Salmon usually comes to mind when thinking of omega-3 fatty acids. A research review has however determined that alpha-linolenic acid, the primary plant-based nutrient version known as ALA, can be beneficial for heart health and help to reduce heart disease risk for people who don’t consume seafood.1✅ JOURNAL REFERENCE
In an extensive literature review, which indicates there are several methods for meeting the omega-3 fatty acid recommendations, the researchers determined that consuming ALA that’s present in plant-based foods such as flaxseeds and walnuts was linked to a 10% reduction in cardiovascular disease risk and a 20% reduction in fatal coronary heart disease risk.
There are various reasons why individuals might not want to consume seafood; however, omega-3 consumption is still crucial for reducing heart disease risk and promoting overall health. Plant-based ALA derived from flaxseeds or walnuts can also provide these benefits, particularly when included in a healthy diet abundant with whole grains, vegetables, and fruits.
Evidence was also found that individuals who are eating seafood could get additional benefits from consuming plant-based omega-3s.
When individuals with low omega-3 levels in their diet consumed ALA, they experienced benefits in cardiovascular health. Individuals with high omega-3 levels from other sources also benefitted from consuming more ALA. This suggests that ALA could be working together with other omega-3s.
Other studies have associated omega-3s with a reduction in heart disease risk. This conclusion has however been based largely on evidence from omega-3s derived from marine sources, with little evidence for ALA benefits.
Data for this review were analyzed from other studies that assessed the impact of ALA on heart disease and risk factors for heart disease such as inflammation and blood pressure. The studies analyzed included observational studies as well as randomized controlled trials.
While several of the observational studies depended on the individuals self-reporting how often specific foods were consumed to establish the amount of ALA consumed, other studies made use of a more accurate measure – biomarkers, a method of measuring ALA levels in the blood.
With the introduction of personalized medicine and precision nutrition, there is more awareness now of the necessity of identifying and treating those who could get the most benefit from an increase in consumption of foods rich in ALA.
After the studies were analyzed, it was discovered that ALA had a beneficial impact on the reduction of atherogenic lipids and lipoproteins such as triglycerides, LDL cholesterol, and total cholesterol, in addition to inflammation and blood pressure. This could help explain ALA’s benefits to heart health.
Evidence was found that supports the current dietary recommendations that ALA should be providing approximately 0.6to 1% of total daily energy, which is approximately 1.6 gm daily for men and 1.1 gm daily for women, and can be included in the diet with foods that include flaxseeds, walnuts, and cooking oils which include soybean and canola oils.
These guidelines are equivalent to approximately 1/2 oz of walnuts or just less than 1 tsp of flaxseed oil.