Thursday, October 6, 2011

the vegetarian family and the challenge of getting our Omega-3s

I have mentioned here before that although I am vegetarian, my children are technically pescatarian- and for those that aren't familiar with that word- they eat seafood from time to time. That is, they did. Until about 4 weeks ago when Indigo had a severe allergic reaction to fish and we ended up in the hospital for the night. Although she has eaten a bit of tuna, salmon and white fish fortnightly since she was 6 months old, she never quite took to it like her big brother and something seemed off with her whenever it was on her plate.

On North's 3rd birthday I made the children homemade fish fingers and within 2 minutes of Indigo touching, barely eating the fish, her entire face went red and blotchy and then blew up like a balloon so much so that she couldn't even see through her swollen eyes. Two hours, steroids and anti-histamines later we sat in the hospital with a referral to see an allergist. Since then we've been to many appointments and the conclusion is that Indigo is allergic to fish. So allergic that we must carry an epi pen with us at all times. So allergic that even the fumes from cooking it could cause her to go into anaphylactic shock.

I am more and more of the belief that eating fish as often as we do and in as much variety as we do is very unsustainable** and that fishing practices are often unethical. However, the biggest reason I wanted Indigo and North to have seafood in their diets was so that they were able to get a bountiful supply of Omega-3 long chain fatty acids which are very, very difficult for our bodies to get and convert from plant-based foods. Omega-3s are vital for healthy brain development and reduce the risk of heart disease, ADHD, depression and arthritis.

After a chat with the hospital's dietitian I acquired a list of vegetarian foods that are high in ALA*** and which our bodies can use to convert into EPAs and then DHAs (see the Wikipedia article under the heading- Interconversion for more detailed information). She didn't seem to think anything else was necessary and that Indi is getting more than enough of what she needs based on our vegetarian diets.

But after reading a few other articles, including an article from Vegan Health,  I have decided to put the whole family on a vegan DHA drop supplement that is derived from algae. Although it is written from a vegetarian perspective the article is quite honest in it's findings and concludes that DHA supplements are very important for vegetarians to consider taking because ALAs are too difficult for our bodies to convert into EPAs and DHAs.

I've learned even more about vegetarian nutrition this month than ever before but am always looking for tips and advice from others, so if you're vegan or vegetarian please share with us in the comments section- how do you make sure you get enough iron, b12, and omega-3s? We'd love to hear your advice!

**Tricia from Little Eco Footprints recently wrote a really informative post about eating sustainable seafood for any of you fish-lovers who are interested.

***List of high Omega-3 plant-based sources the Dietitian provided

chia seeds
flax (linseed)
flax oil
walnut oils
eggs (vegetarian, but not plant-based)

*photo from


Rhiannon said...

Oh Meagan, It sounds like you have had such a busy few weeks. Both the nurse and the mummy in me understand how scary this must have been, and also just having her in the whole hospital environment too, not much fun.
Thanks for the info too. We aren't vegetarian in our house, but we don't eat a lot of fish either. The info was great for us.

Thinking of little Indi xxx

rhiby said...

Oh poor little Indigo! allergic reactions are scary for anyone involved, and especially ones so severe and occurring to such a young little person! Lucky she has such a tough mummy! haha
We all 'indulge' in flax seed oil in our house, eating it with smoothies etc. as well as we cook with lots of chia seeds - it is good in lots of baked products, breads, cakes (we make a lot of orange and almond cake and always include chia seeds). I am still learning about it though as well...

Amy said...

I'm so sorry to hear you had to have such a scary experience with your wee poppet. The same thing happened to me a few years ago. I was never keen on fish, and my fish-loving parents would always complain when I didn't eat their lovingly prepared fillets. However, it always made me feel a bit funny so I avoided it whenever possible. Fast forward to 2007 and I was in the middle of a wildlife reserve in Costa Rica, politely eating the fish I was served up by my host family. This resulted in an intense anaphylactic reaction, drug administration and a scary 2 hour drive to the nearest hospital! The doctor thought it was something to do with the fish species being totally foreign to my system and pushing my allergy over the edge. Now I vey much avoid fish and eat a mainly vegan diet as of late - I try to get my EFAs from chia, avocados and flaxseed.
Sorry for the long post, but our stories are so similar and I wanted to share mine!
Hope Indigo is feeling better now :)

georgi said...

wow what a freaky thing to happen - I'm so glad indigo is ok. It's crazy how allergies can just flare up like that! I eat chia (in smoothies or porridge as a lovely person on my blog suggested), flaxseed oil in salad dressings - the lady at my health food shop told me you can't heat flaxseed oil and still get omega3s from it? I might look into that supplement though. x

Mrs B said...

I can so sympathise having a multiple food allergy child plus I'm ana to some nuts.

We use flax oil for Little B. He has it instead of butter on his toast every day. Or for a change I add it to a smoothie. Has a nice nutty flavour. Stoney Creek is a good organic Australian brand.

As Georgi said, you cant heat flax oil and must keep it chilled. Flax seed added to smoothies are great as well (makes them beautiful and thick and low GI).

I'm also a fan of chia seeds especially as they are grown here in Australia as well.

Mrs B said...
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ashley said...

That would have been terrifying. How lucky to have had the ability to get help for an allergy that severe. I use a lot of seeds and chia is a current favourite in our home. I posted a recipe for some yummy treats called yum balls that have them in it a few weeks back on my blog, have a look.
It is hard to keep up on eating properly in any home but starting with a vegetarian diet is a great base! X ashley
P.s canola oil is also high in omega 3s, and cheap;)

Mrs B said...

Just re-read you post and thought I'd mention that my docs dont believe you cant get enough B12 from diet as a vegan, so I just take a supplement.

