Vegan Omega-3: A Viable Option For Health And Sustainability?

Vegan Omega-3: A Viable Option For Health And Sustainability?

Omega-3s are fatty acids essential for human life, supporting everything from brain to heart to eye health. Although essential, the body cannot produce them so they must be consumed in the diet. The main types of omega-3 fatty acids are alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), eicosapentanoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). EPA and DHA are the most bioavailable sources of omega-3 and the ones required by the body for their beneficial effects on human health[1]. They are found primarily in fish – oily fish specifically – and it is recommended that adults eat 1-2 portions of fish per week to receive the required dose of EPA and DHA, about 450mg per daily adult dose[2]. However, the rapid rise in veganism in recent years, coupled with increasing awareness of the need to make more sustainable choices for the health of the planet, means finding alternatives is paramount. Luckily, a possible alternative has been found; vegan omega-3.

What is vegan omega-3?

Vegan omega-3 is a type of omega-3 sourced from microalgae. Microalgae cover a wide range of single-cell species of plants (around fifty thousand different types have currently been discovered!) and they are among the oldest species of life on the planet; some more well-known species of microalgae include spirulina and chlorella[3]. They require only water and sunlight to grow and as well as being a good source of omega-3, are also rich in vitamins A, B, C and B12, and contain the essential mineral iodine[4].

Why choose vegan omega-3 for health?

As vegan diets do not permit fish, they are naturally lower in EPA and DHA and as such, many organisations tout omega-3 as a nutrient of special consideration when following a vegan diet[5]. Historically, those eating a vegan diet would be recommended to regularly eat food sources of ALA to allow the body to create the forms of omega-3 it requires for optimal function. Food sources of ALA include chia seeds, pumpkin seeds, soya products (such as tofu), walnuts, flaxseeds and their oils[6]. However, the conversion of ALA to EPA and DHA poses a challenge; the human body primarily uses ALA for energy, with little being converted to EPA and DHA. Additionally, conversion widely varies depending on sex and other genetic differences. In fact, research suggests the conversion rate of ALA is 8-21% for EPA and only 0-9% for DHA[7][8]. Therefore, an individual would need to eat up to ten times more ALA-rich foods, gram for gram, to receive the same amount of EPA and DHA.

Furthermore, these foods are rich in omega-6 fatty acids. While a small amount of omega-6 fatty acids are essential for health, Western diets are typically already rich in omega-6 fatty acids, as they are derived from vegetable oils which feature heavily in Western diets. It has been suggested a healthy ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 in the diet should be close to 1:4, yet most people eat too much omega-6 and not enough omega-3, with a typical ratio closer to 1:20[9]. As both omega-3 and 6 compete in the same metabolic pathway, it has been hypothesized that eating too much omega-6 may reduce the amount of EPA and DHA created in the body.

It is clear to see why levels of EPA and DHA are typically lower in those following vegetarian and vegan diets compared to those eating omnivorously – but is there a solution? For many years, it has been argued that fish is the best source of EPA and DHA, but experts point out that the high levels of these fatty acids found in fish are accumulated by the microalgae they eat, which are already rich in EPA and DHA. Therefore, by eating or supplementing with microalgae, you are cutting out the middle man – or fish – so to speak, and going straight to the source. While plant-sourced omega-3 is still a fairly new concept in the nutrition world, clinical trials are promising; a small 2-week study of healthy individuals demonstrated comparably increased plasma EPA and DHA in those supplementing with microalgae versus those supplementing with marine-based omega-3s or eating fish[10]. Further studies have demonstrated similar findings in regard to microalgae’s omega-3 bioavailability[11], making it a credible option for those following vegan or vegetarian diets. 

What about sustainability?

While eating fish is great for our health, there is no denying its effects on the wider planet’s ecosystem. Many of our seas have been overfished, meaning fish species are being caught faster than they can reproduce; this causes big impacts on the biodiversity of the oceans, resulting in devastating declines of marine populations and contributing to climate change[12]. Choosing more sustainable varieties of fish (which reproduce quickly and are in healthy supply), and limiting consumption of ‘the big five’ (salmon, cod, haddock, tuna, prawns) can help support building a more sustainable future for our planet. Could microalgae offer an alternative solution?

Microalgae can be cultivated in many different environments (including those not suitable for agriculture), use fewer resources and are produced much quicker than land crops, livestock or indeed, fish[13]. Thus, switching to microalgae as a source of omega-3 may prove a much more environmentally friendly option than fish oils. If this were to be adopted on a wider population scale, it may even offer the opportunity for depleting fish stocks to replenish and rebalance ocean ecosystems, though more research in this area is required.

