EPA + DHA
Let’s all agree that humans need Omega 3’s for optimal health, they are essential fatty acids that the body itself can’t make. We need them for brain health, inflammation response, and cardiovascular health. But everywhere you look now there are fish oil Omega 3 supplements; at supermarkets, at drugstores, on the internet. Countless brands are touting and selling these capsules and liquids. No wonder that it is a billion dollar industry.
The problem with fish oil
The problem with fish oil is that Omega 3 fats are polyunsaturated which means they are the most fragile. They are easily damaged by heat, light and processing. A study completed in New Zealand showed that “almost all” of the fish oil supplements that were available on the NZ market were tested and showed they were highly oxidised. They also found that levels of EPA and DHA (the two key Omega 3 fatty acids) were markedly lower than stated on the label. If you think this won’t affect you because the product you have is considered high quality, think again. The researchers found that “best-before date, cost, country of origin and exclusivity were all poor markers of supplement quality”.
In the past few years I have consumed many bottles of Green Pastures Fermented Cod Liver Oil & Butter oil blend, but this was for the fat-soluble vitamins not so much EPA and DHA. I recently tested really well for adding some essential fatty acids to my life so decided to jump into the deep end with fish oil. I went with a product that came highly recommended to me, Wiley’s Finest Wild Alaskan Fish Oil - 1000mg EPA + DHA. The fish used is guaranteed sustainable and the processing used ensures that the product is not contaminated with heavy metals. It is also free of GMO additives.
Whichever EPA & DHA supplement you go with, just remember to do some research and go with a trusted source because the risk of those capsules containing a rancid oxidised polyunsaturated fat which could be more damaging than good is very high. Or play it safe and stick to whole food sources of these key fatty acids like eating sardines and wild salmon a few times a week.
Update November 2018: How do we know if the fish oil you are taking has gone rancid during processing or in the capsule? The easiest way is to crack the capsule in your mouth between your teeth and taste the oil. It should taste like fish and not fish thats gone bad. These days I crack the capsule in my mouth every time I take one and have it with food. Why? Digestion begins in the mouth so I want to mix the oil with the enzymes in my saliva and make sure I’m really getting the most out of the supplement I’ve spent good money on. I take it with food so my stomach is already acidic enough to digest food which kicks off the digestion cascade and makes sure I’m releasing bile to digest these essential fats.
Do I get fish burps from this process? I’ll answer this question because it’s a common complaint from taking fish oil supplements. No, I don’t burp up fish smell. One thing is I taste the supplement and it doesn’t smell or taste any stronger than eating a piece of salmon. If you are plagued with fish burps make sure you are breaking the capsule in your mouth for optimal digestion, if it tastes bad then don’t take it because it’s probably gone off despite what the best before date says.
On that note let me mention the fermented cod liver oil I used to take. Everyone who’s taken it knows it doesn’t smell or taste anywhere near delicious, in fact when I started taking it I would gag. Now that I know what I know, I won’t take it again. You can’t ferment an oil, which seems so obvious to me now but back when I first started taking it fermented was such a buzz word and the product was so highly recommended it clouded my judgement and it seems like the judgment of many other people. Polyunsaturated oils go rancid within hours of being exposed to heat, light and air. If you’ve ever smelled or tasted the unflavoured product then you know the word that comes to mind is rancid.
Fear not, there are great cod liver oil options out there that are not fermented! Check out this post from Cheeseslave to find out more. Side note: I started reading her blog when I first discovered the book Nourishing Traditions nearly 10 years ago.