Thursday, May 24, 2007

DHA, Udo's Oil, and Tips

I want to address DHA today, since I noted it in my letter to the NY Times, and because I think many of us aren't aware of it.

First off, I am not a nutritionist. I will explain things in layman's terms and will give you some resources to reference.

DHA is "docosahexaenoic acid", and is termed a "long-chain fatty acid". DHA is not the same as the omega-3 fatty acids we know. Omega-3 fatty acids are found in vegan foods, of course in flax (abundantly), and also in walnut, soy, and leafy greens, and in help foods, canola, and salba. If we do not consume DHA through food (which is usually through fish or fish oil, or a vegan form of DHA), then our bodies must make that conversion from the omega-3 fatty acids into the DHA.

As my naturopath explained to me years ago, our bodies are able to make this conversion, but for some of us, that conversion is not always very effective. And we don't really know if we are an 'effective converter' or not. To be on the safe side, it is wise to supplement with DHA, especially for our children, but also for yourself.

In Vive le Vegan!, I address this topic in the "Feeding Your Vegan Baby & Toddler Section". This is an excerpt from that section, concerning DHA and breastfeeding:

The World Health Organization agrees, identifying research that shows that exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months is the optimal way of feeding infants. Thereafter, infants should receive complementary foods with continued breastfeeding up to two years of age or beyond. Exclusive breastfeeding until the middle of baby’s first year is the best means of preventing allergies, in addition to the mother’s avoidance of the most allergenic foods during the last trimester of pregnancy and during lactation. Vegans should be aware that babies need DHA in their diet for their first two years. DHA is a long-chain fatty acid important for brain development and vision; it must be obtained through the diet during an infant’s early years. It is found naturally in mammalian milk, but not in soy milk, soy formula, or any other plant-based milks. Therefore, if you will not or cannot breast feed during your child’s first two years, I suggest that you speak with a trusted, knowledgeable naturopath or physician for more information about DHA to determine what options will work best for you and your growing baby.
If you are pregnant or breastfeeding, it wise to supplement with DHA. Then, once your baby is into solid foods, you can incorporate DHA directly into their food. As a growing child, and as adults, we should also includ DHA in our foods.

So, how do we get vegan DHA?

I have tried out various forms of vegan DHA. There are capsules and oil available from places like Vegan Essentials. I have tried a few brands, and preferred the capsules personally, because the brand of oil I tried was not very fresh tasting or smelling. It can be tricky to get children to take the oil because of its strong taste and odor, but you may get older children swallowing a capsule. Even the capsules have some odor, so...

My current preference is Udo's DHA Oil Blend. The label to the right is the Canadian label, above is the US. The DHA is algae derived, and the oil blend also contains organic flax, sunflower, sesame, and evening primrose oils (and other natural oils). This oil is sold refrigerated, and unlike some of the other DHA oils you may have tried, this oil has no odor and tastes quite fresh and 'clean'.

We use this Udo's Oil daily. Here are some ways to get it into your diet, and your kiddos diets:

- Smoothies. Blend up your fave smoothie and add it in with the mix.
- Yogurts. Stir it (well) into soy or other non-dairy yogurts. Our girls love this, and typically if they are having a nut butter sandwich, they will 'dip' it into the yogurt with the DHA. They don't even know it's there.
- Goddess Dressing slurry. My girls LOVE Goddess Dressing. Ok, so do I. They like it best as a 'dip' (of course!) with sandwiches or other finger foods. So, if they are having a savory sandwich, like a hummus/avocado sandwich, I stir the DHA oil into the Goddess Dressing. They devour it. Also, the new obsession in our home is to mix nutritional yeast (known here as "cheesy sprinkles") with the Goddess Dressing. Sound weird? Don't knock it till you've tried it!! I am known to swirl carrot sticks into the mix and lop it up! Plus, not only are you getting the DHA into that Goddess Dressing, but also the minerals and extra B12 from the nutritional yeast.
- Other condiments you or your kids love. Stir it into ketchup, mustard, vegan mayonnaise, or your other fave condiments.
- Add it to salad dressings, either homemade or storebought.
- Mix it into guacamole or other dips or bean spreads.
- Add it to your 'flax-y oil' drizzle!

