Vegan omega-3 sources for children

February 16, 2010

Flax is more awesome than I ever suspected

Flax is more awesome than I ever suspected

For this week’s question, we’ve got an email from SB reader Jessica: “I’m curious whether you have advice on omega-3 sources for a 4-year-old? It’s been hard to find the vegan chewables that we had been buying, and my child is resistant to drinking smoothies daily, so flax oil does not appear to be an option.”

In the old days when I volunteered at a vegetarian resource centre, we’d skim a few books and Google around to find things that might fit, but one of the things I love most about Spawn Better is that the answers come from real vegan parents who’ve actually dealt with these issues in real life. Here’s how the Council of Vegan Parents are adding omega 3 fatty acids into your children’s diets:

Flax takes the gold

While some alternatives were suggested, and we’ll get into those in a bit, flax was still the top recommendation even if it wasn’t working as a smoothie, what with it containing 7 grams of omega-3 fatty acids per quarter cup. It turns out the stuff is amazingly versatile:

Soups and stews. Sarah’s family grinds flax seeds into soups and stews, and this is an area where the nutty flavour of flax can really add to a dish instead of being something that other flavours need to hide.

Cookies. As Meredith says, “oatmeal chocolate chip cookies with whole flax seeds are definitely appetizing to a little kid” and somehow I don’t think I need to find scientific literature to back that one up.

Just about any baked goods, actually. Flax is often used in vegan baking as an egg replacer, but you can add the stuff at will: Lisa’s trying to throw a little ground flax into almost all of her baking, which covers the cookies we mentioned earlier, as well as breads, muffins, brownies, cakes, and hopefully pies, because pie is awesome.

Kim will swap out some of the oil in a recipe for flax seed: “I reduce the oil in a recipe by half, replace it with 2x flaxseed meal. For example if a recipe calls for 1/2 cup of canola oil, I use 1/4 cup canola oil and 1/2 cup flaxseed meal.”

Also, we don’t judge here, but I’ll keep this one anonymous just in case there’s any lingering embarassment: Pilsbury crescent rolls with flax added before baking did come up in one email. I cannot confirm or deny reports of extensive testing of this idea here at Thrust Labs πŸ™‚

Fruit toppings. You can sprinkle ground flax on just about anything, but adding it to fresh or cooked fruit can add a really nice texture and flavour.

Ground flax seeds are generally preferable to whole seeds since they’re more likely to be digested instead of passed straight through. We grind up large batches at a time in our Vita-Mix (other blenders, a coffee grinder, or possibly a food processor can also do the job) and store a jar in our freezer to keep the oils fresh.

Also, flax oil can be used for more than just smoothies. According to Doh, “while flax oil cannot be used for cooking, it can handle being warm. If it’s cool enough to eat, it’s cool enough for flax oil. After the food was taken off the stove, I added flax oil to mashed potatoes, spaghetti sauce, and salad dressings and dips. I used it with, or instead of, margarine on vegetables. I spread it on toast before adding whatever spread my son wanted. You can also mix it into hummus, or baba ganoush. When I buy the natural peanut (or other nut) butter that has separated, I pour off the peanut oil (saving it for stir-fries), and replace it with flax oil. Be sure to get lignan-free flax oil, and to store the nut butter in the fridge after you add flax oil.”

Other omega-3 sources

Beyond flax, several other choices came up in our discussions:

Soy and hemp milk. Silk makes an Enhanced Omega-3 and Calcium soymilk blend that contains 32 mg of DHA Omega-3 per serving, but other brands are worth a look as well, depending on what’s in your supermarket.

Shelled hempseed. These sprinkle well on salads, and we’ve also tried using them instead of pine nuts in some recipes – it’s not exactly the same taste, but it’s enjoyable just the same.

Walnuts. A quarter cup of walnuts contains 2.3g of omega-3s. Monica’s kids love pesto, so she’s been making good use of Isa Chandra Moskowitz’s recipe from Veganomicon: The Ultimate Vegan Cookbook (affiliate link, but check out page 65, yo!)

Granola. If you pick a brand with hemp or flax, you’ll get some omega-3 sources there. You can eat it by itself, or you can do like Sarah does and sprinkle it on top of her daughter’s soy yogourt or cereal. A quick scan on the interwebs found the Hemp Plus Granola, which contains 600mg of omega-3 fatty acids per serving, or you can make your own – here’s a recipe for cinnamon-maple granola that looks pretty simple.

