Algae Oil is the New Fish Oil

We all know that fish contains those fabled omega-3 fatty acids that our bodies need. That’s why fish is “so healthy” for us, right? Well, it turns out there’s a better way to get your omega-3, and it involves going straight to the original source: Algae.

Just like how a cow gets its calcium from the plants it eats, fish get their omega-3 from the algae they eat. And if they aren’t eating algae directly, they’re eating it indirectly somewhere along the food chain.

Fish oil is a great source of omega-3, but like all foods, fish is a package deal. It often comes with contaminants such as PCBs and persistent organic pollutants like pesticides. This may be through no fault of the manufacturer, and rather a side effect of our overly polluted oceans. PCBs and mercury have become unavoidable byproducts of seafood– wild caught or farm-raised, it doesn’t matter.

Studies show that long-chain fatty acids EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) not only benefit heart health, but perhaps more importantly, they benefit and protect the brain. These fatty acids are essential for memory, cognition, and emotional well-being.

Furthermore, since the advent of cooking oils, most people consume far too many Omega-6 fatty acids. Supplementing with EPA/DHA with fish oil or algae oil can help balance this out. Whether your’e a vegan, omnivore, or flexitarian, you might want to consider getting more omega-3 and less omega-6 in your diet.

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There are some ultra-purified fish oil supplements that claim to be virtually free from mercury and PCBs, but for those who are vegan/vegetarian or unwilling to take the risk, there is a better way: Algae-based Omega-3 supplements.

These products essentially cut out the “middle-fish.”

Algae based EPA/DHA supplements can be found on Amazon, or your local natural foods market.

On a personal note, the addition of the supplement Ovega-3 has helped me tremendously throughout my plant-based journey. My first attempt at going vegan failed due to depressive symptoms, which I later figured out was due to an Omega-3 deficiency.  Seafood was the last thing to go for me, so when I abruptly ended my fish consumption and increased or maintained my nut and oil consumption, it wreaked mild havoc upon my brain.

As soon as I added an algae-based omega-3 supplement and ground flaxseed (a great source of ALA) my diet, the emotional and cognitive symptoms lifted, and suddenly I didn’t need fish. An omega-3 supplement turned out to the missing ingredient to my vegan diet.

Next time you decide to replenish your fish oil supply, try algae oil instead. At the very least, you’ll reap the same benefits without have to suffer through those fishy burps.

(Note: I am in no way financially invested in or supported by the Ovega-3 company. I’m sure that there are plenty of other fine algae-based EPA/DHA supplements on the market. Ovega-3 is the only one I’ve tried so far, and thus, I can only personally speak to its efficacy).

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A Vegan Lifestyle is a Life of Abundance, Not Deprivation

The biggest mistake I made during my plant-based transition was focusing on everything I was losing, rather than everything I was gaining.

I was a serial quitter, after all. Not in the workplace or in academia, but with poor lifestyle habits. I quit smoking. I quit drinking. I quit diet soda. I quit regular soda. I quit fast food. I quit prescription medications. I quit over the counter allergy medicines. I get quite the kick out of quitting bad habits, so quitting meat, dairy and eggs felt only natural to me.

But as much as I am a lover of quitting bad habits, I’m also a lover of abundance. I’m a long distance runner. I’ll brew and drink several cups of coffee and tea in one day. I have a supplement to prevent every ailment. My backyard is full of exotic, edible/fruit bearing trees (shh… don’t tell my HOA!). My bedroom walls have always been fully decorated. My pantry looks like I’m preparing for WWIII. And perhaps most notably, I love food and I have a tendency to eat A LOT.

So, even though my vegan journey had been off to a great start, I started longing for what I thought I was missing out on.

As a fishmonger, I loved seafood. Giving up pork, beef, chicken and cheese was easy. Fish was the last bastion of my carnism. Wild-caught sea life epitomizes abundance, and as an abundance lover, I constantly feel the temptation to consume anything new. Seafood was exotic, and there was almost always something new. Sea Urchin? Yes, please! Swordfish spinal fluid? You bet. Fish heads? Bring it on.

Nothing scared me. Hell, I’d have eaten fugu back in my sushi heyday.

But then I realized that there’s a freedom in quitting. No longer was I wrecking my brain, trying to justify eating certain animals. No longer was I spending lots of money on fresh fish and expensive sushi dinners. No longer was I getting fast food and take-out for my lunch breaks.

And just like that, my plate opened up.

There was so much more room for fresh fruits and vegetables. Nuts and seeds became a staple, rather than an afterthought. Exotic grains and high quality breads began to steal the show. I found a whole world of plant foods that I was ignoring. Giving up meat, dairy and eggs really gives you a deeper appreciation of everything else in the food pyramid.

I now walk through the produce department like a kid in a candy store, and navigating the grocery department is an adventure every single time. Now I’m an expert at scouring ingredients lists, and my meals are more exciting than ever before (and it’s hard to top the swordfish spinal fluid).

Don’t let FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) prevent you from making the switch. You’ll quickly find that the less you eat something, the less you crave it. Your taste buds will adapt to whatever you feed it. Our wonderful bodies are hardwired to adapt to change, and as long as you take full advantage of the grocery and produce departments at your local market, you’ll find that there’s a world of culinary abundance out there to discover.

