Cod liver oil is a rich source of two important omega-3 fatty acids: docosahexaenoic acid, DHA, and eicosapentaenoic acid, EPA. It's also one of the few natural sources of vitamin D and contains a high level of vitamin A. Few vegan supplements have similar nutritional content. However, by combining sources of these four nutrients, you can easily replace cod liver oil with vegan alternatives.
Cod liver oil provides 4,500 international units of vitamin A in 1 teaspoon, which is 90 percent of your daily intake. Luckily for vegans, vegetables and fruits are among the best natural sources of this visual health-promoting vitamin. Carrots, frozen spinach and pumpkin all provide well over 100 percent of your daily intake, while broccoli, sweet potatoes, cantaloupe, apricots, tomato juice and mangoes provide between 10 and 50 percent of your daily intake in one serving.
Vitamin D plays an essential role in calcium absorption, bone health and the prevention of osteoporosis. Cod liver oil provides 75 percent of your daily intake of this vitamin in a 1-teaspoon serving. Unlike vitamin A, fortified foods are among your only options for replacing this nutrient in a vegan diet. Vitamin D-fortified dairy alternatives, orange juice and breakfast cereals can provide between 10 and 34 percent of your daily intake. Under ideal conditions, you can also meet all of your vitamin D needs by exposing your skin to sunlight for as little as 10 minutes per week between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m.
Cod liver oil is one of the best dietary sources of omega-3 fatty acids. Many vegan foods contain large amounts of omega-3 fatty acids in the form of alpha-linoleic acid, or ALA. Examples include flax and flaxseed oil, canola oil, soybeans, tofu and walnuts. However, these foods do not provide a good source of the cardiovascular health-promoting EPA. Increasing your ALA intake is one way to obtain more EPA, as your body can make small amounts of EPA from ALA. A much more efficient and reliable way is to take microalgae supplements in non-gelatin capsules, which are the only vegan source of EPA.
DHA is one of the main building blocks of your brain, skin and retinas. Similar to EPA, your body can produce small amounts of DHA from ALA. However, these conversions are often very inefficient. Luckily, algae such as kelp, spirulina and dulse are rich vegan sources of DHA. Some microalgae supplements provide the full 500 milligrams of DHA and EPA that you should have each day. DHA-fortified dairy alternatives and orange juices are other options for vegans, providing 20 to 32 milligrams of DHA in a 1-cup serving.
- Daily Mail Online: Cod Liver Oil - Healthy Heart, Circulation and Brain Function
- Office of Dietary Supplements: Dietary Supplement Fact Sheet: Vitamin A
- National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference: Fish Oil, Cod Liver
- Office of Dietary Supplements: Dietary Supplement Fact Sheet: Vitamin D
- Eat Right Ontario: Understanding Non-Dairy Beverages
Matthew Lee has been writing professionally since 2007. Past and current research projects have explored the effect of a diagnosis of breast cancer on lifestyle and mental health and adherence to lifestyle-based (i.e. nutrition and exercise) and drug therapy treatment programs. He holds a Master of Arts in psychology from Carleton University and is working toward his doctorate in health psychology.