Find fun yet easy ways to get more ALA in your diet.
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You’ve probably heard that you can find an abundance of omega-3 fatty acids in fish like salmon. But did you also know that these polyunsaturated fats (i.e. the good kind) are also abundant in plant-based foods?
In fact, flax seeds, chia seeds, walnuts, and tofu are among the top five foods high 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 for heart disease, to improving blood pressure, to reducing inflammation, the omega-3s found in nuts, seeds, and tofu can do many things for your health.
Loading your diet with these essential fats is especially important because your body can’t make them on its own, says Erika Fox, RDN, registered nutritionist and community manager for 310 Nutrition, told LIVESTRONG.com.
Convinced that you should pile more plant-based omega-3 foods on your plate? Try these ten creative, delicious ways to incorporate them into your weekly menu.
1. Beef Up Baked Goods
If you’re craving for biscuits, add some plant-based omega-3 fatty acids to add nutritional value to your baked goods.
“Baked goods aren’t usually made from the most nutritious ingredients (and that’s perfectly fine), but adding ingredients like walnuts, chia, or flax is a great way to get in some healthy fats,” says Fox. These superstar foods also contain protein and fiber to help you stay full.
Seeds and nuts add a ton of texture to your baked goodies. But if you’re not a fan of crispy texture, you can always grind them up and mix them into the batter for a seamlessly smooth texture.
And if you bake from scratch, you can replace eggs with seeds like flax and chia, thereby lowering cholesterol. 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 an amazing texture (think: thick and gelatinous) and adds a source of healthy fats and proteins, making it much more balanced overall in terms of its macronutrient ratio,” says Fox.
When you package your sweet spread with pure fruits and nutritious seeds, you don’t need unnecessary junk in your jam like added sugar and other additives that are common in store-bought varieties, says Fox.
3. Scatter salads on top
Getting your daily greens is important, but a large bowl of leafy greens is not a balanced meal.
Stirring in seeds and nuts increases your plant-based protein and improves the mix of macros on your plate. “Not only does this increase your intake of omega-3 fatty acids, but it also adds an amazing crispy texture element to your salad,” says Fox.
For a low-carb crouton alternative, try lightly toasting walnuts before tossing them on a nice green bed. You can also add some chia seeds to your salad dressing for a thicker consistency.
Unlike processed croutons, walnuts contain 1.9 grams of fiber and a fixed dose of copper per one ounce serving.
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4. Better your breadcrumbs
The next time you make chicken schnitzel, you should work nuts and seeds into your breading.
“There’s absolutely nothing wrong with using store-bought breadcrumbs on occasion, but swapping breadcrumbs for nuts or seeds is a great way to use a less processed ingredient,” says Fox. Your favorite dishes are more nutritious whenever you can.
Try pairing chia seeds with traditional breadcrumbs for an extra dash of omega-3 fatty acids, or grind them into a powder that you can use on their own as a low-carb coating.
This works well with baked fish too. Fox suggest topping your fish dish with walnuts that have been finely pulsed in a food processor for a crispy element.
5. Make a fizzy drink
Bonkers for Boba? Instead, try making a homemade version with chia seeds instead of opting for store-bought bubble tea, which is often filled with sugar.
“Although chia seeds are crispy, when added to liquid, they actually absorb liquids, swell, and create a soft, bubbly texture,” says Fox.
Try adding 1 tablespoon of chia seeds to your cup of cold tea or other favorite beverage for a fun, jelly-like texture and an instant dose of nutrients that are good for you. The texture and fiber can also help you stay full longer.
6. Sub in for meat
“If you’re cutting down on your animal protein intake or just want to turn things upside down, ‘walnut meat’ is a hugely delicious option that’s packed with omega-3s,” says Fox.
From heart-healthy fats to benign fiber and polyphenols for fighting disease, wonderful walnuts are a big blow to your health.
Just add walnuts to a food processor and pair them with your favorite seasonings for a delicious twist on “taco” meat, says Fox.
Not sold if seeds and nuts are exchanged for meat? You can also simply mix your ground beef with some chia seeds to improve the nutritional profile of homemade hamburgers and meatballs. By using a little less beef, you are also reducing the saturated fat in your meals.
7. Sneak into your smoothie
“Often times, only fruit is used in making a smoothie – but it doesn’t make for a balanced meal or snack,” said Fox, who recommends that your recipe always include a source of complex carbohydrates, proteins and healthy fats.
Adding silky tofu to your smoothies increases the protein content, offers omega-3 fatty acids, and creates a creamier, thicker texture. Nuts and seeds also add good fats to your smoothies.
“Not only does this ensure that the smoothie is well balanced, but it also keeps you full longer,” says Fox.
8. Bring the breakfast scramble
Whether you’re following a vegan diet or are just trying to add more plant-based meals to your breakfast repertoire, a fluffy scrambled tofu egg is a great place to start.
“The tofu mimics scrambled eggs with the right mix of spices,” says Fox. “It’s also a great way to swap eggs for tofu every now and then to increase your omega-3 fatty acid intake.”
Tofu scramble recipes to try out
Walnuts are great for swapping pine nuts in homemade pesto, which you can spread on whole grain bread or turn into chickpea noodles.
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9. Prepare a pesto
When you’re putting together pesto and your pantry is running out of pine nuts, add walnuts instead, says Fox.
The tasty combination of walnuts, basil, olive oil and garlic goes wonderfully together. Pistachios, another omega-3-rich nut, also go perfectly with pesto.
Also, homemade pesto has fewer additives and less sodium than what you find on the shelf. You should also add some hemp seeds for a bonus boost of omega-3s, says Fox.
10. Bake energy balls
Nuts and seeds make snacks that are satisfying in their own right.
But when you combine them with complex carbohydrates like whole grain oats or dried fruits and roll them into energy balls, these yummy treats are taken to the next nutritious level, according to Fox.
With healthy fats made from omega-3 fatty acids and filler fibers from grains or fruits, protein balls are the perfect solution to fighting the sugar plunge at lunchtime and keeping you going until dinner.