Healthy hello to ALA
Fans of this column know we’re big on good fats, especially the family of heart-friendly, inflammation-cooling omega fatty acids found in olive oil, fatty fish and certain supplements.
Lately, a lesser-known omega-3 called ALA (short for alpha-linolenic acid) has stepped out of the shadows, and hopefully onto your plate. ALA is a plant-based omega-3 found in abundance in walnuts (Dr. Mike eats ’em roasted; Dr. Oz loves ’em soaked in water), avocado, flax and chia seeds. It’s also in the trendy salad green called purslane.
Long overshadowed by its spotlight-hogging, good-fat bros such as the omega-3s called DHA and EPA (we recommend 900 mg of algal oil DHA a day as a supplement; it converts to EPA), ALA is now coming into its own. Here’s a list of some of its superpowers:
Reduces heart-attack risk by 60 percent or more. Getting 1 gram of ALA a day — the amount in just five walnut halves — reduces odds for heart attacks and heart-attack-related deaths significantly.
Slashes levels of lousy LDL cholesterol. Getting 3.4 grams of ALA a day, that takes 18 walnut halves, or 4-5 tablespoons of ground flaxseed, can lower heart-menacing LDL cholesterol by 7 percent to 13 percent. Bonus: Adding ALA also tames a blood fat called lipoprotein (a) by 14 percent. Big news, because lipoprotein (a) is an extra-nasty type of LDL cholesterol that paves artery walls with gunky, heart-attack-triggering plaque.
Boosts blood-sugar processing. A daily supply of ALA from food can heighten your body’s sensitivity to insulin, the hormone that lets cells convert blood sugar to energy. That’s big news, because increasing insulin sensitivity reduces blood sugar levels and therefore lessens the chances you’ll develop diabetes and its complications.
If you’re taking steps to make sure you get more omega-3s by eating fish three times a week and/or taking a fish oil or algal oil supplement daily, give yourself just half of a pat on the back. Turns out these strategies won’t supply ALA or some other important fatty acids that we’ll mention in a minute.
How much ALA do you need? The Institute of Medicine, which establishes nutrient requirements, recommends 1.1 to 1.6 grams a day. You’ll get that much from six to nine walnut halves; but 14 halves, or 1 ounce, contains 2.5 grams of ALA, and definitely is better!
Meanwhile, a single tablespoon of flaxseed oil packs 7.3 grams, a tablespoon of ground flax seeds or ground chia seeds delivers about 1.6 grams, and a tablespoon of walnut oil (great on a salad) or canola oil (use in place of butter) delivers about 1.3 grams.
One serving of leafy, green purslane (the veggie that’s highest in ALA) has 0.4 grams. One cup of sliced avocado has 0.16 grams.
So, what’s the best way to invite ALA and the rest of the healthy omega fatty acids over for a meal? Just take these three yummy steps:
No. 1. Add ALAs. Toss ground flaxseed into a smoothie. Use chia instead of wheat as a grain in baking. Try a chia muffin for breakfast. Keep a bag of walnuts handy for when you need a quick energy boost. Sprinkle them on your oatmeal and yogurt, or puree into walnut butter or pesto. Mix up your salad by adding purslane to traditional greens.
No. 2. Get 900 mg of DHA omega-3 daily. This is great for your heart, for a quick and happy brain and for your love life. Aim for three servings of salmon or trout a week and/or take an algal oil or fish oil capsule daily. As we said before, your body converts some DHA into another helpful omega-3, EPA.
No. 3. Go for other odd-numbered omegas. Get inflammation-cooling, artery-protecting omega-7s (420 mg a day, as a purified supplement) and use olive oil whenever possible. It provides omega-9. And enjoy pomegranate seeds as a source of that other odd omega: omega-5. Now you’re getting three varieties of omega-3s (DHA, EPA and ALA) plus omega-5, -7 and -9. BRAVO!!!
Mehmet Oz, M.D. is host of “The Dr. Oz Show,” and Mike Roizen, M.D. is Chief Wellness Officer and Chair of Wellness Institute at Cleveland Clinic. To live your healthiest, visit sharecare.com.