The Skinny on Fatty Acids for Vegetarians

Hello everybody!  This is Christine, and while Matt was busy running his 50-miler, I attended an event in Philadelphia hosted by New Harvest to educate health and food bloggers about their new Vegetarian Fatty Acid Supplement.  New Harvest took care of the expenses for my trip, but my opinions are my own.  I also double-checked the facts they provided in their presentation before passing any information on to you.

New Harvest Vegetarian Fatty Acid Supplement is a yeast-derived form of the long chain fatty acid EPA.  By now you probably have figured out that essential fatty acids are, well, essential.  But if you’re like me, the knowledge ends at the vague idea of omega-3′s being “good” and that’s about it.

Not Just Heart-HypeNew Harvest Supplement Bottle 198x300

Fatty acids are strongly associated with heart health; the higher the intake, the lower the number of coronary events.  In fact, a low omega-3 index in cells is now being considered a risk factor itself for cardiovascular disease.

Omega-3′s are associated with general life longevity too, but EPAs are the only omega-3 fatty acid that have been proven helpful to the heart.  DHA is great for brain health, but can actually raise bad cholesterol.

The American Heart Association recommends 500 mg of omega-3′s per day.  If you are counting on flaxseed and chia to provide you with the recommended amount of omega-3′s, you may be in for a surprise.

Does your vegetarian diet need an omega-3 supplement?

omega 3 ratio photo 300x160Plant sources contain the short chain fatty acid ALA, which the body can turn into EPA and DHA.  Unfortunately, only a sorry rate of 5-15% actually converts into the useful long chain kind.  Keep that in mind before splurging on ALA omega-3 fortified Doritos.

But where did those daily recommended amounts come from anyway?  Some say that the ratio of omega-6′s to omega-3′s is just as important as the absolute amount; therefore lowering the intake of omega-6′s could suffice in place of an omega-3 supplement.  Maybe this could work for the average American who consumes omega-6′s and omega-3′s in a 10:1 ratio when the ideal is 4:1, but there may not be enough to cut from a healthy vegetarian diet.

Why not just bite the bullet and take a fish oil pill?

I know more than a few vegans who in the past have been instructed by their doctors to take a fish oil supplement.  Even if you aren’t philosophically opposed to eating fish or deterred by the dreaded “fishy burp,” it’s important to realize that making fish oil supplements is big business.

With demand so high, environmental practices can take a backseat and leave oceans over-harvested and ecosystems in shambles.  The New Harvest supplement is made from yeast so it is sustainable, unlike those two servings of fatty fish per week for the rest of the population.

Environmental Give and Take

The New Harvest EPA oil is currently extracted from the yeast by a chemical solvent called hexane, but I am told that they are changing the process by next year.  Hexane is a cheap and efficient way of extracting oils, but is also classified as a hazardous air pollutant.  I am looking forward to hearing how they change the process since hexane is notorious for leaking into the atmosphere.  Unless you exclusively buy organic expeller-pressed oils, you probably already have many hexane-extracted oils in your kitchen.

Prick it to Prove it!

Scared of Prick Test Photo 225x300So where does that leave me and my daily flax and berry smoothie?  I’m not sure yet, but I’ll keep you updated.  New Harvest provided me with a prick test to analyze my omega-3 index both before and after taking their supplement for 6 weeks. I’m pretty excited to get started; it think it says a lot that a company is willing to hand a blogger something so quantifiable to back up their product.  So here I am being a big baby with the first round of the test.  At the end of six weeks we can compare how the supplement affected my omega-3 index.

New Harvest Giveaway!

New Harvest gave me an extra bottle of their Vegetarian EPA supplement to giveaway to you No Meat Athlete readers!  To enter, swing over to the New Harvest site and take the quick Omega-3 IQ test.  Then just leave me a comment about how you did, good or bad!  I’ll announce the winner next Friday. (18 and over, in the U.S. please.)

If you can’t wait til then, I have a secret coupon too!  It’s good for $2.00 off New Harvest at GNC stores.  Sweet!  I’m going to use it myself to keep my supply going for this 6 week test.

A Food-Filled Weekend in Philly

I had such a fun time in Philadelphia for the weekend!  I want to express my sincere appreciation to New Harvest for all the wonderful food and events.  From hand-making vegetarian ravioli to running the “Rocky” stairs, it was very relaxed event; I felt they were very honest with the facts about their products and never trying to push a sale.

I feel so lucky to have been introduced to some very talented food bloggers.  It was super fun to be updating the group about Matt’s 50-mile progress and cheer him on together from afar.  I got to spend the weekend with Jenna from Eat Live Run, Tina from Carrots n’ Cake, Tanya from I Ate a Pie, Maridel from Vital Juice, Anne from fANNEtastic food, Monica from Run Eat Repeat, Anne-Marie from This Mama Cooks, and Jenna from Eat Right Around Chicago.

