Algae Oil: The Plant-based Solution to the Problem of EPA and DHA

Algae Oil: The Plant-based Solution to the Problem of EPA and DHA

By Jonny Bowden, PhD, CNS

Algae oil is a game-changer for vegetarian and vegan nutrition- and for carnivores (like me) who like to take an occasional day off from animal products. 

Finally, we have a clean, reliable, sustainable, source of 100% plant-based DHA and EPA. If you’re a health-conscious person and you’ve been trying to avoid animal foods, you’ll know why it’s time to get out the kazoos and start celebrating. (And if you’re not quite sure why we’re celebrating… read on!) 

What is Omega-3 anyway?

First, some basics. There are three different kinds of omega-3 fatty acids which comprise the class of fats known collectively as “omega-3”.

The first one of the three—ALA (alpha-linolenic acid)-- is found in plants (like flaxseeds). The other two—DHA (docosahexanoic acid) and EPA (eicosapentonoic acid)-- are found in fish (like salmon). 

And that’s where the problem lies for vegetarians and vegans. 

Those who take flaxseed oil have no problem getting enough ALA, but often have lots of problems getting enough DHA and EPA. Why? Because there’s almost none in plant foods.

This is critically important, since there is a voluminous amount of positive research on the health benefits of DHA and EPA.(1,2)

Remember, DHA is known as the “brain-friendly fat” and EPA is known as the “heart-friendly fat” and both of those nicknames are well-deserved. 

So how does a person who tends to stay away from animal products get enough DHA and EPA?

Enter algae oil. 

What’s So Great About Algae?

Recent research has demonstrated that there are specific species of algae that, when cultivated under just the right conditions, can contain very respectable amounts of both DHA and EPA. In fact, some algae actually have a higher percentage of these omega-3s than fish! (3) That's relatively new information and to say it’s welcome news would be understating its importance.

Barlean’s new Seriously Delicious plant-based omega-3 from algae oil is the first ever truly high-quality, legitimate 100% plant-based supplement of DHA and EPA. 

How Much Do I Need To Take?

You can finally get an honest serving of these two crucially important omega-3s that were previously lacking in a plant-based diet and which are notoriously difficult for the body to make on its own. Each tablespoon of Barlean’s Algae Oil contains a combined 630 mg of omega-3 from DHA and EPA, more than the amount found in many (often inferior) fish oil supplements you see in the drugstore, and easily meeting recommendations for combined DHA and EPA. (4)

Full disclosure as a nutritionist trained in functional medicine, I’m not generally a fan RDAs and RDIs.*

I find the government-recommended minimum serving of certain nutrients to be much less than the optimal serving of those same nutrients. We want optimal nutrition, not “minimum wage nutrition” and I consider omega-3s (along with vitamin D and magnesium) to be prime examples of the disconnect between the minimum daily requirement and the optimal daily intake.**

While one bottle of Seriously Delicious Algae Oil will indeed provide 30 servings of omega-3, which allows you to meet most doctors' recommended daily intake of omega-3, in my practice I frequently recommend 2-3x the “recommended” serving unless you’re getting a significant amount of omega-3 from food. This is my personal opinion,  so please be sure to speak with your doctor or healthcare provider about any changes in your diet and supplements, including my perspective in this article.

*recommended daily allowance and recommended daily intake

** The current government recommendation for vitamin D intake is only 600 IUS, while the more progressive Endocrine Society recommends 1500-2000 IUs daily for adults and most functional medicine docs routinely recommend 4-5000 IUs. Take the government recommendations with a grain or two of Himalayan salt!