Below is a list of plant foods naturally high in the omega-3 fatty acid, alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). Additionally, the omega-3s EPA and DHA are available from supplements.
- Flaxseeds are the most concentrated source of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), with an n-6:n-3 ratio of 1:4.
- One teaspoon of flaxseed oil contains 2.5 g of ALA.
- One tablespoon of ground flaxseeds contains 1.6 g of ALA.
- If flaxseeds are not ground, they will not be digested (1). They can be ground in a blender (works best with a large amount) or coffee grinder, and then stored in the freezer. Ground flaxseeds can be sprinkled on cereal or used in baked goods.
- There is some evidence that people 45 and older do not absorb the oil from ground flaxseeds as well as from flaxseed oil (2). The one study indicating this was only for four weeks and using 6 g of ALA per day. With smaller amounts and for longer periods, the difference might be negligible, but that hasn’t been tested.
- Cooking flaxseed oil damages the ALA, but it can be put on warm food such as toast. Flaxseed oil should be kept in the refrigerator.
- Flaxseed oil doesn’t taste very good—some people use cinnamon-flavored oil, tablets, or put it on toast or salad to disguise the taste.
- Camelina oil is an oil that has an n-6:n-3 ratio of about 1:1.4 (3). The USDA does not list camelina oil in their nutrient database.
- In one study, camelina oil fared better than canola (aka rapeseed) and olive oil on LDL cholesterol levels and in increasing EPA and DHA levels (4).
- More information can be found at Canpressco.com.
- Chia (Salvia hispanica; also known as Salba) seed oil is a good source of ALA.
- Dried chia seeds have 5 g of ALA per ounce.
- Chia seed oil gelcaps sold by Deva have an n-6:n-3 ratio of 1:3.
- Hemp seed oil is a good source of ALA, but not available everywhere. According to Wikipedia, it has an n-6:n-3 ratio of 1:0.4 (5).
1. Austria JA, Richard MN, Chahine MN, Edel AL, Malcolmson LJ, Dupasquier CM, Pierce GN. Bioavailability of alpha-linolenic acid in subjects after ingestion of three different forms of flaxseed. J Am Coll Nutr. 2008 Apr;27(2):214-21.
2. Patenaude A, Rodriguez-Leyva D, Edel AL, Dibrov E, Dupasquier CM, Austria JA, Richard MN, Chahine MN, Malcolmson LJ, Pierce GN. Bioavailability of alpha-linolenic acid from flaxseed diets as a function of the age of the subject. Eur J Clin Nutr. 2009 Sep;63(9):1123-9.
4. Karvonen HM, Aro A, Tapola NS, Salminen I, Uusitupa MI, Sarkkinen ES. Effect of alpha-linolenic acid-rich Camelina sativa oil on serum fatty acid composition and serum lipids in hypercholesterolemic subjects Metabolism. 2002 Oct;51(10):1253-60. (Abstract)