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Ask Tufts Experts January 2012 Issue

Q: As a vegetarian, can I get enough omega-3 from walnuts, flax seed, canola oil and trace amounts in other foods?

Answer :  The omega-3 fatty acids found in plant foods (ALA) have their own health benefits, but they are not the same as the omega-3s found in fish (DHA and EPA) that have been associated with heart-health benefits. According to Alice H. Lichtenstein, DSc, director of Tufts’ HNRCA Cardiovascular Nutrition Laboratory, while your body does convert ALA into DHA/EPA, studies have found that this conversion is very inefficient. Only between 3% and 5% of the ALA gets converted into EPA and as little as 0.5% to 9% into DHA. If you’re concerned about getting enough of the omega-3s found in fish, it is possible to buy vegetarian supplements that derive DHA from algae.

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