Conventional nutrition states that omega-3 fats are unsaturated fats crucial for a healthy heart and cardiovascular system. They could only be found in oily fish like mackerel, salmon, and sardines. Given this information, having a healthy heart without these essential fats seems to be impossible for vegans and those who have gone for a more plant-dominant lifestyle.
However, a recent study published by experts at Evan Pugh University in the nutritional journal Advances in Nutrition begs to differ. They contend that there is a way for vegans to get unsaturated fats into their diets.
ALA is the Answer
According to Penny Kris-Etherton, a professor of nutritional sciences at Evan Pugh, alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), a similar unsaturated fat, can help reduce cardiovascular disease by 10% and the risk of fatal coronary heart disease by nearly 20%.
ALA is found in nuts, seeds, and legumes, particularly walnuts and flaxseed. According to Kris-Etherton, this is a great way to get the nutrient for those on a plant-based diet or who have an aversion to fish and seafood.
Kris-Etherton was quick to add that vegans needed to incorporate these foods into a balanced diet, including a variety of fruit, vegetables, pulses, and whole grains to enjoy the full effect of ALA on their cardiovascular health.
Not Just for Vegans
The Even Pugh University study involved vegans whose diets technically exclude omega-3 fatty acids derived from marine sources and omnivores who had low levels of omega-3s in their usual diets.
Interestingly, it noted that those with low omega-3 levels also benefited from consuming ALA-rich foods as these brought about a marked improvement in their cardiovascular health.
Jennifer Fleming, an assistant teaching professor of nutrition involved with the study, remarked that even those who ate seafood regularly stood to benefit from the consumption of ALA-rich food.
Based on the study’s findings, it appears that ALA can work synergistically with marine-based omega-3s to keep the heart and blood vessels healthy.
How Much ALA Does the Body Need?
At Spain’s Barcelona University, another group of researchers noted the positive effect of ALA on hypertension, blood cholesterol, and even inflammation. This bolsters the findings of the Evan Pugh team regarding the fatty acid’s benefit for cardiovascular health. But how much of it should people be taking regularly.
According to researcher Emilio Ros, around 1.1g a day for women and 1.6g of ALA appear to be the recommended daily allowance. The said amounts can provide approximately 0.6 to 1% of the body’s total energy for a day. It can be added to one’s diet by eating nuts, whole grains, and seeds, as well as by using canola or soybean oil for cooking.