While malnutrition and vitamin deficiencies are running rampant in our country regardless of dietary preferences, it often seems like vegetarians and vegans face the most scrutiny over nutrition deficiencies. If it's not the typical protein query (which is the least of our concerns) it's often a question of vitamin B or calcium deficiencies. But where we do face nutrition issues is with healthy fats and those critically important omega fatty acids.Read more about the best sources for omega-3s
As a nation, we're just crawling our way out of decades of fat restrictions, as fat was believed to be the cause of our skyrocketing obesity and other serious health issues. So, we took the fat out of many foods, and replaced it with the real culprit in our expanding waist lines: sugar. Now, as the valuable benefits of healthy fats are finally getting the credit they deserve, it's no wonder we're facing so much confusion on the subject. Which fats are healthy? Which foods contain them? How do we know if we're getting enough of them?
Fish are often cited as the best source of omega-fatty acids despite the fact that they swim in polluted oceans and rivers picking up toxins, heavy metals and plastics that are not healthy to consume, no matter how rich the fish may be in omega fats (many of those toxins are actually stored in the fat).
Now, Loma Linda University is pointing to some interesting data on vegetarians and omega fats. According to researchers from the university, it turns out that even with a significantly lower consumption of omega-fatty acids such as EPA and DHA, vegans and vegetarians are considerably less likely to develop heart disease than non-vegetarians. (Omega fats are believed to be vital in reducing the risk of heart disease.) Furthermore, a vegetarian who consumes a well-balanced diet rich in fiber and plant-based omega-3 fatty acids found in most nuts, olive oil, flax, hemp and chia seeds will almost always have better cardiovascular health than their non-vegetarian counterparts.
Of the many omega-fatty acids, EPA and DHA are rare in plants and are more common in fish and some dairy products. The researchers also looked at the body's ability to utilize ALA, which is more common in plant sources of omega fats. They found that there may not be a need for vegans and vegetarians to be concerned over their direct consumption of EPA and DHA. Studies even suggested that supplementing a diet with high doses of DHA from say, algae, could actually raise unhealthy LDL cholesterol levels.Read more about managing your cholesterol
While more research is needed on the subject, it is clear that omega fats from plant foods play a vital role in a healthy vegan or vegetarian diet and assist in combatting nutrition deficiencies.
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Photo Credit: Colin Dunn