Want to supercharge your health on a vegan diet?
Invest in a good algae-based omega-3 supplement.
Without this supplement you simply won't be getting the super important long-chain omega-3's EPA & DHA from your diet.
So in today's post we'll go through all the facts about omega-3, and also look at some of the best vegan omega-3 supplements for your needs.
(If you're short on time I've listed the best products just below here)
Bloom Vegan Omega-3
336 mg DHA, 158 EPA, 36 mg DPA
Norsan Omega-3 Oil Vegan
(UK only, review)
1176 mg DHA, 714 mg EPA
Nested Naturals Vegan Omega-3 (review)
200 mg DHA, 100 mg EPA
Ovega-3 Vegan Omega-3 (review)
270 mg DHA, 135 mg EPA
Amala Vegan Omega-3 (review)
120 mg DHA, 72 mg EPA,13 mg DPA
Why Should You Take a Vegan Omega-3 Supplement?
Supplementing with omega-3 is certainly no health fad or yet another trendy superfood currently in fashion.
As far back as the late 700s to 1100s, the Vikings consumed plenty of omega-3 in the form of fish oil which they found helped healing, strength, energy and stamina.
There is no reason to take fish oil as there's recently been a development of new plant-based sources of omega-3...
...and instead of trusting Viking anecdotes, let's instead look at the actual scientific literature that supports why taking a vegan omega-3 supplement is a rather superb idea for promoting optimal health.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids on a Vegan Diet
You might already know all there is to know about omega-3 on a plant-based diet... but just in case I'll quickly fill you in on the basics in a manner that's not too confusing.
The omega-3 fatty acids are vitamin-like in that they are essential to our health and survival and cannot be produced by the body - hence also referred to as essential fatty acids.
There are three major omega-3s we find in our diets:
Conversion of ALA to EPA & DHA
As we want to leave the damn fish alone in the sea, vegans are restricted to only one dietary source of the omega-3's which is ALA.
While the omega-3 fatty acid ALA can be converted to EPA & DHA through an enzymatic process in the body...
...this conversion rate is rather poor.
Approximately 5% of ALA consumed is converted into EPA, and less than 0.5% is converted into DHA.
For instance a tablespoon of flax seeds containing 1.600 mg of ALA would yield only 8 mg, or even less, of DHA!
Now there's some research showing that vegans have a more efficient ALA to EPA & DHA conversion compared to fish-eaters (209% higher in vegan men and 184% higher in vegan women)...
...and also that reducing total omega-6 intake can further help augment this conversion.
So there is definitely a concern that vegans do not have the capacity to convert ALA into the longer-chain omega-3 fatty acids in the amounts required for optimal health and function.
And supplementing with a performed source of EPA & DHA on a vegan diet is certainly a good idea due to a couple of reasons:
Health Benefits from Omega-3 Supplementation
As fatty fish and seafood with preformed EPA & DHA are off limits for us vegans, our levels of these long-chain omega-3s are as mentioned also lower compared to omnivores.
This is quite alarming seeing as EPA & DHA are responsible for some of the profound health benefits of omega-3:
So what do to, are we vegans doomed to live our lives with poor intakes of omega-3s?
Introducing The Algae-Based Omega-3 Supplement
As it turns out there's a 100% plant-based source of the long-chain omega-3's EPA & DHA:
A vegan algae-based omega-3 supplement.
Now you're probably wondering:
"Wait what - why would algae contain EPA & DHA, isn't that a strictly fish thing?"
Fish actually get their DHA and EPA by eating micro algae floating around in the ocean which means fish is kind of like an omega-3 middleman.
So why not go directly for the plant source instead?
Basically we can reap all the health benefits associated with a high intake of omega-3's in completely cruelty-free fashion.
Why Fish Oil Is a Pretty Bad Idea for Omega-3
The traditional form of omega-3 supplements is fish and krill oil capsules - basically it's the oil extracted from fatty fish.
Obviously this is not a viable option on a vegan diet...
...we want to leave the fish left alone in the sea with their scaly fish friends.
However even if you allow animal products in your diet fish oil is a pretty shitty option for several reasons.
Many fish oil supplements on the market are oxidized, or using the colloquial term rancid.
No wonder seeing as the fish first has to be caught, transported to shore where it's then fractionated into fish oil, then stored in large tanks and shipped away to a factory for further refining, this refining process involving several steps including repeated heating at high temperatures and deodorisation to remove undesirable taste and rancidity.
