- Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA)
- Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA)
- Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA)
ALA is often found in plant sources of omega 3 and EPA and DHA are found more commonly in marine animal sources. ALA is used by the body to produce the more critical EPA, which in turn is used to create DHA. As such, many have concluded that DHA is the most important omega 3 for supporting optimal health.
However, you will want to choose a source that is high in animal-based EPA and DHA as both are useful and are often found together. Their importance is highlighted by the fact that the body converts ALA into EPA & DHA at a very low ratio. That is not to say that ALA is useless, there is a great deal of evidence that ALA is a potent neuroprotective agent and has even been suggested as a treatment for stroke patients.
Therefore, it’s recommended to take a combination of plant-based and animal-based omega-3’s to get the full range of benefits. So, this begs the question - what are the best sources of Omega 3?
Food Sources & Supplements
Foods high in EPA & DHA:
EPA & DHA are regarded as the more beneficial forms of omega 3. So which foods contain the highest quantity?
- Cod Liver Oil (2,664 mg per tablespoon serving)
A single tablespoon also contains Vitamin D (338% RDA), Vitamin A (270% RDA) and of course an impressive amount of omega 3, loaded with the preferred EPA and DHA.
- Mackerel (5,134 mg per 100g serving)
These delicious fish require little preparation. They are a rich source of vitamin B12 and selenium. 100 grams provides 200% RDI of vitamin B12, and 100% of selenium.
Additionally, they have highest EPA & DHA content of almost all other fish!
- Salmon (2,260 mg per 100g serving)
Salmon is one of the most nutrient-dense foods on the planet. It contains magnesium, selenium, potassium, B vitamins and plenty of protein.
As well as, of course, large doses of omega 3 fatty acids – particularly EPA and DHA.
- Herring (1,729 mg per 100g serving)
Herrings are a popular breakfast food in England. A standard smoked fillet contains about 100% RDI for vitamin D and selenium, and 50% of RDI for vitamin B12.
Foods high in ALA:
- Flaxseeds (2,338 mg per tablespoon serving)
Flax seeds are by far the richest food source of the omega 3 essential fat, alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). Flaxseeds also contain vitamin E and magnesium and have a great omega 6 to omega 3 ratio.
- Flaxseed Oil (7,196 mg per tablespoon serving)
Flaxseed Oil is extracted from thousands of flaxseeds, so naturally the potency of some of its nutrients is highly-concentrated. Luckily one of those nutrients is alpha-linolenic acid (ALA).
- Chia Seeds (4,915mg per ounce/28g serving)
Chia seeds are a veritable superfood – rich in manganese, phosphorus, calcium and many other nutrients.
Additionally, they pack a powerful Omega 3 punch in that they contain 4,915mg per ounce (28g) of seeds.
Purity, Poisoning and Supplements
However, some considerations when sourcing a product include quality, purity and rancidity of the omega 3 content.
As seen above, the major sources of dietary EPA & DHA are fish, however, most fish that are commercially available are polluted with mercury, PCB and a variety of other toxic substances. So, finding and sourcing wild-caught, mercury-free fish presents a significant problem. It can often be very difficult and expensive to buy premium fish from unpolluted waters.
Therefore, the recommendation from natural food diet proponents is, to supplement. Some of the most powerful supplements available for omega 3 are fish oil, cod liver oil and krill oil.
Fish Oil, Cod Liver Oil & Krill Oil
Fish oil is extracted from the flesh of commonly-eaten fish like tuna, herring, cod, etc. It is considered to have a high omega 3 profile but doesn’t contain much vitamin A or D. It is quite popular amongst people looking only for an omega 3 boost.
Cod Liver Oil is a specific type of fish oil that has its own category – because it has additional nutrients from the liver of the cod that many believe give it an advantage over standard fish oil. It has been a traditional superfood for centuries by many different cultures to nurture longevity and health. It has the added advantage of high levels of vitamins A & D – which could account for its widespread use and its reported ability to tangibly boost health in sick individuals.
Alternatively, krill oil has some enhanced benefits when compared to fish oil. Krill oil is another type of fish oil that contains natural antioxidants (such as astaxanthin) and has high bioavailability and absorption because of its phospholipid structure. It has a very good omega 3 profile too, like both fish and cod liver oil.
