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This Is the #1 Nutrient for Your Heart, Says New Study

It's especially perfect for you if you don't eat seafood.

When you think of omega-3 fatty acids, the first thing that may come to mind is eating salmon.

But what if you don't eat seafood?

A new research review has found that the major plant-based version of the nutrient, alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), can benefit heart health and reduce the risk of heart disease for those who don't eat seafood.

In a comprehensive literature review, recently published in Advances in Nutrition, researchers found that consuming ALA in plant-based foods (like walnuts and flaxseeds) was associated with a 10% lower risk of cardiovascular a 20% reduced risk of fatal coronary heart disease.

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Related: The #1 Best Juice to Drink Every Day, Says Science

For the review, researchers analyzed data from previous studies to see the effects of ALA on heart disease and risk factors like blood pressure and inflammation.

Previous research has linked omega-3s with a lower risk of heart disease—but this conclusion was based largely on evidence from marine-derived omega-3s. There was less evidence for the benefits of ALA.

Researchers found that ALA had beneficial effects on reducing total cholesterol and blood pressure and inflammation. This could help explain ALA's benefits to heart health, according to Emilio Ros, emeritus investigator at Institut d'Investigacions Biomèdiques August Pi Sunyer, a research institution linked to Hospital Clínic of Barcelona and Barcelona University.

"We were able to find evidence supporting current dietary guidelines that ALA should provide about 0.6%-1% of total energy in a day, which is about 1.1 grams a day for women and 1.6 grams a day for men," Ros said, "and can be incorporated into the diet with foods such as walnuts, flaxseeds, and cooking oils such as canola and soybean oils."

These recommendations are equal to about 1/2 ounce of walnuts or just under one teaspoon of flaxseed oil.

Penny Kris-Etherton, Evan Pugh University Professor of Nutritional Sciences at Penn State, said the review suggests there are multiple ways of meeting the recommendations for omega-3 fatty acids.

"People may not want to eat seafood for a variety of reasons, but it's still important for them to consume omega-3s to reduce the risk of heart disease and to promote overall health," Kris-Etherton said. "Plant-based ALA in the form of walnuts or flaxseeds can also provide these benefits, especially when incorporated into a healthy diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains."

For more on plant-based omega-3s, check out One Major Effect of Eating Walnuts.

Kristen Warfield
Kristen Warfield is the weekend editor for Eat This, Not That! and is a graduate of SUNY New Paltz’s journalism program in the Hudson Valley region of New York. Read more about Kristen