Probably most people have read or heard about the vegan couple convicted of starving their child to death in Atlanta, May 2007.
I know that for vegans, certainly vegan parents like me, such tragic events do make them look irresponsible. We have to debate again about our choices and whether our diet meets the needs to stay healthy. To my opinion this debating has a good part: It is very important that vegans do keep on looking critically to their diet and they have to improve it constantly.
I want to go to a part of the article ‘Death by Veganism’ of the New York Times about DHA:
It is difficult to overstate the importance of DHA, vital as it is for eye and brain development.
Why are the fatty acids DHA and EPA so important?
The human brain consists of over 60% fat of which essential fatty acids are an integral component. The essential fatty acids docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) are the primary structural fat in both the gray matter of the brain and the retina of the eye, therefore these essential fatty acids are essential for brain and eye development and function.
DHA plus EPA are both considered to have beneficial effects in the prevention and management of cardiovascular disease in particular EPA is converted into a powerful anti-inflammatory agent and is thought to possess beneficial potential in mental conditions, such as schizophrenia, depression and ADHD.
How important is it to take vegetable sources of DHA/EPA?
The most well-known direct source of Omega-3 fatty acids such as DHA and EPA come from cold-water fish, particularly cod, tuna, salmon, halibut, shark and mackerel.
Just realize that for every 1-kilo of pure fish oil produced, it takes 500 kilos of fish bodies.
Health recommendations advise increased consumption of oily fish and fish oils within limits, on the grounds that intake is generally low. People urgently need to re-consider their omega-3 resource out of fish (only).
Detailed information can be found in the website Fishing Hurts;
Yet commercial fishers kill hundreds of billions of animals every year—far more than any other industry—and they havevha decimated our ocean ecosystems. In fact, 90 percent of large fish populations have been exterminated in the past 50 years and a recent report published in the academic journal Science, estimates that by the year 2048 our oceans will have been completely over-fished.
Lifeless oceans may encourage growth in the fish-farming industry but the FAO is concerned that even fish farming will not be able to meet the demand for fish, since farmed fish need to be fed 5 pounds of commercially-caught fish for every 1 found of fish flesh they produce.
Fish do not produce omega-3, fish convert the essential fats from algae into these fats and then accumulate them up the food chain. Now we have the opportunity to cut out the middle man and just consume algae based EPA and DHA ourselves…
People also should realize that some types of fish contain high levels of mercury, PCB poly-chlorinated biphenyls), dioxins and other environmental contaminants. Some species of fish may contain significant levels of methyl-mercury, considered one of the more dangerous food contaminants today. (Read more on methyl-mercury health risks)
In general, older, larger predatory fish and marine mammals, such as swordfish and seals, tend to contain the highest levels of these contaminants. PCB and methyl-mercury are believed to have long half-lives in the body and can accumulate in people who consume contaminated fish on a frequent basis.
Which are important Vegan sources of Omega-3?
DHA and EPA can be made (in small amounts) from the omega-3 oil alpha-linolenic acid (ALA or LNA) found in large quantities in seeds such as flax, hemp and pumpkin, in moderate amounts in walnuts or in small amounts in soy and green leafy vegetables.
Only about 3-5% of the ALA consumed becomes either DHA or EPA in HEALTHY individuals. Through a series of enzyme-controlled reactions the body converts this ALA into a number of vital fatty acids including EPA and DHA.
To maximize conversion of DHA/EPA;
1. Reduce intake of omega-6 fatty acids (mainly from processed foods and omega-6-rich oils such as sunflower oil, safflower oil, corn oil, soy oil and grape seed oil).
2. Limit intake which inhibit conversion; alcohol, saturated and trans fats (from animal foods and processed foods), smoking, caffeine, viral infections, stress and excess intake of vitamin A and copper.
3. Include good sources of the nutrients which aid essential fat conversion – zinc, magnesium, calcium, biotin and vitamins B6, B3 and C.
4. Make most of your fat intake mono unsaturated fats (olives, olive oil, canola oil, avocados, nuts and nut oils).
5. Include sufficient omega-3 fatty acids in the daily diet (flaxseed, flaxseed oil and hemp seed oil, canola oil, walnuts, green leafy vegetables). For most adults 3-4 grams per day is a reasonable intake.
6. Eat a nutritious diet – poor intakes of energy, protein and certain vitamins and minerals can reduce conversion.
The process of converting ALA to either DHA or EPA is hindered in various disease states and requires that some people receive a direct source of DHA from their diet or supplementation.
vegans and Vegetarians have lower blood levels of DHA and EPA due to its virtual absence in foods of plant origin. There are a number of sea vegetables that have some EPA and DHA, but since the amount of fat in seaweed is usually so low, they are NOT reliable sources.
Plant-based DHA/EPA supplements are available!
vegans and Vegetarians certainly should consider them, especially pregnant women for the baby’s brain and nervous system development and for up growing children (Read more on the importance of DHA for both groups).
There is now an algae-derived oil that has both DHA and EPA, suitable for vegans and vegetarians.
Fish obtain both their DHA and EPA ultimately from the consumption of algae, which is also now more widely available to the public as the only “plant”-based source of DHA and EPA. See below the follwoing links where you can order your vegan source of the essential fatty acids!
Water4life; Omega-3 DHA/EPA vegan capsules
NuTru; Omega-3 in liquid form, they state it is easy to give to children trough their food (yogurt, cereals e.a.),
although our baby didn’t like it at all.
Both you can order from VeganEssentials, as where there are other brands available.
Opti3; Currently(2018) we are using Opti3. It has both DHA and EPA, plus it has the hard to get supplement Vegen D3 included!
Dr. Fuhrmans DHAPurity; This one actually tastes not bad. You can take it in as a liquid, without the fish-taste-horror (the only one our baby accepts). Fuhrman states that the other oils are “rotten”. Very strong statements, to say about your concurrents product, I cannot judge about this. It does taste much much better though, the other ones are cheaper.
Some of these (non-organic) DHA oils might be extracted from the algae with the chemical hexane.
Many (mass market) oils are extracted with hexane, this because it is a very efficient process; extracting 95% of the oil present in the algae/seeds etc.
Apparently hexane is most harmfull for the environment, but consumers are concerned about potential chemical residues, so am I.
I am currently looking further into the possible Health risks, if you want to be sure you get hexane-free DHA oil you can get it from;
Spectrum (on which you find more info)
Now-foods(ordered via Vegan Essentials)
If you know other suppliers or info, please link and share it in the comment-section.
DHA/EPA omega-3 Institute
Foods for life
Veg Family: Vegan Nutrition with Brenda Davis