Every whole plant food has fat, and there’s no evidence that we need any more fat than what occurs naturally in a low-fat, whole-food, plant-based diet. Just as is the case with protein and calcium, we should not target specific foods to get enough of a particular kind of fat. Omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids appear to be involved in a variety of important bodily functions, including cell membrane stabilization, nervous system function, immune system function, and blood clotting, as well as impacting triglyceride levels, blood pressure, inflammation, cancer, and heart disease. Although they are both essential, in general, these two essential fatty acids should be consumed in a healthy ratio to each other.
Omega-6 are found mostly in animal and processed foods, and the excess consumption of omega-6 impairs the absorption of omega-3.2 The solution, however, is not simply to eat more omega-3 fats. The answer is to eliminate or minimize processed and animal-based foods and instead eat a whole-food, plant-based diet, restores a healthy omega-6 to omega-3 balance and, more important, leads to positive health outcomes.
Ideally, 1 to 3 percent of your calories should come from the essential fats. Adequate daily omega-3 intake is 1.1g for adult women and 1.6g for adult men.3 That’s 1⁄4 to 1⁄3 teaspoon per day. If you meet all your caloric needs with a low-fat, whole-foods diet full of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes, you will easily consume enough essential fatty acids and those fatty acids will be in good balance to each other. Nuts and seeds are whole plant foods with higher concentrations of essential fatty acids, although there’s no evidence that you actually need to eat these foods to get the proper amount of any kind of fat. Most whole plant foods have small amounts of essential fats. Over the course of a day full of these foods you will achieve the needed amounts, which aren’t that much to begin with. In fact, it is significantly more important to worry about not consuming excess fat than it is to worry about consuming sufficient omega-3.