You have probably been told to eat fish in your diet to get a source of omega-3 fatty acids. This can be a challenge for vegetarians or for those who do not like fish. Luckily, fish is not the only way to get important omega-3 fatty acids in your diet. Walnuts are one of the few plant sources for this essential fatty acid.
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What's the Big Deal With Omega-3?
The reasons to include omega-3 fatty acids in your diet are abundant. Omega-3s are most commonly known for their cardiovascular benefits, but they also play a role in visual and neurological development during pregnancy and protection from Alzheimer's disease and other inflammatory illnesses. In addition, omega-3 fatty acids may reduce depression, bipolar disease and schizophrenia. However, not all omega-3 fatty acids are the same, so it is important to know which type you are consuming.
Omega-3s in Walnuts
Walnuts contain a plant-based, omega-3 fatty acid called alpha-linolenic acid, or ALA. According to California Walnuts, walnuts are the only nut that is a significant source of ALA, which is an essential fatty acid, meaning that your body cannot synthesize it, so it must be consumed in the diet. Men need to consume 1.6 grams of ALA per day and women need 1.1 grams per day, according to the Institute of Medicine. A one-ounce serving of walnuts -- about 1/4 cup -- provides 2.5 grams of ALA, which is more than 100 percent of the amount you need in a day.
ALA vs. DHA and EPA
Alpha-linolenic acid may lower your cholesterol and triglycerides, reduce high blood pressure and reduce inflammation. In a 2009 meta-analysis published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, researchers reported that diets supplemented with walnuts led to a decrease in total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol without causing weight gain. However, the most significant health benefits, are associated with the omega-3 fatty acids eicosapentaenoic acid and docosahexaenoic acid, which are found in fatty fish. The human body can convert ALA to DHA and EPA, but the process is relatively inefficient.
Walnuts are a convenient and delicious way to get omega-3s into your diet. Unlike fish, walnuts can be tossed into your bag or purse to be eaten on-the-go. The American Heart Association recommends that you eat four, 1.5-ounce servings of nuts per week. This serving size comes out to about 20 whole, shelled walnuts. While ALA found in walnuts is beneficial, also incorporating fish or fish oil supplements into your diet can help to provide the full range of necessary omega-3 fatty acids.
- University of Maryland Medical Center: Alpha-Linolenic Acid
- Linus Pauling Institute: Essential Fatty Acids
- California Walnuts: Alpha-Linolenic Acid
- American Heart Association: Be Nutty (But Just a Little)
- USDA Nutrient Database: Nuts, Walnuts, English
- American Journal of Clinical Nutrition; Effects of Walnut Consumption on Blood Lipids and Other Cardiovascular Risk Factors