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10 of the Best Sources of Alpha-Linolenic Acid (ALA)

Flaxseeds and chia seeds may be the best known whole food sources of alpha-linolenic acid, or ALA, but there are also plenty of other foods that contain a lot of this short-chain omega-3 fatty acid. The following foods have been singled out as being exceptionally good sources of alpha-linolenic acid (their ALA content as % of total weight is provided in brackets):

Alpha-Linolenic Acid in Foods
  • Camelina seeds: 33 %
  • Flaxseeds: 26 %
  • Perilla seeds: 24 %
  • Sacha inchi seeds: 19 %
  • Chia seeds: 18 %
  • Hemp seeds: 8 %
  • Walnuts: 9%
  • Rapeseeds: 4 %
  • Pecans: 1 %
  • Wild berries: 0.25 %

If you are trying to reap the unique health benefits of ALA by increasing your intake of this short-chain omega-3 fatty acid, be sure to include the above-listed ALA-rich foods in your diet. Here's more information about the above-listed top source of ALA above, including tips on how to incorporate them into your diet:

1. Camelina Seeds

Also known as false flax or by its scientific name Camelina sativa, camelina is an ancient oil seed crop that was grown in Europe already more than 4000 years ago. In recent years, camelina seeds and oil have been making a comeback because they are among the best natural sources of alpha-linolenic acid. You can sprinkle camelina seeds over salads or add them raw to bread doughs, or you can soak them overnight to turn them into a gel that can be used as a binder in baking. You can buy camelina seeds online if you have trouble finding them in regular health food stores (camelina oil is typically easier to find in the stores).

2. Flaxseeds

Flaxseeds are such an excellent source of alpha-linolenic acid that they are often given to hens in order to allow them to produce omega-3 rich eggs. But not only do chickens love them, flaxseeds are also popular among us humans! You can use flaxseeds, for example, to boost the alpha-linolenic acid content of your salads, oatmeal, yogurt, baked goods, smoothies, homemade granola bars, and more. To make the alpha-linolenic acid in flaxseeds more accessible to your body's cells, it is a good idea to grind them before you add them to the dish. Also flaxseed oil, which is made by extracting the fatty acids from whole flaxseeds, is an excellent source of alpha-linolenic acid, so you may also want to incorporate cold-pressed flaxseed oil into your diet.

3. Perilla Seeds

In Asia, the ALA-rich seeds of the Perilla frutescens plant are used toasted and ground into a nutritious powder that is used as a spice in soups, vegetable and noodle dishes, fishcakes, and on top of desserts. The toasted seeds can also be pressed to make perilla oil, a culinary oil that is used in salad dressings and dips.

4. Sacha Inchi Seeds

Next up on our list of the best food sources of alpha-linolenic acid are sacha inchi seeds. Eaten the same way as common nuts like walnuts and pecans, sacha inchi is a healthy, omega-3 rich seed that has been used consumed in South America for thousands of years. It is also sold in the form of oil, which contains even more alpha-linolenic acid than the seeds. According to a study published in the journal Grasas y Aceites, about 50% of sacha inchi oil is alpha-linolenic acid.

5. Chia Seeds

Not only are chia seeds good for you, they are also easy to incorporate into any diet. One of the easiest and tastiest ways to eat chia seeds is to add them to homemade smoothies. And the great thing about whipping up a chia smoothie is that not only will you be boosting the ALA-content of your smoothie, you will be adding plenty of protein to the mix because chia seeds are packed with protein, too.

6. Hemp Seeds

About 28 percent of the net weight of hemp seeds in unsaturated fat, and a significant share of that is omega-3, more specifically alpha-linolenic acid. What's more, hemp seed oil has been reported to contain omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids in a 3:1 ratio which some experts consider to be the optimal omega-6 to omega-3 ratio for humans. The easiest way to make hemp seeds part of your diet is to add them to smoothies.

7. Walnuts

Packed with alpha-linolenic acid, protein and antioxidants, walnuts are a real superfood and a great food to snack on. Aside from eating them out of hand, you can add chopped walnuts to salads, smoothies, yogurt, oatmeal and bread doughs. Also walnut oil is supercharged with the omega-3 fatty acid ALA, and unlike many other ALA-rich culinary oils, it is readily available in supermarkets and health food stores.

8. Rapeseeds

While experts continue to debate whether or not rapeseed oil is good for you, one thing is for sure: rapeseeds are one of the best sources of alpha-linolenic acid. In some countries, whole rapeseeds are sprinkled on salads and added to homemade energy bars, but in most countries, whole rapeseeds are not readily available at grocery stores. Rapeseed oil, by contrast, is readily available all over the world.

9. Pecans

Pecans are related to walnuts, which is why it's not surprising that also pecans contain alpha-linolenic acid. In terms of culinary uses, pecans are as versatile as walnuts and can be eaten straight out of the bag as a snack, incorporated into breakfast dishes or desserts, added to salads, or blended into homemade smoothies.

10. Wild Berries

A study published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that, on average, more than one third of the fat in wild blueberries, cloudberries and cowberries is alpha-linolenic acid. Of course, you should keep in mind that berries do not contain as much fat as nuts and seeds to start with, so if you need a major dose of alpha-linolenic acid, it's best to go for foods with a higher fat content.

1. N. Quezada and G. Cherian (2012). Lipid characterization and antioxidant status of the seeds and meals of Camelina sativa and flax. European Journal of Lipid Science and Technology, 114(8), 974-982.
2. O. Ciftci et al (2012). Lipid components of flax, perilla, and chia seeds. European Journal of Lipid Science and Technology, 114(7), 794-800.
3. L. Gutierrez et al (2011). Chemical composition of Sacha Inchi (Plukenetia volubilis L.) seeds and characteristics of their lipid fraction. Grasas y Aceites, Vol 62, No 1.
4. HealWithFood.org. Chia Seed Nutrition Facts.
5. J. Callaway (2004). Hempseed as a nutritional resource: An overview. Euphytica, 140(1-2), 65-72.
6. In a Nutshell: Walnut Health and Nutrition Research. The California Walnut Board, 2017.
7. C. de Blas et al (2010). Tablas FEDNA de composicion y valor nutritive de alimentos para la fabricacion de piensos compuestos. 3th rev. Fundacion Espanola para el Desarrollo de la Nutricion Animal.
8. F. Gunstone. Rapeseed (Canola) Oil. The American Oil Chemists' Society, 2017.
9. USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference (Release 28, released September 2015, slightly revised May 2016). USDA Database
10. E. Bere (2007). Wild berries: a good source of omega-3. European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 61(3), 431-3.