There are many nutrients that the body needs to enable the body work at an optimum level, vitamins, minerals, carbs, proteins and fats. This article is going to look at fats in the vegan diet.
Fats are divided into saturated and unsaturated fats. All fats should be eaten in moderation, but they play an important part in the diet.
Remember,saturated fats can contribute to disease risk, so should be reduced as much as possible.
The body is capable of making most of the essential fats it needs from an ordinary diet and that includes a vegan diet. However there is a group of fats called the omega fatty acids, that it cannot make. So these must be part of our diet.
There are different types of these omega fatty acids. Omega 6 is linoleic acid (LA). Omega 3 is made up of three different types of acid, alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexanoic acid (DHA). The body can convert ALA into DHA and EPA if it needs to but this process is inefficient. This is the problem for vegans because ALA is common in plant based foods whereas DHA and EPA are only found in animal based foods, mainly fish.
As well as many other functions, omega fatty acids are used by the body to make important compounds called called eicosanoids. Here is another problem. When made from omega 6 acids these eicosanoids are very potent and cause an increased risk of disease. On the other hand, eicosanoids made from omega 3 have anti-inflammatory properties that can work in preventing disease.
In western diets there tends to be an excess of omega 6, often found in fast and processed foods which can suppress the more beneficial conversion of omega 3. This can have serious implications for health.
In vegan diets, the balance of omega 3 and 6 can be very worrying due to the limited range of foods being part of the diet. Eating a diet that is lacking in protein, vitamins and minerals can affect enzymes that help with this conversion.
The best source of EPA in a normal diet is from fish. ALA is found in plant-based foods like kale, spinach, soybeans, walnuts, chai, flax and hemp seeds and seed oils such as canola, rapeseed and flaxseed oils (avoid sunflower, safflower and corn oil which are high in omega 6). As mentioned earlier the body can make EPA and DHA out of ALA but not very efficiently.
Vegans can look at microalgae supplements, particularly pregnant, lactating women, the elderly and people chronic diseases such as diabetes.
In vegans and vegetarians, measured amounts of EPA and DHA are around 30-50% lower than in non vegetarians.
However, if a good level of plant foods containing ALA are eaten,then the conversion rate to DHA and EPA will be increased. Additionally increasing the level of omega 3 and lowering omega 6 intake has shown to increase conversion rates.
Health Benefits of Omega 3
There is evidence that omega 3 can help with depression and anxiety. There are benefits to heart health, with reductions to cholesterol, reduced blood pressure and reduced inflammation.. Omega 3 has a role in brain development and cognition.