Omega-3s aren’t only found in seafood.
If you don’t eat fish, follow a vegan or vegetarian diet, or just want to get more omega-3s in, you may want to make sure that walnuts and flaxseeds are a part of your eating plan. Research on alpha-linolenic acid or ALA, the omega-3 fatty acid found in these plant foods, shows big benefits for health, especially the heart.
The research analyzed a number of previous randomized control trials and observational studies. These looked at the effects of ALA on heart disease risk factors and inflammation. Some studies used reports from participants of what they ate to determine their ALA intake, others used biomarkers in the blood to measure the levels of ALA.
- Increasing dietary intake of ALA was associated with a 10% lower risk of cardiovascular disease and a 20% reduced risk of fatal coronary heart disease.
- 3 separate trials showed ALA reduced total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, triglycerides, and blood pressure.
- One study showed an anti-inflammatory effect of ALA which may account for the cardiovascular benefits.
- There was a trend in another study toward diabetes risk reduction with the increased intake of ALA.
- Studies on ALA and cognition are in the early stages but showed promising results when it comes to warding off cognitive impairment.
The takeaway: How can you get the benefits of ALA in your diet? The authors of the research review recommend that you need as little as 1/2 ounce of walnuts or 1 teaspoon of flaxseed oil per day. Though they note that more research is needed to see if these current recommendations should be raised. They also plan to investigate the effects of ALA on major chronic diseases.