Here are a few pics from my trip, but be sure to check out these ladies’ blogs for some truly gorgeous food photography.

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Giant Heart at the Franklin Institute

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Cooking up a Vegetarian Italian Meal at La Cucina

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Rocky meets NMA

I was so enthralled with the delicious food I had on my trip that I have been figuring out some vegan versions to share with you! See you next week: Come for the giveaway winners, stay for the vegan ice cream!

xoxo Christine

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Comments

  1. Great post! It was SO fun meeting and hanging with you this past weekend :) Looking forward to your vegan ice cream creation… I have a feeling I know which dish it will be modeled after ;)

  2. I would love to win this, since I never eat fish.
    I did pretty well on the IQ test! Must have been all those newharvest tweets I was reading, lol

  3. I did well on the quiz. I like the idea of getting omega-3 from a source other than fish. I’ll be interested to find out what happens with the change from hexane.

  4. I saw Tina’s posts about this event- VERY cool that you got to go. The supplements sound interesting for sure. I did OK on the test…does a 50% count as ok? I think its interesting to learn abut the three main types of Omega 3′s

  5. So interesting… I had no idea.

    I did pretty well on the quiz. Now, I want to do the blood test!

  6. I was just going to buy Fish Oil for the first time today, but you made me really think twice about that. Not sure whether I will or won’t now.

    I got 3/4 on the test!

  7. I did well on the quiz, but most importantly I learned alot! I would love to have free bottle of the EPA supp, but in the mean time I’m going to run out and get some with my own money. I’m on a constant quest for fish-free Omega 3!! Glad that this is out there!

  8. I would have loved to attend that conference because I definitely don’t know enough about vegetarian supplements and which ones are best to use. I actually think I got most questions on the quiz wrong. lol

  9. Great article; so many people don’t realize that that flax and chia aren’t nearly enough to do the job. Just one criticism. You write, “The New Harvest supplement is made from yeast so it is sustainable, unlike those two servings of fatty fish per week for the rest of the population.” While it’s true that many fish sources are unsustainable, it’s hardly the case that all are, or have to be. The Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch program does an amazing job of guiding people toward healthy seafood from sustainable fisheries. For people who eat fish, check out the site: http://www.montereybayaquarium.org/cr/seafoodwatch.aspx.

    • Thanks for supplying this link! I personally don’t want to take a fish oil supplement or a supplement with omega 3′s from plant sources. And since I don’t like to eat fish because of the problems with the fishing industry and all the toxins in the fish, that would kind of leave me stuck! I will check out this site to try to find a good source of fish. It seems to be down for some reason right now though…

    • There are some theories as to why the conversion rate from ALA to the longer chain Omega-3′s one is that Omega-6 use the same enzymes for break down and conversion and if we are analyzing groups or populations that are consuming a TON of omega-6 and almost no omega-3 then the conversion rate is going to be low because they’re isn’t enough of the enzymes left for converting ALA into the longer chain EPA and DHA.

      Also, the problem is that EPA and DHA production requires certain enzymes, namely delta 4-desaturase, delta-5-desaturase, delta-6- desaturase and elongase. In order for these enzymes to be produced, and then to work properly, the body must be provided with the right conditions. Zinc, magnesium, manganese, vitamin c, vitamin b3 and b6. Most people are deficient in magnesium and zinc nowadays and many more people are underconsuming vitamin C. Others yet have low B vitamin levels.

      I don’t think the verdict is out 100% on conversion rates and there still needs to be more studies with populations that don’t consume alot of omega-6.

      Also great Blog I love you guys!!

  10. Cool! I just wrote a little about Omega-3′s myself today (in the form of flaxseed). I did quite well on the quiz :] It was short!

  11. Melissa says:

    I did well on the quiz. I took fish oil pills for years until I went veg. Since then, I’ve been relying on flaxseed in my daily smoothies. I’d love to try the New Harvest supplement. Very interesting post!

  12. I did alright on the quiz – but I learned a couple things! I take flaxseed oil, but I’ve heard all about those omegas not converting properly into DHA or EPA…so I’d love to try New harvest.

  13. Brittney says:

    I did pretty well on the quiz. But I don’t currently take any omega supplements and am curious to see the results of your 6 week experiment. I’m not a fan of taking supplements that I can easily get through a nutritious diet…but in this case it might be worth looking into. As always thanks for a great post! And I would of course love some FREE vegetarian supplements to get me started!

