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I don’t eat fish. How can I be certain I eat enough omega-3 during my pregnancy?

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By : Nurturing Life's Nutrition Team | Montreal Diet Dispensary
— Updated on :

It will be necessary to include other omega-3 rich foods in your diet, such as algae, eggs and omega-3 enriched beverages.  Certain oils and even certain nuts and grains (listed below) can also help meet omega-3 needs.

Omega-3 is called an “essential” fatty acid because the body needs it to function but it is unable to make it itself. Additionally, pregnant women have increased needs in omega-3 to ensure proper development of the brain and nervous system of the fetus.
The main omega-3 fatty acids are alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA).  They play an important role in the functioning of the nervous system and in eye health.  ALA can convert into EPA, but only in limited amounts.
In the case of a vegetarian or vegan diet, nutritional intake is often rich in omega-6 but poor in omega-3.  This imbalance reduces the conversion of ALA into EPA.  To better balance these different types of fats in the diet, it is advisable to increase the quantity of omega-3 consumed and decrease the quantity of omega-6 consumed. DHA and EPA are particularly important; for more information, please read the following article.
The following table illustrates the different types of omega-3 fatty acids and the foods that contain them in good quantity.

Omega-3 (DHA/EPA) Omega-3 (ALA) Omega-6
Fish Seed and linseed oil Safflower oil
Seafood Canola oil Sunflower oil
Algae Walnuts Grape seed oil
Omega-3enriched eggs Chia seeds
Pumpkin seeds
Hemp seeds

Unlike other plants, algae are rich in DHA and thus an interesting option for vegetarians.  Commercial microalgae supplements are also available in the market; they can help fulfill the higher omega-3 requirements of pregnant and nursing women.

Are you wondering whether or not you should take an omega-3 supplement?  Click here (English version will follow).

References

  • Lamontagne D, Caty C, Paradis G. Le végétarisme. (2013). Dans Chagnon Decelle D, Daignault Gélinas M, Lavallée Côté L et coll. Manuel de Nutrition Clinique en ligne, Montréal.Ordre professionnel des diététistes du Québec. http://opdq.org/
  • Position of the American dietetic association: Vegetarian diet.(2009). Journal of the Academy of nutrition and dietetics. Volume 109, Issue 7, Pages 1266-1282.
  • Shils, M.E., Shike, M., Ross, C., Caballero, B. & Cousins, R. (2006). Modern nutrition in health and diseases (10th ed.). Philadelphia, United States of America: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins.

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The views expressed herein do not necessarily represent the official views of the Public Health Agency of Canada.