Omega-3 Fatty Acids Come From Green Plants

The food indus­try has been urg­ing me to eat fish. The sup­ple­ment com­pa­nies have been urg­ing me to take fish oil sup­ple­ments. They claim that omega-3 fat­ty acids pre­vent heart attacks. Some peo­ple even claim that preg­nant women need to eat fish or fish oil. But in real­i­ty, green plants are an excel­lent source of the essen­tial omega-3 fat­ty acid. This could explain why peo­ple who rarely if ever eat fish can have healthy hearts and healthy brains. In fact, the health­i­est pop­u­la­tions are the ones that eat very lit­tle fat of any kind and lots of veg­eta­bles.

Where Do Omega 3 Fatty Acids Come From?

All of the omega-3 fat­ty acid in the food sup­ply came orig­i­nal­ly from the green plants and blue-green algae (cyanobac­te­ria). These plants and algae are at the bot­tom of the food chain. They con­tain an omega-3 fat­ty acid called alpha-linolenic acid. This fat­ty acid comes from the thy­lakoid mem­branes that are involved in pho­to­syn­the­sis.

No ani­mal can make an omega-3 fat­ty acid. Ani­mals do not have the enzymes that would put a dou­ble-bond in the omega-3 posi­tion in the fat­ty acid. How­ev­er, ani­mals can length­en the car­bon chain of an omega-3 fat­ty acid. Thus, fish and oth­er ani­mals (includ­ing human beings) can con­vert alpha-linolenic acid to longer-chain omega-3 fat­ty acids. The two most impor­tant ones are eicos­apen­taenoic acid (EPA) and docosa­hexaenoic acid (DHA). You can find EPA and DHA in fish but not in most plants.

Which Omega-3 Fatty Acid Is Essential?

Accord­ing to the Food and Nutri­tion Board of the Nation­al Acad­e­my of Sci­ences, only one omega-3 fat­ty acid is essen­tial in human nutri­tion. It is alpha-linolenic acid, which comes from the chloro­plas­ts of green plants. You can get this omega-3 fat­ty acid by eat­ing green veg­eta­bles. Flaxseeds, hempseed, and wal­nuts are also good sources of alpha-linolenic acid.

There is also an essen­tial omega-6 fat­ty acid: linole­ic acid. It is easy to find in grains, nuts, and seeds. In fact, many peo­ple wor­ry about an imbal­ance between the omega-6 and omega-3 fat­ty acids. To solve that prob­lem, eat a low-fat diet. Add some wal­nuts or a spoon­ful of ground flaxseed to your cere­al in the morn­ing.

You need only a small amount of these two essen­tial fat­ty acids from your food. This need was not even dis­cov­ered until hos­pi­tal­ized patients were being fed noth­ing but sug­ar solu­tions.  To meet a patient’s need for the essen­tial fat­ty acids, you can just rub a lit­tle bit of veg­etable oil on his or her skin.

It is prac­ti­cal­ly impos­si­ble to find real cas­es of fat­ty acid defi­cien­cy. This prob­lem could hap­pen only in peo­ple who can­not absorb fat from their food. It has hap­pened in peo­ple who were being fed arti­fi­cial, fat-free diets.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids Are Blood Thinners

For years, many peo­ple have been urg­ing the pub­lic to eat fish or take fish oil sup­ple­ments, to reduce the risk of heart attack. Pop­u­la­tions that eat a lot of omega-3 acids from cold-water fish do have few­er heart attacks than you would pre­dict from know­ing their fat intake. How­ev­er, this is prob­a­bly because omega-3 fat­ty acids thin the blood. The blood thin­ning effect could also lead to more deaths from major bleed­ing.

It’s easy to make your­self heart-attack-proof. Just eat a low-fat, plant-based diet to keep your total cho­les­terol below 150 mg/dL.

Breast Milk and Baby Formula

Some man­u­fac­tur­ers have been adding DHA to baby for­mu­la. The goal is to get the for­mu­la to be more like breast milk. Yet we do not know if that DHA does the baby any good.  If you give long-chain omega-3 fat­ty acids, you might have to give arachi­don­ic acid as well.

I do not know if any­one would ben­e­fit from tak­ing DHA or EPA. If so, they can get it from an algae source. Algae farms are sus­tain­able. Also, algae would con­tain less of the pol­lu­tants that build up in ani­mal tis­sue.

Pho­to by albert­straub

2 thoughts on “Omega-3 Fatty Acids Come From Green Plants”

  1. If you real­ly want to make your­self heart-attack-proof, eat a low-fat, plant-based diet to keep your total cho­les­terol below 150 mg/dL.” Why does it mat­ter how you get your TC <150? Sup­pose you get it on a NON low fat plant based diet??

    1. It’s very hard to keep your cho­les­terol <150 mg/dL when you are eat­ing a fat­ty diet, regard­less of whether the fat comes from plants or ani­mals. Plants con­tain prac­ti­cal­ly no cho­les­terol, and the fiber in plants will help to car­ry the cho­les­terol in your bile out of your sys­tem before it can be reab­sorbed. How­ev­er, even a pure­ly plant-based (veg­an) diet can lead to coro­nary artery dis­ease if it con­tains too much fat.

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