When you think of omega-3s, a few things may come to mind: heart health, fatty fish, and the terms EPA and DHA. Not totally clear on the latter? EPA and DHA are specific types of healthy omega-3 fatty acids (which are found in fatty fish) that support your heart, brain, immune health, and more. But while EPA and DHA are certainly deserving of fanfare, they’re not the only omega-3s that should be on your radar.
ALA (or alpha-linolenic acid) is an omega-3 found in plant foods like flaxseed and walnuts. While it’s often overshadowed by EPA and DHA, it offers health benefits all its own—and recent research proves it.
The Benefits Of ALA
A recent systematic review and meta-analysis published in The BMJ put ALA front and center. Since previous research had suggested a link between this plant-based omega-3 and a lower risk of fatal coronary heart disease, the review authors set out to analyze the breadth of relevant studies done on the topic throughout the last few decades.
After evaluating more than 40 studies on about 120,000 people, the review authors noticed a few pretty compelling trends. Their ultimate finding: Eating high amounts of ALA was associated with a lower risk of death from all causes, cardiovascular disease, and coronary heart disease. The link between this plant-based omega-3 and coronary heart disease was the strongest, with a high intake of ALA linked to an 11 percent lower risk of mortality from heart disease.
Since this type of research only looks at the links and connections between different lifestyle factors and outcomes, it can’t conclude that eating more plant-based omega-3s truly causes the lower risk of mortality from conditions noted above. It does, however, highlight a significant enough connection to hopefully warrant more research on the topic that can help us to better understand the exact relationship between ALA and these areas of health.
Though research like this can’t provide a certain amount of ALA to consume per day in order to experience a specific health benefit, it does suggest the value of incorporating healthy plant-based fats into your diet.
The National Institutes of Health currently recommends that adult women consume 1.1 grams of ALA per day, while men aim for 1.6 grams.
Luckily, incorporating more ALA into your diet is easier than you might think. Just a tablespoon of flaxseed oil, for example, offers 7.3 grams—and it’s easy to add to smoothies, oatmeal, and yogurt. Chia seeds, which you can add to anything you’d add flaxseed oil (or whole or ground flaxseeds) to, provide 5.1 grams of ALA per ounce. Need more inspiration? Here are a few simple ways to add more omega-3s to your diet if you don’t like fish.