At some point, we’ve all been told by our mothers, “Eat your veggies.” Now that I’m a mother, I find myself telling my kids the same thing. Of course, it’s not always as successful as I’d like. Kids don’t care that broccoli is high in fiber and will help them grow healthy and strong. They care whether or not it tastes good. I had to borrow my mother’s rule eventually: if you don’t finish your vegetables, you don’t get any snacks after dinner. More often than not, it works.
But why go through all this trouble to get kids to eat their greens? Sure, they’re healthy, but is it really that important? Well, yes. Vegetables are important, not just to help kids grow, but to instill healthy habits at a young age that they’ll carry through into adult life. Because it’s actually as adults that it will really be important to have a vegetable rich diet. Nutritionists hold that eating a hearty amount of vegetables can help1:
- Reduce risk of heart disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes
- Protect against certain types of cancers
- Lower blood pressure
- Boost your fiber intake, which has a number of benefits in itself
It’s no wonder parents try to instill a love of vegetables in us so early on! When you consider all the benefits, vegetables are sort of superheroes. But it wasn’t until I started researching omega-3 that I learned of another benefit: many vegetables are chock full of omega-3.
List of Vegetables with Omega-3 Fatty Acids
When people think of omega-3 fatty acids, they typically think of fish oil. It’s fish that the American Heart Association recommends we eat twice a week in order to get the sufficient amount of omega-3. And it’s typically fish oil supplements that are used to add any omega-3 you might be missing from your diet. However, fish oil doesn't hold a monopoly on omega-3 fatty acids.
I’ve talked before about alternatives to fish for omega-3, like flaxseed, chia seeds, and walnuts. However, there are a number of vegetables with omega-3 fatty acids. Here are the ones I found 2,3,4,5:
- Broccoli. Truly a supervegetable, broccoli is considered one of the healthiest foods in the world.5 In addition to pretty much every other reason, it’s also a source of omega-3 fatty acids.
- Brussel sprouts. Brussel sprouts have a reputation for being a little...yucky, but there’s a reason that moms everywhere try to convince their kids to eat them. Because of their omega-3 content, they make for a great natural anti-inflammatory treatment.
- Cabbage. Almost all vegetables in the cabbage family have more omega-3 than you might expect, but cabbage especially has 208mg of omega-3 and just 62mg of omega-6 per cup, which is ideal for reasons we’ll touch on later.
- Cauliflower. While you’re enjoying the vitamin C and folate that comes with cauliflower, you’re also helping build up your omega-3 intake for the day.
- Kale. The benefits of kale are well-known and it’s becoming a rather popular vegetable, but its omega-3 content might be less known. Kale actually contains more omega-3 than omega-6, which is almost unheard of for its food type.6
- Spinach. Its omega-3 content is best when frozen, chopped, cooked, boiled, or drained, but even canned spinach can offer the omega-3 boost you need.
- Soybeans. I have a sister who’s recently decided to go vegan, and soybeans are a huge part of ensuring that she gets enough protein in her diet. As it turns out, soybeans are an excellent source of omega-3, as well. They’re best roasted. One bowl of lightly cooked soybeans is even said to contain more omega-3 than some cold water fish.
- Squash. Winter squash has exceptionally high amounts of omega-3, 338mg per cup.
Choosing Vegetables for Omega-3
The most common reason some people use vegetables for their omega-3 intake is because of a vegetarian or vegan diet. When my sister decided to go vegan, she quickly learned how much she would need to make up for the protein lost by no longer eating meat. It’s much the same in the case of omega-3. Without eating vegetables high in omega-3, a new vegetarian or vegan can quickly become develop an omega-3 deficiency.
Others just don’t like the taste of fish, at least not enough to eat it twice a week. I don’t mind the taste of fish now and then, but let’s be honest, even I don’t want to eat fish dinner twice a week. And that’s if you’re lucky. If you’re allergic to seafood, fish isn’t an option even once every two weeks.
But if you decide to switch to vegetables as your main source of omega-3, there are a few things to consider. First of all, keep an eye on the amount of omega-3 in your vegetable intake. The National Health Institute recommends 1.6g of omega-3 each day for adult men and 1.1g for adult women.7 If you choose to make vegetables with omega-3 fatty acids your primary source, keep in mind that most vegetables don’t contain as much omega-3 as fish does. That doesn’t mean it’s impossible, just that you’ll have to eat more vegetables than you would have fish in order to reach the recommended amount.
The Danger of Omega-6Another thing to watch out for is omega-6 intake. Omega-6 fatty acids are often found in vegetables, and have benefits of their own, such as supporting bone health, reducing risk of heart disease and high blood pressure.8 However, omega-6 has a tendency to slow the conversion of omega-3. In addition, it can sometimes cause inflammation. In vegetables, it’s important to find something that has higher omega-3 content than omega-6 content, like cabbage and kale, so that the omega-3 content isn’t counted out.
Other Fish Free Omega-3 Alternatives
If your vegetable intake doesn’t provide enough omega-3, you can always take omega-3 supplements. However, the problem with many supplements is that they’re, well, fish oil supplements. I don’t even hate fish, but I quickly grew tired of the strong fishy aftertaste that came after my fish oil supplements. Fortunately, there are omega-3 supplement options that don’t include fish oil at all.
A few include:
- Ora’s Nothing Fishy Here. Ora’s plant-based omega-3 supplement is made specifically for vegans trying to boost their omega-3. It’s not a pill but an omega-3 oral spray made with algae. However, although it doesn’t involve any meat, the algae does create an oily, seafood-like aftertaste that put my sister off of Nothing Fishy Here when she tried it.
- Deva. Deva is a softgel capsule derived from algae that also uses ingredients like sunflower oil and lemon oil. I’ve never tried it myself, although the reviews are overall positive. However, this is only a DHA supplement, so if you’re looking for EPA and DHA, you’ll have to look elsewhere.
- Omega XL. This is my personal favorite. Omega XL is a softgel capsule made from the green-shelled mussel of New Zealand. It’s not a fish, so this isn’t fish oil. There’s no fishy aftertaste, and it’s a smaller capsule than most fish oil capsules. All of the necessary nutrients are extracted from it so that it’s still effective without the strong aftertaste. In fact, I’ve even found it to be a stronger source of EPA and DHA than most fish oil I’ve tried.
If none of these options work for you, you could just stick to vegetables to make up the difference in your omega-3 diet. The important thing is that you’re getting enough omega-3 to avoid a deficiency. Just keep in mind that omega-3 comes from more sources than just fish oil. And your mom’s advice about eating all your vegetables? It might be more useful than you realized, especially when it comes to vegetables with omega-3 fatty acids.
Reference:1 Nutrients and Health Benefits - ChooseMyPlate
2 8 Incredible Sources of Omega-3 Foods: More than Just Fish - NDTV Food
3 Your Omega-3 Family Shopping List - WebMD
4 14 Best Vegan Sources of Omega-3 - Plenteous Veg
5 Broccoli - World’s Healthiest Foods
6 Crouching Garnish, Hidden Superfood: The Secret Life of Kale - Mercola
7 Omega-3 Fatty Acids - National Health Institute
8 Benefits vs. Risks of Omega-6 Fatty Acids - Dr. Axe