Go vegan and prosper.

No, Oysters Are Not Vegan. But That Isn’t the Whole Story…

I’m a vegan, and I’ve personally slaughtered approximately 1 million oysters in my lifetime. And for some reason, I don’t feel too bad about it.

For years, as a young twenty-something, I worked at one of the best raw bars in southwest Florida, as the restaurant’s primary shucker. Don’t get me wrong, I occasionally had my doubts and concerns about what I was doing, but shucking oysters and steaming mussels to death didn’t feel as horrible as boiling a lobster alive.

I’ve boiled hundreds of lobsters alive, by the way. I don’t feel good about it today, and I didn’t feel good about it back then. My intuition told me that there was a distinct difference, but I hadn’t actually explored the science behind why it was different.

Until now…

Science (So Far) Suggests that Oysters and Mussels Do Not Suffer

You may have seen articles circulating around about the “ostrovegan” issue, such as this editorial on Slate, Consider the Oyster. It’s almost certainly true that oysters and mussels do not suffer at the same capacity as dogs, cows, pigs, chickens and even fish– but that doesn’t mean it’s OK for vegans to eat them.

(For an alternative perspective on this issue, check out this blog from Marc Bekoff of the Huffington Post.)

Oysters and mussels do not have brains, or even a complex nervous system. Like plants, they are also not motile, thus rendering pain receptors an unnecessary biological feature. Unlike clams and scallops, oysters and mussels are sessile bivalves. Bivalves have two pairs of nerve chords and three pairs of ganglia.

There are no published descriptions of behavioral or neurophysiological responses to tissue injury in bivalves.

Although technically ocean animals, oysters and mussels are clearly different than lobsters, crabs, squid, fish, octopus, and even clams and scallops.

 

Oysters and Mussels Clean our Waters

Unlike the factory farming of any other animal, oysters and mussels actually improve their environment. They filter phytoplankton and excess nutrients, helping prevent ocean “dead zones.” They create reef-like habitats for small sea creatures. They help facilitate the food chain, as tiny shrimp-like creatures feed on their “pseudo-feces,” which are then eaten by crabs and seahorses.

In fact, due to the benign harvesting practices of most shellfish farmers, oysters and rope-cultured mussel cultivation causes significantly less animal suffering and animal deaths than most fruit, vegetable and grain farming operations! From a utilitarian ethics standpoint, even if oysters do feel some sort of pain, farming and consuming them may arguably be more ethical than not.

 

Buyer Beware

As filters feeders, they accumulate the toxins of their habitats, acting as beasts of burden for the ocean. Consumers should be extremely careful about where their oysters are sourced from. For example, Louisiana oysters are subject to tremendous amounts of agricultural runoff from the Mississippi River (“Round-Up Ready” Oysters!). 

And that’s not to mention the BP oil spill of 2010. Sadly, industrial runoff and environmental pollution may one day render these briny little snot-rockets inedible.

Some oysters are cultivated for the sole purpose of cleaning waterways, like the now completely inedible Liberty Oysters of Long Island.

Check out the Billion Oyster Project!

Oysters and Mussels are Nutrition Powerhouses for Vegans

If you’re on a plant-based diet and you’re concerned about nutritional deficiencies, oysters and mussels are excellent sources of iron, B12, protein, omega-3 fatty acids and zinc– all of which are somewhat elusive in a vegan diet. I’m not suggesting you go to your local oyster bar and shell-out $20-$30 for a dozen oysters, but if you seriously think you might have a nutrient deficiency due to an inadequate diet, eating oysters or mussels on occasion is a far better option than completely abandoning your vegan lifestyle. Rope-cultured blue mussels from Prince Edward Island, Canada, or Green Lipped Mussels from New Zealand are mostly safe, affordable options.

Oysters and mussels also contain significant amounts of cholesterol, which is something to consider.

Note: A properly planned vegan diet should not cause any nutritional deficiencies, as long as a B12 supplement is being used.

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Bottom-Line: Make no mistake, oysters and mussels are not vegan, but they are probably the most “vegan” animal protein you can eat (besides clean meat, of course).

That being said, I no longer eat bivalves, as I prefer to give all animals the benefit of the doubt…just in case. Quite frankly, I no longer tolerate animal protein very well anymore anyway. But for people on the fence about going all in on a plant-based journey, I highly recommend sustainably raised oysters and mussels as a “cheat.”

If you’re struggling along your plant-based journey, and you feel some sort of nutritional or psychological respite eating oysters or mussels, then go for it! In my opinion, you don’t need to give up your vegan title to occasionally eat an animal that may or may not feel pain in the recognizable sense.

If you’re eating mussels instead of (and not in addition to) chicken, beef, pork or fish, then you’re on the right track… as long as you’re considering the source, of course.

(Note: Always consult a doctor before incorporating shellfish into your diet. Shellfish allergies are common and serious. Some people develop shellfish allergies later in their life. Even if you aren’t aware of any food allergies, an Epipen is a lifesaving tool that should be considered by all families).