Little B is vegetarian not vegan, so he gets B12 from eggs (now that he's outgrown that allergy) and milk.

Sarah (compostkitty) said...
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Sarah (compostkitty) said...

oh i must try that drop supplement! i have tablets i am taking for the second vegan pregnancy but drops could work better for the whole family.

B12 we use the deva ones from here

my two year old lives on avocado mushrooms tofu nut and seeds at the moment and lots of fruit, i havent really worried about her eating habbits as she is still breastfed but i have been curious to try this out since she is feeding a lot less now.

i also have a vegan parents feature on my blog if you want to see how other vegan parents go about it.

food allergies are scary things. glad your little one is ok now.

Tricia said...

I’m sorry Indigo had to go through an experience like that (and you too, it must have been horrifying).

Although we eat seafood occasionally, we mostly rely on getting our Omega 3's from plant based sources and eggs. I recall learning that to get sufficient omega 3's from seafood you need to eat it numerous times a week (and that’s not very sustainable no matter which species you choose. Thanks for linking to my article by the way). Walnuts are my favourite and easiest source. I try and eat a small handful a day and we all eat plenty of eggs. But I was concerned we still weren’t getting enough omega 3’s, so we’ve all been on a fish oil based supplement for a while. I wasn’t thrilled about taking a fish oil supplement – so am pleased to read about the vegan supplement you are taking. I’ll look into it. Thanks for sharing what you have learnt, and I hope indigo’s allergy doesn’t cause you too much worry. x t.

Anonymous said...

What a scary experience you had with you're little one. I'm glad to read she's ok now.

What I've learned about omega 3 is that the reason you can find lot's of it in fatty fish is because the seaweads they eat a full of omega 3. This gets stored in their fat. So of course you could eat the fish in order to get the omega 3 from their fat. But why not cut the middle man and get your'e omega 3 where the fish gets if from: seawead. There is a variaty of seaweads and plants which you can use to make delicious diners, snacks and drinks. You can get the taste of the ocean, the omega 3 and let the fish swim free.

This is something I am trying to convert in our meals. I have a book about it with recipes, but it's not translated in English. But I am sure there are books in English to be found about this subject.

My apologies on forehand for the grammar. English is not my native language.


Ps: I find your'e blog very inspiring.

ecoMILF said...

Thanks so much everyone for your valuable input.
@Amy- never apologise for leaving a long comment- so thoughtful and thanks for sharing your experience.

@MrsB I concur- b12 is so important and very difficult to get as a vegan

@Sarah and Ashley- yum balls and vegan parenting sound right up my alley will check these out tonight!

@Christel. Thanks for the kind words and advice.

Love to all of you and many thanks.

xo m.

superhappyjohi said...

hey Meagan, I am sorry to hear what happened to Indigo. I am vegan and always put chia seeds in my daily green smoothies, ground flax seeds in smoothies on top of oatmeal etc. I also take a multivitamin form new Chapter - from completely natural sources. You can check their website for the Supplement you are looking for.

Evi said...

Having birthed and raised 7 kids on a vegetarian diet for over 20 years, I am now in two minds about not eating meat. My oldest dd was 3 when we became vego, I was pregnant with our 2nd, so all the rest had never eaten any flesh foods other than eggs and dairy. We eat a varied diet, a fair bit of dairy and fats and a lot of raw but I have never added any supplements into their diet - I don't think that Omega-3's were even in the media 20 odd years ago! Another dd who has problems with dairy is now taking B12 but the rest are fine.
7 years ago I suffered a series of miscarriages but during that time I really craved fish, which I had never wanted before, and followed my instincts. I am still eating it now and again as are the younger children. I am unsure how I feel about this. I agree that it is not our right to kill for food, yet I also think that we need to eat meat (all types) rather than take supplements. Having to take a pill to obtain certain nutrients obviously means that we are missing something found in animal flesh.
I can see adjustments that could/should have been made when my kids were growing up but overall I am happy with our earlier no meat decision. Unfortunately, even though I have discovered that my O blood group should have flesh, I just can't do it!!
Sorry, I'm not much help, but just wanted to let you know that bringing up kids without doing much by way of added iron, B12 and Omega's is possible!

Catherine Lowe said...

Great read. After watching, i am leaning toward a compassionate diet, including no animal products. and laziness is all that gets in the way. we are pretty much.
but, even though we are stealing from the bees, i most love honey, & bee pollen. river loves spoonfuls straight from the bucket! im not so much a fan, but its pretty amazing stuff!
my friend ra had a lovely little idea for breaky. cupcake containers for dipping, with some sesame, pollen, spirulina (no takers here, but you can try) cacao, and whatever other delights you have. a sliced up banana provide a corn cob pricker & away you go! was fun. see recipes so other great ideas.
oh, and love the book Baby greens by michaela lynn

Catherine Lowe said...

oh my & i didnt even say, so sorry to hear of your experience with Indi. I can only imagine the terror for you all!

Catherine Lowe said...


PPS would love to hear about your take on the whole tofu cancer link. does this worry you?
im now keen to stick to tempeh, and hear its all in the fermentation process, and that tofu can be quite unhealthy.
Need to hear more opinions though!
there was something else i wanted to ask your take on.. oh yes Cosleeping!
Did you do it? how did you transition out, what were your personal motivations & take on it.

xo Peace :)

kristi said...

how scary for you m. x.

ps. reading all the comments, i just have to say you have amazing readers.

ecoMILF said...

Kristi- I couldn't agree more. Such love and generosity! xx

Emily said...

I am vegetarian and I am using omega3 supplement called V-Mega3. its really effective.

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