended to take 1800-4400 milligrams of alpha-linolenic acid per day, and vegan men – 2250-5300 milligrams. Vegetarian sources of alpha-linolenic acid: flaxseed oil, soy products, soybean oil, hemp and canola oil. These are the most concentrated sources of omega-3s.  


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