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Perilla:

A Great Source of Plant-Based Omega-3's

In recent years there has been huge interest in demand for plant-based omega-3s. Most people turn to the usual options; Flax, Hemp and Chia. Now there is a better alternative, Perilla. Perilla is a member of the mint family whose leaves are commonly used for their delicate flavour in traditional Japanese, Korean and Chinese cooking where it is known as Shisho. Perilla grows in abundance in the hills and mountains of East Asia (mainly India, China, Japan, and Korea). Perilla has been used for centuries in Oriental medicine for numerous conditions. In many parts of Asia perilla appears to have been a staple of their diet for millennia and the seeds form an essential part of Shichimi Togarashi, the famous seven spices of Japan used to improve the flavour of almost any food. Perilla leaves and flowers are used as foods in Japan and its seeds are used to make edible oil in Korea. Perilla leaves are rich in dietary fibre, minerals, such as calcium, iron and potassium, and vitamins A, C and riboflavin.

As healthy (and tasty) as the leaves are, it turns out that Perilla seeds are the real nutrition powerhouses. For whole food balanced nutrition, there is no equal. They are rich in healthy fats, minerals, vitamins, protein, fibre and antioxidants. Perilla seeds have twice the omega-3 fatty acids as chia seeds and the oil is more nutritional as well. Perilla seeds are quite small and have a nice mild earthy taste. They contain approximately 40-45% oil and typically 50% to 60% of this oil is the omega-3 ALA (higher than any other source), ideal for good brain health, heart health, blood vessel health and cholesterol levels.

The omega-3 to omega-6 ratio in perilla seeds is 6 to 1, the highest of any oil. Studies have indicated that our modern diets (processed and fast foods) have created an imbalance in the desired omega-3:omega-6 ratio (too much of the inflammatory omega-6), so anything that can restore the balance is considered welcome. Perilla oil also contains omega-9 (Oleic acid). These polyunsaturated fatty acids are important for the prevention of diseases such as cardiovascular disease, cancer, inflammatory disease, rheumatoid arthritis, etc.

The Perilla seed’s health benefits don’t end with its oil, there is much more. Perilla seeds are packed with protein. They are over 20% protein, higher than flax and chia. The protein is a complete protein offering all essential and non-essential amino acids, ideal for both weight control and muscle building. They are rich in fibre, containing over 20%.

In addition to healthy omega fats, protein and fibre, Perilla seeds contain other nutritional components that are highly beneficial for your health including:

1. Rosmarinic acid: A highly potent antioxidant that is also antiviral, antibacterial, anti-inflammatory and may protect against various forms of cancers

2. Caffeic acid: Another potent antioxidant that is also highly anti-inflammatory.

3. Luteolin: A flavonoid that has been used in Traditional Chinese Medicine for treating various diseases such as hypertension, inflammatory disorders, and cancer.

4. Apigenin is a natural bioflavonoid compound that reduces risk of heart problems, neurological conditions and several types of cancer. This compound also has anxiety-reducing effects when consumed in high doses.

Perilla leaf is a rich source of anthocyanins which are potent antioxidants and help to prevent free radical-induced damage to your cells and DNA. Perilla has also received special attention because of its beneficial effects in the treatment of allergic reactions without side effects. Studies demonstrated that patients taking perilla  experience a notable increase in lung capacity and enhanced air-flow capabilities. The high level of ALA in the oil is thought to suppress the production of leukotriene, which is an inflammatory substance associated with reduced respiratory function.

Move over flax, hemp and chia. The new superfood on the block is better tasting, higher in nutrition and offers more health benefits. Contrary to other omega sources (fish oil, chia, hemp and flax) perilla is more palatable and does not cause any digestive upset. With all it has going for it, perilla is the perfect food, ingredient in recipes and dietary supplement. Try adding the leaves to your next Asian dish for a unique flavour boost. Try adding perilla seeds to your next protein or smoothie drink and enjoy the super health benefits.