The foods highest in CLA also happen to be the foods many dieters avoid. Conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) has become one of the most important ingredients in the health and wellness market, particularly when it comes to losing weight. While supplements help many people to make sure they receive a consistent dose of CLA every day, many people would prefer to obtain it from more natural sources.
CLA can be found in many different foods. Fortunately, many of them are perfectly commonplace, inexpensive and easy to find at a local supermarket. The main challenge is to find the foods that are highest in CLA, to make it matter. Many foods contain it, but the vast majority of them contain only small amounts, rarely enough to compare to the human clinical trials conducted on this ingredient and that suggest it can be helpful in supporting an reduced-calorie weight loss diet. Simply choosing the foods highest in CLA does not appear to be enough.
Animal-Based Sources of CLA
The majority of the foods highest in CLA are animal based. In fact, they’re not from just any animals, but a specific category of animal that have four compartments to their stomachs (sometimes mistakenly thought of as four stomachs), known as ruminants.
Ruminants include over 150 species of animals, including cows, goats, bison, buffalo, deer, moose and even giraffes. Clearly the odds of getting giraffe-based products at your local grocery store are rather slim, but you can likely find beef or even goat meat relatively easily.
The CLA is created in the digestion process of ruminant animals which must regurgitate, re-chew and swallow their food for each of the four compartments of their stomachs. As off-putting as that may sound, it is highly effective at producing one of the foods highest in CLA.
The CLA is formed when omega 6 fatty acids – commonly known as linoleic acid – ferment by digestive bacteria, turning some of it into a conjugated form. Unlike humans, these animals put their food through extensive fermentation throughout their digestion, leading to a far higher concentration of the conjugated version of the linoleic acid. This also explains why they are the top sources of CLA.
Do You Naturally Produce CLA?
The human digestion process is very different from that of ruminants as we have only a single compartment to our stomachs. Our digestive process does not require fermentation while the food is still in the stomach. That process doesn’t occur until the food is traveling through the intestines. At that point, there is some conjugated linoleic acid produced as the omega 6 fatty acids are fermented.
However, the amount we produce for ourselves is nowhere near the amount produced by animals with four chambers to their stomachs. This typically means that we don’t make nearly enough of it for ourselves to have the type of impact that has been seen in human clinical trials through supplementation.
The Top 20 Foods Highest in CLA
The following is a list of the 20 foods highest in CLA and that you will typically be able to find at your grocery store. This list contains the type of food containing the CLA as well as the amount of the conjugated linoleic acid you will obtain per serving of that food.
1. Grass fed beef (4 ounces of organic or non-organic) – 433 mg
2. Whole milk cheddar cheese from grass fed cow (1 ounce) – 180 mg to 270 mg
3. Whole milk from grass fed cow (8 ounces) – 160 mg to 240 mg
4. Lamb (4 ounces) – 148 mg
5. Ground beef, standard (4 ounces) – 71 mg
6. Butter (1 tablespoon, salted) – 54 mg
7. Whole milk from standard dairy (8 ounces) – 44 mg
8. Buttermilk from standard dairy (8 ounces) – 44 mg
9. Processed cheese product (1 ounce) – 43 mg
10. Veal (4 ounces) – 40 mg
11. Cheddar cheese from standard dairy (1 ounce) – 39 mg
12. Ice cream (1/2 cup) – 26 mg
13. Plain yogurt, standard form (6 ounces) – 26 mg
14. Ground turkey (4 ounces) – 23 mg
15. Cottage cheese (4 ounces) – 22 mg
16. 2% milk, standard dairy (8 ounces) – 20 mg
17. Low fat yogurt, standard form (6 ounces) – 12 mg
18. Sour cream (1 tablespoon) – 11 mg
19. Chicken (4 ounces) – 8 mg
20. Pork (4 ounces) – 6 mg
It’s clear that there is not only a difference in the CLA provided by various types of animal-based product, but that it also matters how those meat and dairy products were raised and produced. Grass fed beef produces a product that has approximately 500 percent more CLA than beef raised in the standard way and that is fed a higher amount of – or nearly exclusively – grain and foods other than grass. Grass fed beef is clearly the winner of the foods highest in CLA. Those on a high protein diet will have an easier time reaching higher CLA levels.
Eating Foods Highest in CLA vs. Supplementation
As you can see, there are very few sources of foods highest in CLA that can provide you with a substantial enough amount of this substance to help you to see the types of benefits enjoyed in clinical studies. Moreover, many health care providers now recommend that we cut back on beef and full-fat dairy to no more than a couple of times per week, making it more challenging to be able to obtain enough CLA via natural means.
For that reason, among others, many people who want to lose weight with the assistance of CLA have started looking to supplements in order to keep up their levels, particularly when they are not eating grass fed beef that day.
That said, even among people who are eating grass fed beef and dairy more often, it can still be challenging to eating enough of the foods highest in CLA to match the amounts in clinical studies, as the goal is typically to receive 3,000 milligrams of conjugated linoleic acid or more. This would require dieters to eat far more beef than their calorie limits or macronutrient balances would allow. It would make weight gain far more likely than weight loss.
Therefore, to top up the amount obtained by way of foods highest in CLA and support healthy weight loss, supplements are often the only realistic route. The key is to make sure you are choosing high quality supplements that will not only provide enough CLA to make a difference but, more often than not, will also include other clinically studied ingredients to extend the benefits of the supplement even further.
It’s for this reason that many of the higher quality best over the counter weight loss pills that contain CLA have complete formulas containing other ingredients to support energy, metabolism and other factors important to dieters. With these supplements and the foods highest in CLA, the goal of obtaining appropriate amounts of this substance is much more obtainable.