So as a consumer you've more or less no idea where the fish oil originally came from, how old it is and how many steps of refinement and heating it has undergone.
Furthermore there's one more problem with fish oil:
Fat-soluble pollutants, such as polychlorinated biphenyls, may biomagnify in marine food chains and may end up in concentrated amounts in your fish oil supplements.
One study done on rats found that fish oil (contaminated with aspolychlorinated biphenyls and organochlorine pesticides) showed significant negative effects on oxidative stress and antioxidant capacity in rats.
What to Look For in a Quality Vegan Omega-3 Supplement
By choosing a vegan omega-3 supplement instead of fish oil we don't have to ingest contaminants like heavy metals, bioaccumulated toxins and pollutants.
And it's also more environmentally friendly and sustainable.
But how do we separate great products from sub-optimal ones?
Well first of all you want a product with plenty of both EPA & DHA - so you ensure you get enough of these important nutrients with each serving.
So do make sure to examine any omega-3 supplement by scanning the nutrition label for the amounts of EPA & DHA included.
As a rule of thumb, more is better.
Now the label might say each pill contains 1100 mg of omega-3...
...but if you take a closer look there's only 200 mg of EPA & DHA. The rest 900 mg of omega-3 might be in the form of ALA or some other fatty acid.
Secondly, make sure to take a good look at the source of the omega-3:
We certainly don't want to accidently take rancid fish oil. The product should clearly state that the omega-3 is derived from algae and nothing else.
To ensure quality and purity the supplement should also be produced to GMP certified standards and tested by an independent or third-party testing group.
And if you want to avoid the distinct "seaweedy/fishy" omega-3 burps, look for ingredients such as lemon or peppermint to mask this odor.
What Ingredients to Avoid
As noted above, definitely make sure your omega-3 is not derived from fish oil.
Furthermore you'd be suprised by the many ways that animal products sneak their way into many innocent supplements.
Be on the lookout for gelatin - used as a gelling agent, thickener, and stabilizer to make the soft shell of capsules. Gelatin is super-not-vegan as it's made from boiling a bunch of different animal products.
Instead of gelatin many vegan omega-3 supplements use carrageenan instead, a gelling agent derived from red seaweed.
While it sounds rather harmless there's some controversy surrounding this food addtive:
Some evidence suggests that carrageenan initiates inflammation in human colonic epithelial cells and that degraded carrageenan, known as poligeenan, has cancer-promoting effects.
Now it's very important to make the distinction between carrageenan and degraded carrageenan, the latter exhibiting toxic effects that carrageenan doesn't.
A review from 2014 deemed carrageenan to be safe as it isn't degraded by the GI tract and basically flows through our system as any fiber would.
There's still some questions marks as the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) recently recommended that carrageenan should be removed as an allowed ingredient in organic foods The USDA will make a final decision in 2018.
Recommendations for Vegan Omega-3 Supplements
There are plenty of options for vegans that want to ensure an adequate intake of EPA and DHA, without wrecking the fish population and ingesting toxins and pollutants.
To make this easier for you I've listed the best cruelty-free omega-3 supplements.
It would get very repetitive, very fast if I mentioned the health benefits of EPA & DHA with every product - hence I'll focus the reviews moreso on the quality of the supplement rather than the health aspects which I've already elaborated on.
Bloom Algae-Based Omega-3 is a great vegan supplement that definitely packs an omega-3 punch.
Each serving provides plenty of these crucial nutrients: 336 mg DHA, 158 EPA, and lo and behold, 36 mg of DPA.
So what stands out immediately is the large amounts of omega-3's - which is great.
Noteworthy is also the inclusion of docosapentaenoic acid (DPA) - an elongated form of EPA. While the focus often revolves around the health benefits of EPA & DHA, research suggests that DPA can help prevent blood clots and wound healing as well as reduce inflammation.
Bloom omega-3 is made from farm-raised non-GMO algae and processed in a GMP certified facility which ensures quality and purity. You can rest assured that this supplement is free of any ocean-borne toxins, pollutants and contaminants.
As it's derived from farm-raised algae and includes natural lemon and peppermint flavouring these won’t give you the dreaded “seaweed/fish burps".
The ingredient list is also super clean and is one of few algae-based supplements that doesn't contain carrageenan. Vitamin E is added for its antioxidative powers to prevent any fatty acids from oxidizing.
