Many people, particularly those who follow a vegetarian or vegan diet, believe that as long as they are consuming high amounts of plant-based omega-3 they would not have to consume animal products to get omega-3. However, most of the health benefits that people can get from the fatty acids are linked to animal-based EPA and DHA fats, not plant-based ALA. They are NOT interchangeable.
Animal-based omega-3 EPA and DHA contain between 20 and 22 carbons, while plant-based ALA contains 18 carbons.
Why is it called omega-3?
All of these fatty acids have their first double-bond in the third position, which is why they are called “omega-3.” It’s how chemists write the chemical structures.
After ingesting good amounts of EPA and DHA, from a source such as salmon, the fatty acid level in the blood stays elevated for more than three days after consumption. The body works on its distribution, redistribution, and re-redistribution for three days.
Plant-based ALA omega-3 is rapidly absorbed, peaking a couple of hours after ingestion, and then disappearing within 10 hours. This means that the body uses ALA in a different way compared to EPA and DHA.
ALA fatty acids are considered short-chain and simply food, a source of energy. On the other hand, EPA, and DHA long-chain fatty acids are structural elements. They should not be considered simply food. They are important in the composition of the body cells, play an important role in the body structure. This is significant because researchers believe that most of the health benefits we get from dietary omega-3 fats come from the longer chain derivatives.
Relying on only plant-based omega-3 “ALA” is not the most efficient health strategy to be implemented, also important to mention is that EPA and DHA are not the only reason to eat fish, which is also rich in protein, selenium, and vitamin D. However, EPA, and DHA are considered to be one of the main reasons why people that eat fish on a regular basis have consistently been shown to healthier than those that don’t.