These are the best and most popular supplements providing a significant dose of EPA & DHA. But due to their wide availability, in many different forms and brands – you may want to try one that suits your lifestyle, tastes and budget.
Product Quality & Purity
The quality of a product can be affected by several factors.
Firstly, the extraction process for most fish oils includes a purification process designed to maximise shelf life. However, this requires the product to undergo heavy industrial processing which includes bleaching, deodorising, degumming and high-temperature distillation. These processes significantly damage the sensitive fat-soluble nutrients found in fish and cod liver oils and can result in an inferior product.
Secondly, the preservation of the nutrient profile for transport. Not effectively preserving the micro-nutrients can result in rancidity which will render the omega 3 useless, and even harmful to the body.
Rancidity, or lipid peroxidation, is a big problem as all types of fish oils are quite susceptible to this. Rancid fish oil produces free radicals, which are harmful to health and can cause damage at a cellular level, particularly if your body’s antioxidant reserves are low. Eating rancid fish oil will at the very best, deplete some of your antioxidant reserves, and at worst result in significant cellular damage and proliferation of free radical mayhem through your body.
This is why refrigeration is required upon opening a bottle.
Fermented Cod Liver Oil (FCLO)
However, there is another type of cod liver oil that has been very popular for many years: fermented cod liver oil. But what is it?
Fermented cod liver oil is a traditional food that delivers everything a high-quality cod-liver oil will provide: important fat-soluble vitamins, such as vitamins A, D and K. However, the fermentation process can enhance the nutrient content. FCLO also provides essential omega-3 fats in their most bioavailable forms. It is likely that FCLO is naturally lower in toxins, although it may contain traces of biogenic amines, which can be problematic for certain sensitive individuals.
The Weston A. Price Foundation states, “fermented cod liver oil contains many co-factors that may enhance the body’s uptake and usage of vitamins A and D; in fact, many have reported results equivalent to those obtained from high-vitamin cod liver oil with half the recommended dose.”
Furthermore, recent research by Green Pasture products has discovered that Fermented Cod Liver Oil is packed full of antioxidant properties. The most reliable measure of antioxidant strength is a food or supplements “ORAC value”. As has been demonstrated in our blog, Green Pasture’s Fermented Cod Liver Oil has a very high ORAC value versus traditional cod liver oil.
Is FCLO Rancid? Putrefaction vs. Fermentation
The short answer is no.
Why? Putrefaction or “rotting” is NOT lactic acid fermentation.
Fermentation provides all the benefits listed above, as well as many other gut-promoting benefits. However, incomplete fermentation and rotting (putrefaction) both produce the same foul-smelling compounds called putrescine and cadaverine. Once fermentation is completed the amounts of both compounds are negligible.
Both are components formed during decomposition of the proteins in rotting meats through anaerobic bacterial action. Interestingly, small traces of these compounds are often present in fermented meat products and contribute to the overall flavour profile without causing any harm to human health. Some individuals are intolerant of even trace amounts of these biogenic amines in the diet and need to restrict intake. Many factors can affect the formation of biogenic amines, and the process needs to be tightly controlled. A quality manufacturing facility can optimise the environmental conditions to allow only beneficial microorganisms to thrive, and for complete fermentation to occur. The primary manufacturer of Fermented Cod Liver Oil is Green Pasture Products and according to Dave Wetzel, the owner, Green Pasture Fermented CLO has repeatedly tested free of undesirable biogenic amines such as putrescine and cadaverine.
So, what’s the verdict? Fermented cod liver oil is an enhanced version of standard cod liver because it delivers a high dose of antioxidants as well as a boost in the bio-availability of the well-known nutrients obtained from cod liver oil. For sensitive individuals who don’t like the taste or may react negatively to it, good quality alternatives do exist.
Krill oil is another fantastic product that encases nutrients in a liposomal, phospholipid (fat) layer that increases absorption rates. It also naturally contains astaxanthin which is known as the “king of antioxidants” for it’s phenomenal free-radical scavenging capacity.