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!