January 22, 2015

Do You Need Fish Oil for a Healthy Heart?

Do you take fish oil to support heart health? New research shows that plant-based omega 3s may be just as good at protecting your ticker.
This is good news for vegans and vegetarians looking for omega 3s to protect heart health. While there are plant-based omega 3 supplements out there (derived from seaweed), they are harder to find and pricier than fish oil supplements or good old flax meal and chia seeds. Flax and chia seeds are both rich in plant-based omega 3 fatty acids.
Penn State nutritionists looked at existing research on animal-based eicosapentaenoic acid and docosahexaenoic acid (EPA and DHA) and on plant-based alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). EPA, DHA, and ALA are different types of omega 3 fatty acids, and the researchers found that plant-baed ALA “is likely just as effective in preventing cardiovascular disease as [animal-derived] EPA and DHA.
Nutritionists Jennifer Fleming and Penny Kris-Etherton who worked on the Penn State study recommend that we amend dietary guidelines and encourage people to eat more foods rich in ALA. This study was just a survey of previous research, and Fleming and Kris-Etherton caution that there needs to be further, controlled study to confirm their findings.
There was one thing about this study that gave me pause. In the disclosure the nutritionists say that their research was supported by The California Walnut Commission. Walnuts are also a good source of plant-based omega 3s, though they don’t stack up to flax and chia seeds. Walnuts have about half the omega 3s: 4915 mg in chia seeds versus 2542 mg in the same amount of walnuts.
Any time an industry group commissions a study, you should take the findings with a grain of salt. The good news is that flax and chia are both packed with other health benefits, so adding some chia to your oatmeal or flax to your smoothie isn’t going to hurt you. And it just might do your heart some good.

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