Plants contain both monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids (omega-6 and omega-3). To which group they belong depends on the number of double bonds – in monounsaturated, there is only one bond of this type, while in polyunsaturated more than one. Foods rich in unsaturated fatty acids play an important role in the diet because they help lower total cholesterol as well as LDL cholesterol (the so-called “bad” cholesterol). In addition, they have a beneficial effect on the functioning of the central nervous system and have an anti-inflammatory effect (it is important to maintain the correct ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 acids). For years, scientists and dietitians have emphasized the importance of these ingredients in the prevention of cardiovascular diseases, cancer, neurodegenerative diseases, and depression.
Plants can be the source of unsaturated fatty acids. Products rich in monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids include, among others nuts, almonds, pips and seeds, green leafy vegetables, and oils pressed from plants.
Walnuts are one of the best sources of omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids of all nuts. What’s more, they have a good proportion of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids. It is worth noting here that it is important because the excess of omega-6 fatty acids can be pro-inflammatory. There are also monounsaturated fatty acids in walnuts. However, their content is lower in comparison to hazelnuts, Brazil nuts or cashews. Walnuts are also a good source of dietary fiber, zinc and B vitamins.
Spanish sage is a plant that has been cultivated for several thousand years, and its health properties have already been appreciated by the Aztecs. Its seeds, also known as chia seeds, are one of the best plant sources of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). It is a compound belonging to the omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids, and also to the essential unsaturated fatty acids (EFA). This means that our body is not able to produce it itself. Two other important omega-3 acids are transformed from alpha-linolenic acid: docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA). Therefore, consuming chia seeds can help lower total and LDL cholesterol levels, reduce the risk of developing atherosclerotic lesions, and have a positive effect on memory and concentration. In addition to unsaturated fatty acids, chia seeds also contain phosphorus, calcium, magnesium, iron, and B vitamins.
Linseed, i.e. flax seeds, can be included in the diet in the form of grains, ground seeds, and oil. It is worth remembering that unsaturated fatty acids are prone to oxidation. Therefore, when serving ground flaxseeds, it is a good idea to grind them just before serving. In turn, when buying linseed oil, it is worth paying attention to whether it is sold in a dark bottle. After purchase, you should keep the oil in the refrigerator – preferably no longer than three months, because after this time the amount of unsaturated fatty acids drops significantly. It is worth remembering that linseed comes in two varieties: brown and golden. The first of these varieties is richer in alpha-linolenic acid (omega-3), but slightly poorer in oleic acid (it belongs to monounsaturated fatty acids). The amount of linoleic acid (omega-6) in both varieties is similar. In addition to valuable fats, linseed also contains B vitamins, minerals (including calcium) and dietary fiber.
Almonds are a good source of monounsaturated fatty acids. They also contain some amounts of linoleic acid and alpha-linolenic acid. In addition to fats, the high calcium content also deserves attention. That is why almonds are especially recommended for people who eliminate dairy products from the diet. Almonds also contain vitamin E, which has strong antioxidant properties, which prevents oxidative stress.
Monounsaturated fatty acids as well as polyunsaturated fatty acids are an important element of a properly balanced diet. Good sources of these valuable ingredients are walnuts, chia seeds, flaxseeds, and almonds. In addition to the aforementioned products, they are also found in oils pressed from plants (including olive oil, rapeseed oil, soybean oil, walnut oil, linseed oil). Products rich in unsaturated fatty acids can be used to prepare salads, porridge, millet, as well as fit desserts, e.g. chia puddings.
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