Users report good experiences with no "fish-burps" or any other issues with digestion.
Nested Naturals Vegan Omega-3 will take care of your EPA & DHA needs with ease.
Each serving contains 200 mg DHA, 100 mg EPA, and 67 mg of unspecified forms of omega-3.
What I like about this particular product is the minimalistic approach to the ingredients used. If you look at the nutrition label it's quite uncluttered, there's nothing there that doesn't have to be there (and also free from carrageenan)
I also like that they've opted to use a natural anti-oxidant to preserve the omega-3 fatty acids: each serving contains 100 mg of green tea extract.
The vegan algal oil is derived from marine algae grown sustainably on a farm, not harvested from the ocean, which means you get pure and high-quality supplement. Third party testing further ensures there's no contamination or other toxins present.
Now on the flipside the simple ingredient list means there are nothing to mask the fishy/seaweedy/oceany flavor - which might give it a not so pleasant smell. (however if you prefer a no frills, basic omega-3 supplement this will be your best bet)
The pills are quite large, 2.5 cm long and 0.7 cm, wide which is a downside for those that struggle with swallowing large pills.
Ovega-3 Vegetarian/Vegan Omega-3 is a popular cruelty-free supplement to get your precious plant-based EPA & DHA.
What I like about this product is that each serving contains a heaping 270 mg DHA and 135 mg EPA - which is a very good dosage for the long-chain omega-3s.
This supplement delivers high quality, sustainable omega-3s without a fishy aftertaste or risk of ocean-borne pollutants and toxins. It also contains rosemary extract and antioxidants such as vitamin E and C to prevent oxidation.
However what makes this product less attractive is that it contains seemingly unnecesary ingredients such as corn starch (?), beta carotene, sorbitol and caramel color. It also contains the somewhat controversial carrageenan if that bothers you.
Users report that the pills are quite large but still easy to swallow with no mention of the "fishy-burps" some products result in.
Amala Vegan Omega-3 Supplement provides the important long-chain omega-3's that also suits the vegan lifestyle.
Each serving contains 120 mg DHA, 72 mg EPA and 13 mg DPA.
As this supplement is made from an eco-friendly and sustainable algae-farm, it results in a product free of toxins such as mercury, PCB's, and dioxin.
To avoid the fishy aftertaste and "sea-weed" burps it features a delayed release formula and natural lemon and peppermint flavors. It also contains rosemary extract and antioxidants such as vitamin E and C to keep the fatty acids free from oxidation.
This product is free from the controversial carrageenan and presents a relatively clean nutrition label.
Users report overall good experiences and that the peppermint flavor effectively conceals any fishy burps.
One negative is that each serving doesn't provide plenty of omega-3's - about half compared to other brands. However you do get 90 pills in a container so you could just up the dosage to 2 pills.
Best Vegan Omega-3 Supplement in UK
I've gotten quite a few requests to include a vegan omega-3 product available for fellow vegans across the pond - well here it is:
Norsan Omega-3 Oil Vegan unlike the usual softgels comes as a liquid, and I have to say it is quite possibly the best product in this article:
Firstly, the ingredient list is super clean with no carrageenan and only the algae oil, some olive oil and antioxidants to prevent oxidation of the precious omega-3s.
Secondly the algae oil is sourced from environmentally friendly and sustainable farms, guaranteed free of heavy metals and PCBs.
But here's the amazing feature - per 5 ml serving you get a whopping 714 mg EPA and 1176 mg DHA (!) Doing the math it's approximately 400% more compared to all of the other supplements detailed here.
Honestly I'd recommend to cut the serving in half and take it every other day as it still will be more than enough. That way it's also going to last way longer and save you a couple pounds. Double win!
Definitely a bummer that this product is not available on the US market.
In conclusion: the top pick
OUR TOP PICK
Out of the products listed the Bloom Algae-Based Vegan Omega 3 DHA & EPA would my top recommendation.
It provides good value and a heaping dosage of the long-chain omega-3s (including DPA) per serving, it's made from farm-raised non-GMO algae with a very clean ingredient list free from carrageenan, and includes natural lemon and peppermint so you'll avoid "sea-weed" burps.
Well - that's it for vegan omega-3 supplements. I hope you learned a thing or two.
PS. If you found this article helpful make sure to share it with others as well!
How to Find The Best Vegan Omega-3 Supplement (Fish Oil Alternative)