Cereals. Many of the cereals that lack cartoon mascots make up for it with rich sources of Omega-3s. The Mesa Sunrise brand was mentioned by one parent, bu I can’t find the fat breakdown for this one from here.

Rapeseed oil. Also called canola oil, this fat works well when cooking and contains a 2:1 omega-6 to omega-3 ratio (discussed below.) Be aware though, that this product is commonly genetically modified and there appear to be other controversies with the product.

Chia seeds. A relative newcomer to the “superfood” roster (how did we go so many years singing the Chia Pet theme song without realizing the stuff was edible?), chia seeds are getting a lot of attention lately, with 64% omega-3 concentration in its oil.

Drink supplements. If all else fails, supplement! Celeste found the Omega To Go kid friendly powders, which contain 100mg of omega-3 DHA.

Some facts on fats

The main thing to understand about omega 3 fatty acids is that while the quantity is important, the ratio of omega 3 to omega 6 fatty acids is also something to watch out for. I’m not a nutritionist, and nothing on this site constitutes solid medical advice, but I rely heavily on Becoming Vegan: The Complete Guide to Adopting a Healthy Plant-Based Diet (affiliate link) whenever I need to know about this topic (and pretty much any other nutrition question – Brenda Davis and Vesanto Melina have done an amazing job!)

The challenge is that omega-6 fatty acids are way more prevalent in most people’s diets, but as Steph points out, fresh whole foods will be much more likely to adhere to a healthier ratio than processed items.

A big thanks to Meredith, Sarah, Steph, Monica, Lisa, Celeste, Kim, and Doh for helping out with this one!

{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

Sayward February 16, 2010 at 11:22 am

It's my understanding that the omega-3s in flax are denatured when they're heated (which is why they do not recommend using flax oil for cooking). Wouldn't that make all the soup/stew/baking/etc an unreliable source of omega-3? If anyone has any info on this I'd really appreciate it.

sarahmobry February 16, 2010 at 12:52 pm

Baking, perhaps… I am not entirely sure on that one. I'm the one who adds it to soup, and I mix it in directly at the end of cooking, so it is only warmed a bit and not actually cooking. I also do not allow the soup to boil, and that helps to retain not only the nutrients in the flax but also the vegetables.

jasondoucette February 16, 2010 at 3:26 pm

Good point Sayward! That was one of those forehead slappers after I wrote this up πŸ™‚

The good news is that it appears that flax seed (but possibly not flax oil) is able to resist the temperatures/durations used in baking. I know “I saw it on the internet” isn't a conclusive proof, but I'm going by some of the information on this page: http://blog.nutritiondata.com/ndblog/2008/03/do

Sayward February 16, 2010 at 7:22 pm

It's my understanding that the omega-3s in flax are denatured when they're heated (which is why they do not recommend using flax oil for cooking). Wouldn't that make all the soup/stew/baking/etc an unreliable source of omega-3? If anyone has any info on this I'd really appreciate it.

sarahmobry February 16, 2010 at 8:52 pm

Baking, perhaps… I am not entirely sure on that one. I'm the one who adds it to soup, and I mix it in directly at the end of cooking, so it is only warmed a bit and not actually cooking. I also do not allow the soup to boil, and that helps to retain not only the nutrients in the flax but also the vegetables.

jasondoucette February 16, 2010 at 11:26 pm

Good point Sayward! That was one of those forehead slappers after I wrote this up πŸ™‚

The good news is that it appears that flax seed (but possibly not flax oil) is able to resist the temperatures/durations used in baking. I know “I saw it on the internet” isn't a conclusive proof, but I'm going by some of the information on this page: http://blog.nutritiondata.com/ndblog/2008/03/do

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Jane January 22, 2016 at 2:37 pm

It’s important to note, that while flax is a good source of omega 3, you really need DHA and EPA for development in young kids. The only source of this for vegans is algae.

Jane January 22, 2016 at 2:37 pm

It’s important to note, that while flax is a good source of omega 3, you really need DHA and EPA for development in young kids. The only source of this for vegans is algae.

Jane January 22, 2016 at 2:39 pm

Just to clarify, DHA and EPA are forms of omega 3, typically longer chained and better at reducing omega 6 levels. Way more beneficial to the brain and neural development than ALA which is typically found in the foods listed here. Savi seeds or Inka peanuts are another good source of omega 3’s and unlike the other foods listed in this article are actually higher in omega 3’s than omega 6’s.

Jane May 20, 2016 at 10:36 am

Good article but I think you’re missing Omega 3 from microalgae sources. These can now contain high amounts of DHA (as opposed to ALA), which can be beneficial for the development of children.

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