Of course, you can take the oil on its own, but this usually isn't so easy for kids. They need a vehicle to carry the oil. Whatever the dressing, dip, hummus, shake, drink... whatever the food.

Also, I know that Silk has a new soy milk that contains DHA. I haven't seen it in Canada, but I understand it is available in the US. This makes DHA consumption even easier.

Vegans can also increase their conversion rate of DHA by increasing their intake of foods such as flax, walnut, hemp, greens (omega-3 source foods). See this reference for more details (scroll down to EPA's and DHA's).

Here are other links you can read to learn more on healthy fats and DHA.

Also, if you don't have a copy already, every vegan should have Becoming Vegan by Vesanto Melina and Brenda Davis.

This DHA info is important for vegans, so please spread the word and link this post on your own blog if you like. Also, be sure to read some of the linked resources on DHA above. And of course, go buy some Udo's DHA oil or other vegan DHA source. DHA is especially key for preggo moms, nursing moms, little babes and kids... but it is ALSO an important nutrient for us grown adults.

Now, go break open that bottle of Goddess Dressing, get your cheesy sprinkles and Udo's Oil and mix it up!


erica said...

This is good information. I use E3 AFA algea, but don't know how much DHA is in it (was using it more for all other other nutrients). Thanks!

Aurelie said...

Wow, thanks for all the info!!!!!! You should copy and paste and send it as another letter.

Susan Voisin said...

Thanks for addressing this important subject. It's amazing how many people don't know about DHA--or who think it's the same as Omega 3's. We're partial in my family to Dr. Fuhrman's DHA Purity, though we've also used Omega Zen; we call them "brain pills," and my daughter takes them eagerly. I will have to look for Udo's Oil and give it a try, too.

Kathy said...

Thanks for a great post, very thing I would like to point out is that, unfortunately, the new Silk Enhanced soymilk is not make with organic soybeans :(

aimee said...

Thanks, Dreena, for some very important information. I use the Udo's oil, as well, and agree that it is the oil with the least taste of those I've tried. I usually take it as-is, but certainly like the sound of that goddess dressing mix! Yum! Aimee

hyphen_helena said...

I believe I am the only one but I hate Annie's Goddess Dressing. And I feel like I'm missing out because so many people are diehard fans, but I can't stand it. I even tried it again tonight to see if anything had changed but it seems nothing has. I think it's too sour or something. I do love Papaya Poppy Seed, though.

bazu said...

Thank you for this info- I always linked DHA's to Omega 3's in my mind, and feel much more knowledgeable now! And I'm craving goddess dressing slurry... mmm...

Julie said...

So, I am confused a little. Should I be using flax oil and something w/ DHA?

Thanks Dreena!!

Carrie™ said...

Well, now that is good info. I love the Udo's Omega Blend. Now I'll have to try this. I just mix a couple of tablespoons in with my OJ in the morning. It doesn't really taste and I get my essentials first thing in the morning.

Amie Dianne said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Amie Dianne said...

Julie, check out this page from Vesanto Melina, the co-author of Becoming Vegan. This topic can be a bit confusing, but she provides a super-thorough explanation of omega-3 fats.

A quote from that site:
"In theory we should be able to convert the omega-3 fatty acids in flaxseed to both EPA and DHA. Yet even the Flax Council of Canada concedes that there is little consistent and clear evidence that most of us can efficiently accomplish this conversion. . . . Those who do not eat fish, vegetarians, vegans, women who are pregnant or lactating women, people with conditions linked with poor omega-3 fatty acid status, diabetics, and the elderly may benefit significantly from direct sources of EPA and DHA. High intakes of omega-6 fatty acids, trans fats, or saturated fats inhibit conversion; thus people with diets high in these fats also may need supplemental EPA and DHA."

