Nutritionists say that both saturated and unsaturated fats have health benefits. But the types of fats that have been scientifically proven to boost health and promote longevity are omega-3 fatty acids. A new study published in the British Medical Journal found that a particular form of omega-3 fatty acids, called alpha-linolenic acid, or ALA, was linked to a significantly lower risk of death from all causes. The ALA’s the researchers used in their study were plant-based.
There are three types of omega-3 fatty acids: eicosapentaenoic acid or EPA, docosahexaenoic acid or DHA, as well as ALA. EPA and DHA fats are primarily found in fish while ALA fats are mostly plant-based and are found in foods including vegetables oils, nuts, and leafy greens. They can also be found in red meat and dairy products.
According to Well + Good, researchers analyzed 41 studies that examined the link between consuming plant-based ALA fats and lifespan, including the risk of developing cardiovascular disease ― the number one killer in the country — and other illnesses. The study included data from more than one million people who were followed for about 32 years.
“ALA fats are precursors to eicosanoids or signaling molecules which regulate many body functions such as gene expression, blood clotting and inhibiting inflammation,” said Melissa Rifkin, a registered dietitian. High levels of inflammation in the body over prolonged periods of time can lead to life-threatening diseases. ALA’s can help reduce inflammation, say experts.
“ALA fats are very commonly found in meals due to their presence in popular cooking oils, like soybean and canola,” Rifkin added. “ALA is also found in soybean products like tofu, walnuts, pumpkin seeds, flaxseed and flaxseed oil.”
According to WebMD, ALA is thought to decrease the risk of heart disease by helping to maintain normal heart rhythm and may also reduce the risk of blood clots. There is also some evidence that it can help regulate high blood pressure.
Rifkin warns that you should not neglect the other forms of omega-3 fatty acids. Both EPA and DHA fats are important, especially for brain health. If you are vegan and do not eat fish, she suggests taking an omega-3 supplement.
Some other excellent sources of ALA fats are beans, chia seeds, edamame, and avocados.