EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), both omega-3 fatty acids found in fish, have been widely popularized for their noted health benefits. These healthy fats may help lower risk of Alzheimer’s disease, reduce age-related hearing loss, lower levels of stress hormones in the blood, and help prevent heart disease. Promising 2014 research suggests ALA (alpha-linolenic acid), the omega-3 fatty acid found in plant foods such as chia seeds, walnuts, flaxseeds, and pumpkin seeds, might also offer the same benefits for your heart.
Penn State nutritionists reviewed current evidence on the benefits of the different omega-3 fatty acids, finding strong evidence for the benefits of ALA. In a Dutch study, people who ate one or more grams of ALA per day had a 35-50% lower risk of stroke after up to 13 years of follow-up. Three different trials comparing ALA with DHA and EPA found similar beneficial effects on heart disease risk factors like cholesterol and triglyceride levels. Research from Appalachian State University at the North Carolina Research Campus, home of the Dole Nutrition Institute’s research laboratory, found that eating about 2.5 tablespoons of chia seeds per day increased blood levels of ALA by 58% and EPA by 39%, suggesting dietary ALA increases circulating EPA, which could confer health benefits.
Where to find ALA
ALA is found in walnuts, pumpkin seeds, flaxseeds, chia seeds, and oils made from these sources. It’s also found in canola oil and tofu. Try snacking on a handful of walnuts between meals, tossing pumpkin seeds in green salads, using canola oil in cooking, and sprinkling ground flaxseed or chia seed on oatmeal.