Nutritionists and weight loss experts rave about the benefits of eating a low fat diet to manage weight and cholesterol levels. To reap the positive results of keeping your fat consumption down, that “low” amount of fat in your diet has to be the right kind.
Not all fats are created equal. In moderation, healthy fats are essential for heart and cholesterol health. These include monounsaturated fats like those found in olive oil or avocados, and polyunsaturated fats like those in walnuts and flax seed. The bad ones, saturated and trans fat, are found in some bakery items, fast food, and packaged food. Trans fats are so unhealthy that the FDA recently announced it is requiring the food industry to gradually phase out all trans fats.
The good fats are the omegas. Omega-3 fats contain DHA and EPA, which are linked to a reduced risk for heart disease. These are the omegas that keep the fish-oil pill industry moving. Another type of omega-6 fats contain alpha-linoleic acid (ALA), which is found in more plant sources and easier for vegans to obtain than DHA and EPA.
It’s important to find the balance between your intake of omega-3 and omega-6 fats. The recommended daily intake of omega-3 is 1,000 mg for women and 6,000 mg for men. Specifically, the American Heart Association recommends consuming 1–3 grams per day of EPA and DHA. Remember that 1 gram = 1,000 milligrams. Below are five ways to get sufficient omega fats via plant foods.
Fish and fish oil supplements are the best source of omega-3 DHA and EPA. Typically, people who don’t eat fish have lower amounts of DHA and EPA in their blood than people who do consume fish. Vegans who obviously don’t want to eat fish are pretty limited in their choices for getting this type of fat. The key is algae, which is how fish obtain their source and is the best plant-based way for vegans to obtain theirs. Some soy milk, olive oil, and energy bars are fortified with algae-derived DHA.
2. Flax seeds
Flax seeds are high in omega-3 fatty acids, which contain ALA. Many nutritionists would recommend you take ground flax seeds as opposed to whole, since the ground seeds are easier for the body to digest. Just one tablespoon of flax seed has 7980 mg of omega-3s. Sprinkle a tablespoon of ground flax seed over cereal or in a smoothie. You can also bake flax seed into bread and cookies. Bonus: Flax seeds are also a great source of fiber.
3. Chia seeds
Perhaps thanks to the fact that chia pets aren’t much of a popular gag gift anymore, people are now consuming chia seeds instead of just growing them. This year, the food industry has gone crazy over chia. In any airport or café, you’re bound to find a chia seed drink, chia pudding, or chia bar, and you’re guaranteed to find a bag of chia seeds for sale at any health supplement store. They’re high in omega-3s and fiber. Chia seeds can be eaten in a similar way as flax seeds.
4. Perilla oil
Perilla is an herb within the mint family that is native to Eastern Asia. The plant is used in China, Japan, and many Southeast Asian countries, and it has long been used in traditional Chinese medicine. More than half of the oil is made up of ALA, so it’s a good source of omega-3 fatty acid. One tablespoon of the stuff will give you 8960 mg. Some studies suggest that perilla seed may help alleviate the symptoms of asthma.
This one may surprise you. One cup of cauliflower contains about 37 mg of omega-3s. Cauliflower is low in saturated fat and cholesterol. It joins broccoli and collard greens in the cruciferous vegetable group, which are generally heralded as vitamin-packed, anti-cancer wonder plants. In order to maximize cauliflower’s nutritional content, be sure not to boil it, which draws out nutrients. Lightly steam instead.
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