An omega-3 fatty acid called alpha-linolenic acid, or ALA, is found in a variety of plant-based foods. ALA and other omega-3 fatty acids are necessary in your diet because your body needs them daily, but can’t make them. Getting plenty of ALA optimizes your health and may help reduce your risk for certain disease.
Brain Health Benefits
Getting plenty of omega-3s including ALA in your diet is important for a healthy brain, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center. Some of the ALA you consume can be converted into omega-3 fatty acids eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), which are crucial for brain health, and brain and nervous system development in children, notes Harvard School of Public Health.
Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center notes that eating plenty of ALA-rich foods, and other omega-3 fatty acids, appears to help prevent and treat heart disease, improve blood cholesterol levels, and may lower blood pressure. This is especially true when following an omega-3-rich diet that is fairly low in saturated and trans fat, notes the University of Maryland Medical Center.
Effects on Asthma
Consuming lots of ALA, especially from perilla seed oil supplements, may be beneficial for people suffering from asthma, according to both Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center and the University of Maryland Medical Center. These sources also point out that if you have asthma, ALA may help may improve lung function and decrease inflammation.
Dietary Sources of ALA
ALA is abundant in several different plant-based fats. In addition to perilla oil, other sources of ALA include flax seeds, walnuts, tofu, pumpkin seeds, soybeans — in addition to soybean, walnut, pumpkin seed, flax seed and canola oils.
How Much is Enough?
The amount of ALA you should ingest daily depends on your age and gender. According to the Institute of Medicine, and adequate intake of ALA is 1.6 grams daily for men, 1.1 grams for women, 1.3 grams for breastfeeding moms, and 1.4 grams per day during pregnancy. The University of Maryland Medical Center notes that flax seeds contain about 2.2 grams of ALA per tablespoon, canola oil provides 1.3 grams per tablespoon, and flax seed oil contains 8.5 grams of ALA in each tablespoon.
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