  14. I did well on the quiz, but only take flax oil here and there. I’m happy to hear they will be moving away from hexane soon. Would love a free bottle to make my vegan diet complete :) Thanks for sharing.

  15. Chris H. says:

    Interesting product and cant wait to try it! I scored a 3/4 on the test, but I hope I win anyway!

  16. This is a very nicely written post!
    However, could you provide a link to source where the American Heart Association states that it recommends 500mg of omega-3 fatty acids daily? Everything I have found recommends consuming fish twice a week.

    • Hey Jo,

      You’re right, I should have phrased it as an AVERAGE of 500 mg/day.

      If you go to the American Heart Association’s Fish 101 page (http://www.americanheart.org/presenter.jhtml?identifier=3071550) you can see their list of 10 most consumed fish in the US. The only fatty fish on that list is salmon, which they list has 1.1-1.9g of omega-3′s per 3 oz serving. In milligrams that’s 1100-1900mg, and two servings would make 2200-3800mg. If you got 3600 mg from the two 3 oz servings of fish, that averages to 485 mg/day. And, they actually recommend two 3.5 oz servings, I don’t know why the chart is written per 3 oz serving.

      This article is a lot drier, but in the American Heart Association’s Scientific Statement on Fish Consumption, Fish Oil, Omega-3 Fatty Acids, and Cardiovascular disease (http://circ.ahajournals.org/cgi/content/full/106/21/2747#SEC4) they say that many organizations (including the World Health Organization) make recommendations on intake that are typically range from 300-500mg per day of EPA and 800-1100mg per day of ALA. (Remember ALA doesn’t convert as efficiently.)

      They go on to say that the American Heart Association’s recommendation of 2 servings of fatty fish easily meets these requirements. That’s why I felt comfortable averaging it to a per day amount, which I thought would be easier for vegetarians to use as a reference.

      Each capsule of the New Harvest supplement has 600mg of EPA.

      Hope that clears it up. Thanks for the comment!

      -Christine

      • Whats the daily recommended intake of mercury and other toxic chemicals that are dumped into the ocean. Also with this oil spill I don’t see how any fish can be recommended to anyone…

  17. 4 out of 4!!! Too bad I’m not putting the information I know into good practice . . . currently only using flax seed and walnuts for omega-3′s . . . I bet my numbers are seriously lacking!

  18. BrooklynGirl says:

    I got 2 right. I’m trying to learn about this. I’m breastfeeding so I don’t want to take fish oils. I hope this is a good alternative. Thx for the info!

    • Alas, the bottle says “Do not use if you are pregnant or nursing.”

      The doctor at the event said they didn’t have a reason that it would be harmful, just that they hadn’t done enough research to say absolutely that it’s safe.

      Thanks,
      Christine

  19. Mary Ellen says:

    I tooke the test, and I think I got 3 out of 4, but there was no “how did I do?” button??

    I’d love to try this product. I have tried some vegan EFA’s from algae, but it was very expensive.

  20. I did fairly well on the quiz. This is the first time I’ve heard of vegetarian omega 3 supplements and I am excited!

  21. Great post. I am a Registered Dietitian, vegan and an athlete and I’ve been happily following this blog. I just wrote a little bit about this which I am adding below. Omega6 to Omega3 ratio is crucial and vegetarians tend to have a high ratio than omnivores and vegans even higher.

    1. Omega-3 are essential. We have to them, on their own, regardless of ratio.
    2. Omega-3 may help in reducing risk of heart disease by two factors: lowering LDL and reducing inflammation. This I believe, is regardless of ratio as well.
    3. Additionally, the Omega-6 to Omega-3 ratio may have additional health effects, generally negative for larger ratio and beneficial for smaller ratio.
    4. Conversion from ALA to DHA/EPA may be affected by the ratio. But there is a lot we still do not know about the conversion.

    • Hey Matt!

      Thanks for the informative comment. Interesting that even the processing of ALA could be effected by the ratio.

      Do you have an idea why vegetarians/vegans would have a higher level of omega-6′s? I know omega-6 is in vegetable oils and nuts, but I figured the most were in meat and eggs.

      Happy you’re enjoying NMA!
      -Christine

  22. Jennifer says:

    Only got 1 out of 4 right. Currently taking cod liver oil but interested in a vegetarian source. I would love to try the EPA fatty acid supplement. I am trying to eat vegetarian but didn’t even think of the conflict that cod liver oil would be in a vegetarian diet. Thanks so much for the very informative and helpful article. Love this web site!! Thanks.

  23. I actually did surprisingly well, I got 3/4 correct! I don’t take any supplements and never really have…wonder if I should?

