The big fish oil test

The more Omegas there are other than 3, the less serious they are. Stick to well known brands is fat researcher Gjermund Vogt’s advice after testing more than 130 fish oil products.

Gjermund Vogt rates the great majority of the oils tested as good and 5 per cent as really top class, while 20 per cent should probably have never been put on sale.

Last autumn MSc student Trine Thorkildsen was tasked with reviewing the Norwegian market for Omega 3 products. She has analysed both health food products and Omega 3 oils included in functional food such as bread.

The survey was commenced through a project supported by the Rubin foundation to assess any benefits from the use of fresh Norwegian raw materials in the production of Omega 3 oils.

It is also the case that many of those involved in the market, and not least consumers, know little about oil quality and its health effects.

Trine Thorkildsen has been doing some shopping. She bought about 130 different products from supermarkets, health food shops, sports shops, pharmacies and online.

The types of oils analysed come from many kinds of raw materials, including cod, pelagic fish from South America and Morocco, linseed, evening primrose, borage, seal, shark, salmon, mussels, krill and rapeseed. A number of the products contain additives, such as vitamins, minerals, aromas and antioxidants. Capsules, emulsions, oils, tablets, drinks and pastilles have all been investigated.

Stick to well known brands

“Generally speaking, it’s the well known brands that have the best quality. We can also say that the more things the advertising claims it helps for, the less the people selling it know. All you need is Omega 3 fatty acids. The rest we should get through a normal diet,” says Gjermund Vogt. He strongly believes that fresh, Norwegian fish is best, but what can you do when people don’t eat fish? “Fish oils as health food are no alibi for not eating fish, but they can be a supplement,” he says.

The researchers want to find out whether fresh, Norwegian fish oil might be of better quality than oil that is older or has travelled further. Analysis has partly confirmed this. But the researchers are still careful about drawing conclusions.

“Oils from fresh, Norwegian raw materials may be the best products from the point of view of quality, because they are produced in the right way,” says Gjermund Vogt. But even the best raw materials can soon be ruined during refining. “We can see this because we have found some Norwegian cod liver oils on the market that are much more rancid than oil from South America.”

“Potentially, the very best quality will be from farmed fish, because then you have complete quality control all the way. Not much time is lost from taking the fish from the water to processing it, so there is little time for it to become rancid. Quality control at every stage of the process is the alpha and omega when it comes to making a good end product,” says Vogt.

Must know what they are doing

The quality of all types of Omega 3 oils and cod liver oil varies a great deal.

“It’s in the intermediary stage that things often go wrong. Fish oil is a very unstable material. That’s why it’s so healthy, but it is also its big problem. And that’s why those who process it have to know what they are doing,” says Gjermund Vogt. It needs correct processing and antioxidants to stabilise the oil. You must use the correct type and quantity of antioxidants for each oil in order to have the right effect. An antioxidant that works for one oil won’t necessarily be good for another.

Functional food is best

Adding Omega 3 to foods like bread and yoghurt has really taken off in recent years. Analyses from Nofima Mat and Akershus University College show that the fish oil in functional foods has the very best quality. According to Gjermund Vogt, functional food oil is the best when it comes to avoiding rancidity. This is mainly because it has no taste or odour. Who would want to eat bread that tasted of old fish crates and paint?

The researchers have tested various kinds of oil for rancidity and they are now going on to test how the oil behaves in cells.

“We are already seeing indications that cells thrive best with fresh fish oil with little rancidity,” says Gjermund Vogt.

Food and health  

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