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 (Austria, 2008). 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 (Patenaude, 2009). 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.
- One teaspoon of camelina oil contains 1.4 g of ALA (Budin, 1995).
- Camelina oil has an LA:ALA ratio of about 1:1.5 (Budin, 1995). 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 (Karvonen, 2002).
- More information can be found at agmrc.org.
- 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.
- One teaspoon of refined hemp seed oil contains about 750 mg ALA and one teaspoon of unrefined hemp seed oil contains about 900 mg ALA (Mikulcová, 2017).
- Hemp seed oil has an LA:ALA ratio of about 1:0.4 for unrefined oil and 1:0.3 for refined oil (Mikulcová, 2017).
- Perilla is native to India and China, and produced there as well as Japan, Korea, Thailand, and other East Asian countries (Asif, 2011).
- Perilla leaves are used in Chinese and Japanese herbal medicine (Dhyani, 2019).
- One teaspoon of perilla oil contains 2.5 g of ALA (Gwari, 2014; Longvah, 2000).
Asif M. Health effects of omega-3,6,9 fatty acids: Perilla frutescens is a good example of plant oils. Orient Pharm Exp Med. 2011;11(1):51-59.
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.
Budin JT, Breene WM, Putnam DH. Some compositional properties of camelina (camelina sativa L. Crantz) seeds and oils. J Am Oil Chem Soc. 1995;72:309-315.
Dhyani A, Chopra R, Garg M. A Review on Nutritional Value, Functional Properties and Pharmacological Application of Perilla (Perilla Frutescens L.). Biomed Pharmacol J. 2019;12(2).
Gwari G, Lohani H, Haider SZ, Bhandari U, Chauhan N, Rawat DS. FATTY ACID AND NUTRIENT COMPOSITION OF PERILLA (PERILLA FRUTESCENS L.) ACCESSIONS COLLECTED FROM UTTARAKHAND. Int J Phytopharm. 2014;5(5):379-382.
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)
Longvah T, Deosthale YG, Kumar PU. Nutritional and short term toxicological evaluation of Perilla seed oil. Food Chem. 2000;70:13–16.
Mikulcová V, Kašpárková V, Humpolíček P, Buňková L. Formulation, Characterization and Properties of Hemp Seed Oil and Its Emulsions. Molecules. 2017 Apr 27;22(5):700.
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.
3 thoughts on “Omega-3s: Plant Sources”
I have seen Buglossoides arvensis plant (ahiflower) marketed to vegans in supplement form for omega 3,6 & 9.any research on this? Thanks!
Here is a small randomized clinical trial from 2016 that found supplementing with 9·1 g/d of Ahiflower for 28 days raised tissue concentrations of EPA: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4709838/
Camelina seeds are also available in the USA now, although harder to find than camelina oil.
I bought some. They are actually rather tasty – they have a strong flavor that’s kind of like asparagus.
There isn’t an entry for camelina seeds in the USDA nutrients database. There IS an entry for camelina oil now, but it doesn’t have info about individual fatty acids.