  24. I did pretty good on the quiz.
    Interesting new product. I use flaxseed in my smoothie but I also take algae oil instead of fish oil. Fish get their DHA from algae so as vegetarians/vegans we can to. It’s kind of like the dairy thing, cow don’t just make calcium but they get it from the grass and the food they eat.
    I would be interested in trying this product though.

  25. Very interesting and this comes at the perfect time because just the other day I was reading an article about Udo’s Oil but don’t know anyone that has used it and that got me thinking. I do use the Vega Oil but don’t really know the specifics about where it comes from. I just trust the Vega name. I think I’ll head over to the website to see if I can find some info now…

    Thanks for getting me thinking!!

    • Bernadette, I’ve used Udo’s for a long time and always “liked” it. Not the taste, which was fair, but the results. When I started incorporating it into smoothies and things when I used to lift weights all the time, I gained so much more muscle right away. One good thing about Udo’s blend is that it’s not just flaxseed oil, it’s a blend of several seed and nut oils. I’m sure Vega is pretty good.

      From what I’ve heard from Christine, the message at the New Harvest conference was that the body only absorbs a small amount, something like 10%, of the EFA’s in these oils, and supposedly the rate is much higher with New Harvest.

  26. Kaitlyn says:

    Thanks so much for posting this. I have just started going back to a nutritionist and she has recommended that I take 3000 mg of Omega 3′s a day! I was flabbergasted and reading the information here and going through the quiz has made me question whether or not I truly need that much in one day.

    I have been taking fish oil pills but they are huge, so it was nice to hear that there are other options which may actually be better for my body!

    I didn’t do too badly on the quiz because you put some great information in the post! I did get the last one wrong about the requirement for the concentration listed on a pill bottle. It’s amazing that the FDA does not require that and then becomes very misleading for people who are not familiar with the products.

    Thanks again for the great post!

    • Hey Kaitlyn,
      The New Harvest bottle says take 1-3 capsules daily. 3 capsule would be 1800mg. I don’t know about the 3000mg per day, but there is was a study done with taking 1800mg of EPA per day along with a low dose statin that was shown to reduce coronary events by about 20%. You can read about that JELIS study here: http://cme.medscape.com/viewarticle/518574

      Also, I’m not sure that the New Harvest Supplement would be smaller than your fish oil supplement. It’s a softgel that I have no problem swallowing, but it is still quite large.

      Thanks for the comment!
      Christine

  27. Kevin D says:

    Hey Christine, great article and I though the most interesting fact was that fish oils don’t have to claim the % of actual omega-3 in their fish oil supplements. I assumed most of the 500mg was omega-3 but apparently not the case. Thanks for your research.

  28. I did well on the quiz but am not so good in real life…I’d love to try a vegetarian option for getting my omega-3s!

  29. I did ok on the quiz. Learned new stuff, but still confused a bit about the difference (and relative importance) of DHA vs. EPA. Would love to try the supplement. Thanks for the opportunity.

  30. Hmm, took the quiz and learned quite a bit. Also think I might have seen you all at Reading Terminal that afternoon while I was giving the parents a city tour :)

  31. I did well but mainly because I’ve researched the Omega thing a lot – a few years ago I was struggling with what looked a lot like Bipolar II but was really a serious Omega 3 deficiency compounded by very low D3 and B-12. At the time I wasn’t a vegetarian so I took fish oil supplements and the improvement was dramatic! I was so seriously deficient, it was hurting my brain chemistry – they call it a neuro-psychiatric response!! I’ve been looking for a decent non-animal alternative since going vegan, so very excited to read this. :-)

  32. and P.S. the other reason I stuck with fish oil so long was that high doses of flax had been implicated in Bipolar issues so I didn’t want to tempt fate JUST IN CASE! Interestingly, since I have become a vegan, mood issues seem to be less of a problem anyway…

  33. Very interesting! I currently take a supplement that includes Omega 3, 6 and 9. Interested to see your results after 6 weeks!

  34. I got a 50%. I have recently gone vegetarian and I’m really struggling with my fish oil supplement. I hate taking it, but I also hate the idea of throwing it out and wasting it. I don’t think that I will buy fish oil again, but I do hope to find a veg-friendly omega-3.

  35. I’ve read about the New Harvest event on so many blogs and I definitely believe that omega-3s are important. As a broke grad student I usually end up buying the fish oil that’s on sale. I’d definitely prefer a non-animal source though!!!

  36. I took the quiz and did well. Wow, I definitely don’t get enough omega-3s though. Looks like an interesting supplement!

  37. I’ve been taking flax supplements and adding flax powder to my food whenever possible. I wish I could get everything I need that way, but it’s great to know this company is making it easier for us vegans! I did not do so well on the quiz, by the way. (Hey, some of those were trick questions!)

  38. What did the results of the blood test show?

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