Vegetarianism 101: Where do you get your Essential Fatty Acids?

What are Essential Fatty Acids?

Essential fatty acids are fatty acids that our body needs but cannot synthesize on its own. These include linolenic acid (LA) an omega-6 fatty acid, α- linolenic (ALA) which is an omega-3 fatty acid. Omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids contribute to the membrane structure of our cells, provide a source of energy and have anti-inflammatory effects.

Our bodies use ALA to convert to eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). DHA is important for growth and development of our visual and neurological system and particularly helpful in childhood. EPA contributes to neurological function and can help with behaviour, academic performance, focus and attention.

ALA is the form of fatty acid that can be found from plant-based sources, while EPA and DHA can be found in fish. To get an adequate amount of EPA and DHA, it is recommended to consume about 2 servings of fatty fish a week.

If you are wondering which fish is fatty, remember S.M.A.S.H (salmon, mackerel, anchovies, sardines and herring)

ALA conversion to EPA and DHA can differ on the person. Studies found that healthy young women convert approximately 21% of the ALA they consume to EPA and 9% to DHA, while healthy young men convert approximately 8% of ALA to EPA and 0-4% to DHA (1). This means, that if you are eating a plant based diet, you have to ensure you consume some form of ALA every day.

The recommended daily intake of ALA is currently 1,100 mg for women and 1,600 mg for men (2).

Benefits of Essential Fatty Acids

  • Contribute to the making of neurotransmitters and hormones
  • Healthy brain function and mental clarity
  • Effective against inflammatory conditions such as eczema and arthiritis
  • Activate T- cells, contributing to proper function of immune system

What are some sources of plant-based essential fatty acids?


The following are a few vegetarian sources of ALA, but they are not the only ones! ALA can also be found in beans, green leafy vegetables and some fruit.

Chia Seeds: 28 grams of Chia seeds contain 4,915 mg of ALA (3)

Hemp Seeds: 28 grams contain 6,00 mg of ALA

Walnuts: 28 grams contain 2,542 mg ALA

Flax seeds: 28 grams contains 6,588 mg ALA

Perillia Oil: 1 Tbsp (14g) contains 9,00 mg ALA


Algal oil, derived from algae is unique because it is a vegan source of both EPA and DHA. This can be found as a supplement, in soft-gel or liquid form.

Vegetarian Tip of the week

Make a smoothie every day, and add 1 tablespoon of 1 or all of the following: chia seeds, hemp seeds and flax seeds. This will provide you with more than enough ALA for the day , and some of your daily protein intake too. See last week’s post about protein here > link

If you don’t drink smoothies some other options are:

  • Add a tbsp of hemp seeds on top of your salads
  • Make chia seed puddings
  • Add ground flax seeds (flaxseed meal) in the batter of your baked goods
  • Eat walnuts as a snack

Check back in next week for a new post with some tips for success with a vegetarian diet.

If you would like to book a vegetarian transition consult with Raluca and get 1-on-1 guidance you can book here

  1. Essential Fatty Acids. Linus Pauling Institute. Oregon State University.
  2. Omega-3 Fatty acids, National Insititues of Health.

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