Omega-3s from Plants

Omega-3s from Plants

Gabe Mirkin, M.D.
Many people know that they can get the healthful omega-3 fatty acids 
from fish, but the omega-3 fatty acids in seeds such as whole grains 
may be even more important in maintaining your health. 

Omega-3 fatty acids are the least stable fats in our diet. Whole 
grains contain vitamin E to keep the omega-3s fresh and prevent them 
from turning rancid, but omega-3 fatty acids in fish are not 
protected by vitamin E and therefore turn rancid very quickly. 

Three huge studies, The Lyon Heart Study, the GISSI Prevenzione 
Trial, and in The Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension Study have 
established that omega-3 fish oils help to prevent heart attacks and 
reduce pain and swelling in diseases such as arthritis, psoriasis, 
and possibly even asthma. Recent research shows that the omega-3 
alpha linoleic acids in seeds, nuts, beans and whole grain may be as 
necessary as the omega-3s in fish oils to prevent heart attacks. 

Omega-3s found in fish oils are mostly long chain fatty acids. 
Omega-3s in plants, particularly seeds, contain much shorter chains 
and are weaker than the omega-3s found in fish. However, the shorter 
chain omega-3s, particularly alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), found in 
leafy greens and seeds are converted to the long chain fatty acids 
in the human body. Long- chain fish omega-3s enter blood and cells 
more rapidly and produce more rapid effects than short chain plant 

Over the long haul, humans must get omega-3s from plants, as well as 
fish, because all omega-3s break down very quickly when exposed to 
oxygen in your body, and you need large amounts of vitamin E to 
prevent omega-3s from turning rancid. Fish oils are extremely low in 
vitamin E, while virtually every seed or plant source of omega-3s is 
loaded also with vitamin E. So your body stores far more short chain 
omega-3s from plants in your body fat.

Dietary fats are classified by their chemical structure into 
saturated, polyunsaturated and mono unsaturated. The polyunsaturated 
fats are further sub-classified into omega-3, omega-6 and omega-9. 
Omega-3 polyunsaturated fats prevent heart attacks and high blood 
pressure by helping thin blood, relax arteries and prevent clotting. 
Over millions of years, humans have consumed a diet that contained 
approximately equal amounts of omega-6 and omega-3 essential fatty 
acids, but over the past 150 years, humans have increased their 
consumption of omega-6s by using large amounts of vegetable oils 
from the seeds of corn, sunflower, safflower, cotton and soybeans. 
These oils are used in most prepared foods, frozen foods, 
margarines, French fries, potato chips, and bakery products. Today 
Americans eat a diet with a ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids 
that is almost 20 times higher in omega-6s than omega-3s, instead of 
the optimal ratio of about 2:1. To meet your needs for short chain 
omega-3 fatty acids found in plants, eat lots of green leafy 
vegetables, and seeds such as flaxseed, whole grains, beans and 

Omega-3 fatty acids in wild plants, nuts and seeds. Asia Pacific 
Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 2002, Vol 11, Suppl. 6, pp S163-S173. 
AP Simopoulos. Simopoulos AP, Ctr Genet Nutr & Hlth, 2001 S St, NW, 
Suite 530, Washington,DC 20009 USA

Checked 8/3/12