Omega-3 fatty acids are an essential part of your diet. These friendly fats are essential because your body cannot produce them. You MUST eat them. These anti-inflammatory fats help ward off heart disease, can help prevent stroke, cancer and other chronic diseases.
Since your body cannot produce Omega-3s - you must consume them in your diet or from a supplement. Keep in mind, there are two main sources of Omega-3's.
Those sourced from plants are called ALA's (alpha linoleic acid and alpha linolenic acid). Those sourced from seafood and other animal products show up as EPA and DHA (eicosapentaenoic acid and docosahexaenoic acid). These fats are potent regulators of inflammation, and help to decrease amount of inflammatory chemicals produced with excess consumption of other types of fat.
Omega-3's consumed from plant foods require further processing for our body to produce the necessary EPA needed for health. However, further conversion of EPA by the liver to DHA occurs at a rate of only around 15% (1), and possibly not in life-sustaining amounts.
DHA is a vital for life and found in especially high levels in the retina of the eye, brain, and in sperm.
So the bottom line is - whether you are following a vegan diet or not - it's a good idea to choose foods rich in omega-3's from food sources that provide DHA in adequate amounts.
Vegan Sources of Omega-3's
Other sources of Omega-3's
Fatty fish - Salmon, Sardines, Mackerel, Tuna, Sea-bass, Trout, Herring, Anchovies, Caviar
Crustaceans - Oysters, Shrimp, Scallops, Lobster
Cod Liver Oil
Some Pasture-raised meats and poultry - beef (as ALA), lamb, veal, duck, turkey, chicken
If you are curious about which foods contain Omega-3's - or any other type of nutrient for that matter - just query the the USDA's Food Composition Database - you can search for the ALA, EPA, DHA (all of these are omega-3 fatty acids) and see all of the foods that contain these healthy fats.
Harris WS. Omega-3 fatty acids. In: Coates PM, Betz JM, Blackman MR, et al., eds. Encyclopedia of Dietary Supplements. 2nd ed. London and New York: Informa Healthcare; 2010:577-86.