You've probably heard that you can find your fill of omega-3 fatty acids in fish like salmon. But did you also know these polyunsaturated fats (i.e., the good kind) are plentiful in plant-based foods, too?
In fact, flax seeds, chia seeds, walnuts and tofu are among the top five foods highest in omega-3s, according to the USDA. They contain the plant-specific omega-3 called alpha-linolenic acid (ALA, for short).
From potentially lowering your risk of heart disease to improving blood pressure and reducing inflammation, the omega-3s found in nuts, seeds and tofu can contribute to your health in many ways.
Loading your diet with these essential fats is especially important since your body can't make them on its own, Erika Fox, RDN, registered dietitian and community manager for 310 Nutrition, tells LIVESTRONG.com.
Convinced you should pile more plant-based omega-3 foods onto your plate? Try these ten creative, delicious ways to work them into your weekly menu.
1. Beef Up Baked Goods
If you've got a cookie craving, boost the nutrition factor of your baked goodies by blending in some plant-based omega-3s.
"Baked goods are not commonly composed of the most nutritious ingredients (and that's totally OK), but adding ingredients like walnuts, chia or flax is a great way to get in some healthy fats," Fox says. These superstar foods also contain protein and fiber, which will help to keep you full.
Seeds and nuts add a ton of texture to your baked treats. But if you're not a fan of crunchy consistency, you can always grind them up and blend into the batter for a seamlessly smooth texture.
And when you're baking from scratch, you can substitute seeds like flax and chia for eggs, thus cutting down the cholesterol content. Mix 1 tablespoon of ground seeds with 3 tablespoons of water to replace each egg.
2. Jazz Up Jam
"Incorporating chia seeds into homemade jam gives it such an amazing texture (think: thick and gelatinous) and adds a source of healthy fats and protein, making it much more balanced overall in terms of its macronutrient ratio," Fox says.
Plus, packing your sweet spread with pure fruit and nutritious seeds means you don't need unnecessary junk in your jam like added sugar and other additives often found in store-bought varieties, Fox says.
3. Sprinkle on Salads
Getting your daily greens is important, but a big bowl of leafy veggies isn't a balanced meal.
Stirring in seeds and nuts ups your plant-based protein and improves the mix of macros on your plate. "This will not only increase your intake of omega-3s but will also add an amazing crunchy texture element to your salad," Fox says.
For a low-carb crouton alternative, try lightly toasting walnuts before tossing them on top of a beautiful bed of greens. You can also chuck some chia seeds into your salad dressing to create a thicker consistency.
4. Better Your Breadcrumbs
Next time you make chicken cutlets, consider incorporating nuts and seeds into your breading.
"There's absolutely nothing wrong with using store-bought breadcrumbs occasionally, but swapping breadcrumbs out with nuts or seeds is a great way to use an ingredient that's less processed," says Fox, who adds that healthy eating is all about finding simple ways to make your favorite meals more nutritious whenever you can.
Try combining chia seeds with traditional breadcrumbs for an extra oomph of omega-3s or grind them into a powder to use on their own as a low-carb coating.
This works well with baked fish, too. Fox suggests topping your fish dish with walnuts that have been finely pulsed in a food processor for a crispy element.
5. Make a Bubbly Beverage
Bonkers for boba? Instead of opting for store-bought bubble tea, which is often packed with sugar, try making a homemade version with chia seeds instead.
"Although chia seeds are crunchy, when added to liquid, they actually absorb fluids, swell up and create a soft, bubbly texture," Fox says.
Try adding 1 tablespoon of chia seeds to your cup of cold tea or other favorite drinks for a fun, jelly-like texture and an instant dose of good-for-you nutrients. The texture and fiber can also help you stay full for longer.
6. Sub in for Meat
"If you're looking to decrease your intake of animal proteins or simply to switch things up, 'walnut meat' is a beyond delicious, omega-3 packed option," Fox says.
From heart-healthy fats to gut-friendly fiber and disease-fighting polyphenols, wonderful walnuts pack a powerful punch for your health.
Simply add walnuts to a food processor and combine with your favorite spices for a tasty twist on "taco" meat, Fox says.
Not sold on swapping in seeds and nuts for meat? You can also just mix your ground meat with some chia seeds to plump up the nutrient profile of homemade hamburgers and meatballs. By using a little less beef, you also reduce the saturated fat in your meals, too.
A Meat Recipe to Try
7. Sneak Into Your Smoothie
"When making a smoothie, it's very common to only use fruit — but doing so doesn't add up to a balanced meal or snack," according to Fox, who recommends your recipe always include a source of complex carbohydrates, protein and healthy fats.
Tossing silken tofu into your smoothies amps up the protein content, offers omega-3s and creates a creamier, thicker texture. Likewise, nuts and seeds supply your smoothies with good fats.
"This not only ensures the smoothie is well-balanced but will also help keep you full for longer," Fox says.
8. Bring on the Breakfast Scramble
Whether you're following a vegan diet or just trying to incorporate more plant-based meals into your breakfast repertoire, whipping up a fluffy tofu scramble is a stellar place to start.
"The tofu, along with the right spice blend, really mimics scrambled eggs," says Fox. "Plus, swapping out eggs for tofu now and again is a great way to increase your intake of omega-3s."
9. Prepare a Pesto
If you're putting together pesto and your pantry is out of pine nuts, sub in walnuts instead, Fox says.
The flavorful combination of walnuts, basil, olive oil and garlic go together beautifully. Pistachios, another omega-3 rich nut, pair perfectly with pesto too.
Plus, homemade pesto contains fewer additives and less sodium than the stuff you find on the shelf. For a bonus boost of omega 3s, heap in some hemp seeds too, Fox says.
A Pesto Recipe to Try
10. Bake Energy Balls
Nuts and seeds make satisfying snacks on their own.
But pairing them with complex carbs like whole grain oats or dried fruit and rolling them into energy balls takes these tasty treats to the next nutritious level, according to Fox.
With healthy fats from omega-3s and filling fiber from grains or fruits, protein balls provide the perfect pick-me-up to battle the midday sugar slump and power you through until dinner.