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Essential fatty acids: New options for vegetarians
By Keri Marshall, MS, ND

Omega-3 essential fatty acids (EFAs) are currently the most researched nutritional supplement in the world. As mounting research raises awareness of the vital importance of dietary omega-3s, demand for omega-3 supplements in a variety of delivery systems grows. Fish oil is still considered the best source of essential fatty acids, but for people who follow a vegetarian or vegan diet, or for those who want the benefits of marine omega-3s without consuming fish, viable alternatives are now available. The most promising are algae oils.

Why we need omega-3s:
Omega-3s are considered "essential" because they are required for optimal health but cannot be produced by our bodies, and, therefore, must be consumed daily through diet or supplementation. The EFAs we consume reside in our cell membranes, where they impact every biological process in our bodies—such as cell division, circulation, and blood pressure. Omega-3s are clinically proven to support the body's natural anti-inflammatory response, which in turn optimizes heart, brain, metabolic, joint, and tissue health. With adequate intake of EFAs, cells function properly, and overall health is supported.

The two most important EFAs are the omega-3s eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). The best source of these fats continues to be high-quality fish oil, which supplies the rich nutrients from fish, without the concern around toxins and environmental contaminants. In response to demand by those wanting a non-fish omega-3 source, viable vegetarian alternatives are becoming more widely available.

Traditional plant-based alternatives fall short
For years, individuals preferring a vegetarian source of omega-3s turned to flaxseed products as a source of essential fatty acids. The primary fat found in flaxseed is alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), a plant-derived, parent compound omega-3 that is not readily converted to EPA and DHA. Conversion rates from ALA to EPA and DHA are very low with research showing that approximately 1% or less converts to DHA, under optimal conditions. While flaxseed and flaxseed oil contain many health-promoting benefits, this specific vegetarian source alone does not provide the necessary amounts of EPA and DHA required by most people in their daily diet.

Algae oils: Marine omega-3 without fish
Marine omega-3s are the most reliable and effective source of EPA and DHA. Algae oil, made from microalgae, has recently become a popular marine-based, vegetarian alternative to fish oil for its relatively comparable potency to non-concentrated fish oils and for its sustainability.

Microalgae, also called phytoplankton, are microscopic algae. The foundation of the marine food chain, they are naturally abundant in essential fats and are considered nature's original source of marine omega-3s. In fact, the reason that salmon, cod, sardines, and other cold-water fish are high in omega-3s is because they consume a diet rich in microalgae by way of eating smaller fish, lower on the food chain, who themselves feed on these tiny plants.

The first algae oils to be marketed were high in DHA, which supports and protects the brain, eyes, nervous, and immune systems. They were, however, low in EPA, which is also necessary to maintain a healthy heart and circulatory system, and enhance joint flexibility and movement.

Experts agree that people need a minimum of 500 mg of the omega-3s EPA and DHA, with a relatively balanced ratio of both EPA and DHA.

Nordic Naturals® Algae Omega™ a great option
Nordic Naturals Algae Omega is a 100% vegetarian marine omega-3 supplement that contains expert-recommended daily amounts-per-serving of the key essential fatty acids EPA and DHA. Ideal for vegans and vegetarians, it is also suitable for anyone wanting high-quality omega-3s from a non-fish source. The product is available in both liquid and softgel formulations. Algae Omega is made from microalgae that is sustainably grown and harvested in a controlled environment, resulting in a product that is naturally pure and free of ocean-borne contaminants.

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