The short answer being, ideally, yes, vegans—especially vegan children and pregnant women—should include both flax oil (which contains an important pre-cursor to DHA) and a direct source of DHA (like Udo's Oil) in their diet for optimal health & disease prevention.

Odwalla Soy Milk is another brand that includes vegan DHA from algae in their products. I've tried it and found it to be pretty tasty... similar to Silk, though perhaps with a slightly more 'oily' consistency (maybe just my imagination?). Hope this helps a bit... :)

Dreena said...

Hi guys, thanks for all the notes and I'm glad the info is helpful.

Susan, I haven't tried the Dr. Fuhrman brand - I'd like to though. I don't know if it's available in stores here in Canada, I should check online (unless it's refrigerated). Thanks for the tip!

Kathy - I didn't realize that about Silk. That's a bummer, why wouldn't they use organic soy beans with it?? Odd.

Helena, funny, well you are allowed to like what you like! I love the papaya poppy seed dressing too. Actually with the Goddess Dressing, I like that for dipping vegetables and as a drizzle on sandwiches more than for salads. For salads I prefer the Papaya Poppy Seed! See, you're not completely alone. :)

Hi Julie, it's a good idea to do so. Flax has the omega-3's, which technically can be converted into DHA... but, we don't know how efficient our bodies are at making that conversion. Taking a DHA supplement just helps ensure. Also, since some factors can inhibit the conversion (ex: too many omega 6 oils), then again taking the DHA is a safe bet. You can take it directly in capsule or oil, or in combination with other oils (as with Udo's). Amie has given another link from Vesanto's site for you to check out too. Let me know if you have other q's.

Susan Voisin said...

Dreena, the great thing about Dr. Fuhrman's brand is that it takes literally only a few drops so it's easy to hide in any food. It has a slightly lemony taste, so it works well in smoothies, but I just usually squirt it directly into my mouth. He does ship to Canada and other countries, too. Check for more details.

Everyday Superhero said...

Awesome post. Hubby's always telling me about DHA since he's done a lot of work on this topic. I'll have to get some Udo's Oil and I'll link your post on my blog.

Julie said...

Thanks Aimee and Dreena!!

Dreena said...

Susan, thanks for that extra info. I'm keen to try it. I like the idea of being able to take a little squirt in the mouth. I'm going to see if my health food store will bring it in (since shipping in small orders is $$), but if not I'll order it myself. Excellent tip, thank you!! :)

Anonymous said...

Dreena, thanks for the link from my question on veganfreak. That's a very informative article, I must look for the udo oil here in Ireland. I must also say that I've found your food intro schedule in VLV very useful for my baby, most books have them eating everything under the sun by 6 months and we were only starting then!

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Dumb Okie said...

Hi Dreena,

First, thank you so much for your wonderful books. Every recipe is simple, fun to make, and most of all, delicious.

But the reason I'm sending you this note is that I'm looking for a trustworthy source or at least an informed opinion about how much Udo per day is enough Udo per day. I currently use a heuristic of 1 tbs per day, as the bottle recommends 3 dessert spoons. However, I'm quite skeptical about all homeopathic supplements, including and especially about their dosage recommendations. I wonder if you have come across any recommendation for daily amounts of Udo that you trust and that you may actually apply. Thank you so much, Ronni.

Anonymous said...

I've never been able to figure this out...if we all get a big dose of omega-6 in our diet, why put it in a omega-3 supplement? Doesn't the extra -6 ruin my attemp to up the -3 in my ratio of 3 to 6??

Karen said...

I have to avoid fish oil because of a seafood allergy - whether it's the proteins or the organic iodines causing the problem I don't know. I looked into vegan sources of DHA and they're all from marine algae. Is there any hope for those of us who can't eat anything from the sea?

Dreena said...

Karen, I am not aware of any non-marine (algae) DHA. I would expect that you would have to be sure to get ample amounts of omega-3's through chia seed, flax meal/oil, walnuts, etc... sorry I'm not of more help!