In my last article, I gave the low-down on essential fatty acids; why you need them, and where you can get them from…
I highlighted the issue that there are no plant-based sources of omega-3 essential fatty-acids that the body can use with significant benefit. That’s bad news for vegetarians and vegans or anyone who doesn’t eat fish. When your essential fats get out of balance you are opening yourself up to a bunch of nasty health complications such as inflammation, stress, and disease. By eating fish or taking a fish or krill supplement you keep your body in balance, keeping inflammation under control.
Vegetarians and vegans are often told that if they supplement with plant-based essential fats, typically found in things like flax seeds/oil, chia, walnuts, etc., you’ll get the right amount of omega-3 fats. Sorry, but this is totally wrong. You can’t, because the type of omega-3 fats found in plants are not the same as what’s found in animal products. Again, feel free to check out my last article for a more thorough explanation.
So if you are vegetarian or vegan, or just don’t want to take a fish or krill oil supplement, are you screwed?
Nope! I come bearing good news. There is a supplement that is vegetarian and vegan friendly and will help you get the right kind of essential fats your body can use.
It is called algae oil.
Algae are simple microorganisms that are similar to plants, in that they make their own food through photosynthesis. I still find it a little puzzling why vegetarians or even vegans are ok with eating these little guys, because they are not technically considered a plant by their scientific taxonomy. I would guess it’s because they are extremely simple organisms—much simpler than even plants, algae is a safe option for the plant-based diet people.
Algae contains mostly DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), but also has a fair amount of EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) inside them as well. These are the essential fats our body can readily use without the poor conversion that results when we consume their plant-based counterparts. Interestingly, algae is also why fish have such high levels of DHA and EPA fats… fish eat algae and other creatures who eat algae (1)! Amazing.
To get the best results, it is best to take at least 1 gram per day. If you’re trying to lose weight or suffering from chronic inflammation or stress, you could increase the amount to up to 4 grams taken twice a day.
Some Problems with Algae Supplementation
The big downside to taking an algae supplement is that it is super expensive, much more expensive than fish oil or other comparable, high-quality omega-3 supplements. And if you want to take the dosage I recommend, that means generally a month supply will cost you 2-4 bottles more than what is recommended on the label.
Don’t take the Capsule Version
I also don’t recommend taking any version of algae oil in capsule form. The reason for this is because it appears that most algae supplements use a red seaweed extract called carrageenan. A researcher at the University of Illinois College of Medicine published over 18-peer-reviewed studies demonstrating that the undegraded version of carrageenan, which is the only version that can be used in supplements and foods, was linked to stomach problems, glucose intolerance, and impaired insulin action—which can cause weight gain and diabetes, and let’s not forget cancer and inflammation too. In fact, the pharmaceutical establishment has known this for a while; they have even used carrageenan to increase tissue inflammation for testing anti-inflammatory drugs (2)! This is a problem, because as noted in my last article, inflammation can cause many long term diseases, such as cancer or alzheimer’s disease. We want to use essential fatty acid supplements to decrease inflammation… not further increase our inflammatory burden.
Carrageenan is a fairly common food additive, too. Not only is it used often in the capsules for vegetarian supplements, but it is also found commonly in almond milk, yogurt, cottage cheese, and many processed foods. Organic packaged foods can still contain carrageenan, too.
If you’re freaked out and want to know more, here’s a great guide from Cornucopia.org listing various foods that may contain carrageenan: Get The Shopping Guide And Avoid Carrageenan
So yeah… there might be some capsuled algae supplements out there that might not use carrageenan, but I haven’t been able to find any.
To simplify this process, go for the liquid algae oil supplements—not the capsule version. The best one I could find is Nordic Naturals – Algae Omega.
Update: It appears that even, Nordic Naturals contains carrageenan. 🙁 I’m currently looking for another alternative. Will update soon!
With this version, you would have to take about 3 mL worth to meet my recommended gram amount. That’s a little bit more than a teaspoon. If you’re interested in taking 2-4 grams, just space it out throughout the day, taking 3 mL per dose. Take it with food.
So if you are vegan or vegetarian and don’t want to consume fish oil, you need to take an algae oil. It’s a bummer that you will end up spending more money, but you gotta do what you gotta do. Having your body’s inflammatory system in balance is critical for optimal health. Again, here’s a link to my recommendation.
Thanks for reading and if you have any questions about algae oil, please leave a comment below. I’ll be writing another article super soon on yet another omega-3 supplement to help show you which ones are the best on the market.