Nutrition news: OMEGA-3 in plants

Charlyn Fargo is a registered dietitian at Hy-Vee in Springfield, Ill., and the media representative for the Illinois Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.  For comments or questions, contact her at or follow her on Twitter @Nutrition Rd.

Salmon and other fatty fish, like sardines and mackerel, have long been celebrated for their heart-healthy benefits. But it turns out, walnuts, flax and chia seeds are also great sources of the essential omega-3 fatty acid called alpha-linolenic acid, or ALA. ALA offers heart health and stroke protection, according to several studies, which were recently highlighted in the February issue of Environmental Nutrition.

A Harvard review, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, found that consumption of ALA-rich foods resulted in a lower risk of cardiovascular disease. The study found that each gram increment of ALA intake was associated with a 10 percent lower risk of death from heart disease. Another study in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that among healthy elderly people, ALA helped improved LDL (bad) cholesterol levels. Other studies have shown that ALA may also help lower blood pressure and offer protection from stroke.

How much ALA do you need? ALA is essential, meaning the body can only obtain it through diet. The National Academy of Science recommends adult males consume 1.6 grams per day, and adult females, 1.1 grams per day. A tablespoon of flaxseed oil has 7.26 grams of ALA while 1 ounce of flaxseeds contain 6.39 grams. An ounce of chia seeds contain 5.06 grams. Walnuts contain 2.57 grams per ounce and 1 tablespoon of walnut oil contains 1.41 grams.

Here are some ways to increase consumption:

--Sprinkle flax, walnuts or chia on oatmeal or cereal.

--Stir flax, chia or walnuts into breads and baked goods, such as pancakes, muffins or rolls.

--Choose healthy oils such as walnut, canola or soybean for dressings, cooking or baking.

--Add hemp, flax or walnuts to smoothies.

Q and A

Q: Is bison a healthier choice than beef?

A: Bison is a trendy option, both for its perceived health benefits and, for some people, the sweet, rich flavor. The meat is promoted as containing less fat than beef, but that depends upon cut, grade and trimming. Bison is also more expensive than beef, so it's worth a closer look at the health claims. Comparing similar cuts, bison comes out slightly leaner.

According to USDA nutritional analysis, a three-ounce cooked portion (the size of a deck of cards) of bison ribeye contains 150 calories and 2 grams of saturated fat. Beef ribeye graded "choice" (with more marbling throughout the meat) contains 177 calories and 3 grams of saturated fat. But a leaner option, beef ribeye graded "select," is similar to bison, in calories and saturated fat. Lean cuts like this from either source are good choices to help you limit saturated fat for heart health. Bison meat tends to have less fat marbled through the meat, so for higher fat cuts you may be able to trim off some fat.

For bison burgers, USDA figures for a three-ounce portion range from approximately 150 to 200 calories, depending on the amount of fat. Ground beef burgers are often higher in fat, but with comparable percent fat choices, calories and fat are similar. Some consider bison a healthier choice because it is grass-fed and raised without hormones, though some are now fed grain for the final few months.

The health impact of these differences isn't yet known, though it is clear that the increase in omega-3 fat of grass-fed bison or cows is small. We don't have research from population studies looking at whether long-term consumption of bison is any different in risk of colorectal cancer than other red meats. Based on its nutritional composition, it would make sense to keep its use within the recommended limit for total red meat of 18 ounces per week. -- American Institute for Cancer Research.


This recipe for Skillet Fried Chicken is from Carolyn O'Neil's new cookbook, "The Slim Down South Cookbook." O'Neil is a registered dietitian and writer for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. The book, published by Southern Living, lightens up those Southern favorites, from key lime pie to crab cakes and even fried chicken.


1 cup all-purpose flour

1/2 cup whole wheat flour

1 teaspoon ground ginger

1/2 teaspoon hot paprika

1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt

2 bone-in chicken breasts, skinned and halved

2 bone-in chicken thighs, skinned

2 chicken drumsticks, skinned

1/4 cup peanut oil

Sift together first 6 ingredients; place mixture in a large zip top plastic bag. Sprinkle salt evenly over chicken. Add chicken, 1 piece at a time, to bag; seal. Shake bag to coat chicken. Remove chicken from bag, shaking off excess flour. Place chicken on a wire rack; place rack in a jellyroll pan. Reserve remaining flour mixture. Loosely cover chicken; chill 1 1/2 hours. Let chicken stand at room temperature 30 minutes. Return chicken, 1 piece at a time, to flour mixture, shaking bag to coat chicken. Discard excess flour mixture. Heat peanut oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add chicken to pan. Reduce heat to medium-low and cook 25 minutes or until done, carefully turning every 5 minutes. Line a clean wire rack with brown paper bags; arrange chicken in a single layer on bags. Let stand for 5 minutes. Makes 4 servings. Serving size: 1 chicken breast half or 1 thigh and 1 drumstick.

Per serving: 467 calories, 36 grams protein, 35.5 grams carbohydrate, 19.6 grams fat, 125 milligrams cholesterol, 2.8 grams fiber, 459 milligrams sodium.