What are some vegan sources of omega-3 fatty acids?

Omega-3 fatty acids are readily available in a wide variety of plant foods. Sources include walnuts, flaxseeds, chia seeds, hemp seeds, edamame, seaweed, and seaweed. Other green leafy vegetables and beans also contain small amounts. Omega-3 fatty acids are essential for heart and brain health and for fighting inflammation, and sadly, most of us don't consume enough of them.

According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), adult women only need 1.1 grams per day of omega-3 fatty acids, while adult men need 1.6 grams per day. And while it's not much, getting your omega-3s may be easier said than done if you follow a typical American diet. It can be just as difficult for vegans and vegetarians who avoid fish. It's important to note that omega-3 fats are found in three different forms: DHA, EPA and ALA, according to the NIH.

ALA is more abundant in these plant-based sources, but DHA and EPA are a little more difficult to obtain on a vegan or vegetarian diet. That said, ALA can be converted to the other two types, but it's not the most efficient method for obtaining EPA and DHA. That's why you might want to increase your intake of omega-3 fats as a vegan or vegetarian to help give your body the nutrition it needs, and these 8 foods are here to help. Flax provides more omega-3 fatty acids ALA than any other known food on the planet, since it offers more than double the recommended daily amount in one tablespoon and seven times the recommendation in one tablespoon of linseed oil.

A two-tablespoon serving of flaxseed has approximately 7.5 grams of fiber and 5 grams of protein, according to the USDA. Not to mention, it's a great source of magnesium. You can buy them whole to use in our homemade multi-seed cookies or buy them ground (or grind them yourself) to add them to your favorite smoothie or your morning bowl of oatmeal. Just one ounce of walnuts contains 2.5 grams of ALA, which is more than double the daily recommendation for women.

You can easily get all the omega-3s you need in a day by topping walnuts into your favorite salad, baking them into brownies and other goodies, and adding them to your vegetable sides. We love using them in pesto, like in our Chicken Penne with 26 g of vegetables with parsley and walnut pesto. Seaweed, spirulina, nori and chlorella are all forms of algae rich in omega-3 fats. These foods are especially important for vegans and some vegetarians because they provide one of the only plant-based sources of omega-3 EPA and DHA.

Many people are convinced which cooking oil is the best, and canola oil gets our seal of approval. One tablespoon of canola oil contains 1.28 g of omega-3, which is more than a daily serving for women. Edamame is another inexhaustible source of nutrients that, without a doubt, should be included in your diet (as long as you don't avoid soy). A half-cup serving of edamame provides approximately 20 percent of the needs of omega-3 fats, in addition to offering plenty of protein, fiber, and other essential nutrients.

While red beans are one of the lowest sources of plant-based omega-3s and provide about 10 percent of your daily needs, they're definitely worth eating. Red beans are an excellent source of plant-based protein and are packed with fiber to keep you full until your next meal. They're also a good source of iron and folic acid, both important nutrients for a healthy pregnancy. Red beans are very versatile and are used in a wide variety of cuisines to add texture and vegetable protein.

We love them in our bean salad with lemon and cumin dressing, as well as in a hearty vegetarian chili, such as our pumpkin chili with four beans at 26%. Purslane is a leafy green vegetable that contains more ALA (about five to seven times) than other leafy greens, such as spinach. It also contains very small amounts of EPA6, a rarity in plant-based omega-3 sources, but still small amounts (just 10 milligrams of EPA per kilogram, or 2.2 pounds, or purslane), so your bragging rights are definitely on the ALA front. While most vegan foods that contain fat contain some ALA, it is generally present in small and extremely inadequate amounts.

As a general rule, plant-based foods are rich in ALA, while animal foods (also known as marine foods), such as seafood (especially fatty fish) and the algae that these fish consume, are the best sources of EPA and DHA. In fact, it's so abundant in plant-based foods that vegans never have to worry about consuming enough (as long as they don't follow an extremely low-fat diet). Eating a variety of foods can help you meet your omega-3 needs, but you may still need a supplement, especially if you're vegan or vegetarian. If you're a vegan or vegetarian, Rossi recommends consuming a variety of plant-based sources of omega-3 and considering fortified foods or supplements.