Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) is an 18-carbon polyunsaturated omega-3 fatty acid that is common in some vegetable oils, flaxseeds, walnuts and chia seeds. An essential fatty acid, ALA cannot be made by the body and thus must be obtained in the diet. The body can use ingested ALA to make small amounts of eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), two omega-3 fatty acids essential for normal growth and development, particularly the eyes and brain, and for cardiovascular health1.
Flax seeds are the seeds of the common flax, or linseed plant, Linum usitatissimum. Flax seeds contain high levels of lignans, polyphenolic compounds that have been shown to be beneficial to human health. They also contain a significant amount of ALA 1. Flax seeds appear to be well-tolerated, and there is long-standing historical use of them in dietary supplements.
Chia seeds are produced by a mint family plant, Salvia hispanica. Chia has been a traditional food for people living in Central and South America for centuries. Chia seeds are comprised of 15-25% protein, 30-33% fats, 18-30% fiber and vitamins and minerals 2. The seeds high protein and healthy fat composition (60% ALA and 20% omega-6 linoleic acid) accounts for its growing popularity among health-conscious consumers.