- Omega-3 fatty acid intake is essential to supporting brain health and heart health.
- There are 3 types of Omega-3 fatty acids: ALA, EPA, and DHA—DHA is the type with the most studied benefits.
- While many vitamins source their DHA from fish oil, algae oil is a DHA-rich, vegan and environmentally-friendly alternative.
ALA. EPA. DHA. What do these acronyms have in common? They’re types of Omega-3 fatty acids. But what do Omega-3s do, and why does the type of Omega in your vitamins matter, anyway?
Mega Omegas: What They Do for You
To answer the first question, Omega-3 fatty acids help support your heart health, brain health, as well as prenatal development in pregnant women. They’re also an essential component of your cell membranes. So… clearly they’re not important and you don’t need worry about getting enough of them, right? Think again: It’s crucial that you get enough Omega-3s from food and vitamin intake, because your body can’t efficiently synthesize them on its own.
Types of Omega-3s: Not All Fatty Acids are Created Equal
EPA and DHA Omega-3 fatty acids are commonly found in shellfish, salmon, and tuna. Vegetarian sources are found in some foods like flaxseed, soybean, and canola—but they’re only rich in ALA , which doesn’t have as many health benefits as EPA or DHA (the Omega with the most proof of benefits). Your body can only convert a very small percentage (about 5%) of ALA to DHA and EPA, which is why most vitamins tout fish oil as the ideal source of Omega-3’s. Not exactly veg-friendly, and—considering that many Omega-3 fish oil products can be rancid by the time of purchase—only slightly nauseating.
Save the Anchovies: Finding Vegan-Friendly DHA
Thing is, if you do a little digging, you’ll find that there actually is a vegan-friendly source of DHA out there. Like we mentioned earlier, DHA is found in fish. But fish get their DHA from eating phytoplankton, which get it from eating microalgae. That means the true source of DHA is the microalgae. By cutting out the middle man (middle fish?) and going straight to the source, we can get a vegan-friendly form of DHA, and save 750 anchovies and herrings per bottle of vitamins in the process.