I heard that Omega 3 is hard for vegans to get yet is essential for general health, even more so for athletes because it helps increase endurance and lean body mass by improving fat metabolism. How do you deal with this?
It’s true that Omega 3 is essential for good health. In fact, along with omega 6, omega 3 is categorized as an essential fatty acid (EFA). Being labelled essential simply means that the body cannot manufacture it from other nutrients; it must be present in the diet for good health to be achieved.
Omega 6, on one hand, is very easy to obtain. You would have to eat a poor diet consistently to fall short of the body’s requirement for omega 6. It is found in most nuts, seeds, legumes, tofu and also, to a lesser degree, in many fruits, vegetables and grains. The only caution here is to be sure to consume the nuts and seeds in raw form; otherwise the fat will be altered by roasting, and, therefore, less usable by the body.
On the other hand, omega 3 is less plentiful, but equally important. The most common source of omega 3 is salmon. Obviously, this is of little help to vegans like you and me. Interesting to note is that salmon is not as good a source as it used to be. Farmed salmon have considerably less omega 3 than their wild counterparts. Omega 3 levels in wild salmon are also declining. The algae they eat, giving their meat a high omega 3 content, is declining in both quantity and quality due to less-than-ideal environmental conditions.
The greatest plant source of omega 3 fatty acids is flaxseeds. In order for the body to digest and utilize the nutrients, the seeds must be ground into coarse flour. I personally use a coffee grinder. Once every two weeks I’ll grind about a pound, put it into a glass container, and store it in the fridge to protect the EFA’s from becoming rancid. If I don’t plan on using all the ground flax within two weeks, I’ll store it in the freezer to insure freshness.
Flaxseeds are also available pre-ground. If you buy them in this form, make sure they are in an airtight container or have been kept in the fridge or freezer. Also, be sure not to buy flax meal. Flax meal is little more than fiber, with all the EFA’s removed by pressing.