What is Alpha-Linolenic Acid

by John Staughton (BASc, BFA) last updated -

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Alpha-linolenic acid is a type of omega-3 fatty acid, which can be found in a number of different foods. If you want to improve your overall health and wellness, increasing your intake of this valuable compound is a good place to start.

What is Alpha-Linolenic Acid?

Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) is one of the three essential fatty acids we consume through our diet. They are called essential because we need them for survival, but since our bodies don’t produce them, so we must get them through food. The other two types of fatty acids, EPA and DHA, are primarily found in fish, but alpha-linolenic acid, or ALA, is also found in certain seeds. Foods that contain EPA and DHA don’t usually contain ALA – and vice versa – so this should be considered when making your own dietary choices. Find out what foods contain ALA and how it can benefit your health.  

Health Benefits

There are a number of health benefits of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), such as improving heart health, lowering blood pressure, and treating diabetes among others.

Heart Health

Studies have shown that ALA from plant-based sources, as opposed to supplements or pills, can reduce heart disease and heart attacks when taken over time. It also seems to reduce plaque build-up in the arteries, which will lower your risk of atherosclerosis

Lower Blood Pressure

A diet high in ALA is believed to reduce the risk of hypertension by as much as one-third, which significantly drops your risk of heart attack and stroke, as well as overall strain on the cardiovascular system. 

Diabetes

Some studies have also found a positive correlation between an increase in alpha-linolenic acid and a lower risk of Type 2 diabetes in certain patients.

Walnuts on a wooden table

Sources of Alpha-Linolenic Acid

ALA can be incorporated into your diet in simple ways.

  • Flaxseeds or Chia Seeds: Add them to smoothies or homemade granola, bake them into crackers, or mix ground flax seeds with water to create a perfect egg substitute for baking.
  • Flaxseed Oil: Also known as flax oil or linseed oil, you can find these at any specialty health store or online. Always buy supplements from a trusted source to ensure quality. Lots of chemical names are spelled similarly, so make sure you’re buying alpha-linolenic acid vs alpha-linoleic acid!
  • Walnuts: Eat these by the handful, use them in salads, or bake with them, as they are great sources of this compound.
  • Canola Oil: Pure canola oil is versatile with a high smoke point and can be used for any type of cooking or baking.
  • Soybeans: Try steamed whole edamame for a high-protein snack, or incorporate grilled tofu in place of meat protein in your meals.
  • Kidney Beans: These have lower levels of ALA, but tons of protein and calcium. Try them fried with canola oil for a serious ALA boost!

Word of Warning

Since ALA is derived from oils and high-fat foods, the biggest thing to watch out for is weight gain. Keep your daily calories within the recommended levels and exercise regularly to maintain a healthy weight if you increase your nut, seed, and oil intake. 

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About the Author

John Staughton is a traveling writer, editor, publisher and photographer with English and Integrative Biology degrees from the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana (USA). He co-founded the literary journal, Sheriff Nottingham, and now serves as the Content Director for Stain’d Arts, a non-profit based in Denver, Colorado. On a perpetual journey towards the idea of home, he uses words to educate, inspire, uplift and evolve.

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