Finally, vegan omega-3 may be a suitable option for those wishing to avoid contaminants from fish. Due to industrial developments, many bodies of water contain a range of contaminants including heavy metals like mercury, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), ‘forever chemicals’ and microplastics; these contaminants are absorbed by the aquatic life within it and are then absorbed by humans when we consume them. It is known that these contaminants are damaging to both our health and the health of the environment. Conversely, microalgae are cultivated in more sterile environments and even have the ability to purify the waters they grow in. In fact, many academics are studying the application of microalgae specifically for their water purification properties[14]. While some contamination is inevitable, microalgae appears to offer a much cleaner option for consumers than fish oils.

To summarise, omega-3 sourced from microalgae may offer an alternative to fish that is more beneficial for the planet, without compromising on its essential role in human health. Furthermore, they are suitable for a wide range of people regardless of dietary choices. Our vegan omega-3 capsules contain 1048mg algal oil providing 300mg DHA and 100mg EPA


[1] Harvard T.H.Chan (2019) Omega-3 fatty acids: An essential contribution, The Nutrition Source. Available at: (Accessed: 04 September 2023).

[2] British Dietetic Association (2023) Omega-3, Omega-3 | British Dietetic Association (BDA). Available at: (Accessed: 04 September 2023).

[3] Elisabeth, B., Rayen, F. and Behnam, T. (2021) ‘Microalgae Culture Quality Indicators: A Review’, Critical Reviews in Biotechnology, 41(4), pp. 457–473. doi:10.1080/07388551.2020.1854672.

[4] Aakre, I. et al. (2021) ‘Commercially available kelp and seaweed products – valuable iodine source or risk of excess intake?’, Food & Nutrition Research, 65. doi:10.29219/fnr.v65.7584.

[5] British Nutrition Foundation (2023) Fat, British Nutrition Foundation. Available at:,found%20in%20eggs%20and%20meat. (Accessed: 03 September 2023).

[6] The Vegan Society (2023) Omega-3 and omega-6 fats, The Vegan Society. Available at: (Accessed: 03 September 2023).

[7] Burdge, G.C. and Wootton, S.A. (2002) ‘Conversion of α-linolenic acid to EICOSAPENTAENOIC, docosapentaenoic and docosahexaenoic acids in young women’, British Journal of Nutrition, 88(4), pp. 411–420. doi:10.1079/bjn2002689.

[8] Burdge, G.C., Jones, A.E. and Wootton, S.A. (2002) ‘Eicosapentaenoic and docosapentaenoic acids are the principal products of α-linolenic acid metabolism in young men’, British Journal of Nutrition, 88(4), pp. 355–363. doi:10.1079/bjn2002662.

[9] DiNicolantonio, J.J. and O’Keefe, J.H. (2018) ‘Importance of maintaining a low omega–6/Omega–3 ratio for reducing inflammation’, Open Heart, 5(2). doi:10.1136/openhrt-2018-000946.

[10] Stiefvatter, L. et al. (2021) ‘Oral bioavailability of omega-3 fatty acids and carotenoids from the microalgae phaeodactylum tricornutum in Healthy Young Adults’, Marine Drugs, 19(12), p. 700. doi:10.3390/md19120700.

[11] Lane, K. et al. (2013) ‘Bioavailability and potential uses of vegetarian sources of omega-3 fatty acids: A review of the literature’, Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition, 54(5), pp. 572–579. doi:10.1080/10408398.2011.596292.

[12] WWF (2023) What is overfishing? facts, effects and overfishing solutions, WWF. Available at: (Accessed: 04 September 2023).

[13] Koyande, A.K. et al. (2019) ‘Microalgae: A potential alternative to health supplementation for humans’, Food Science and Human Wellness, 8(1), pp. 16–24. doi:10.1016/j.fshw.2019.03.001.

[14] Olabi, A.G. et al. (2023) ‘Role of microalgae in achieving Sustainable Development Goals and circular economy’, Science of The Total Environment, 854, p. 158689. doi:10.1016/j.scitotenv.2022.158689.

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Elisabeth Philipps

Karen Devine

Karen Devine

Shelley Harvey

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AntioxidantsBrain HealthCardiovascular HealthdhaepaEssential Fatty Acidsmicroalgaeomega 3omega 6sustainabilityveganvegan dietveganismvegetarian

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