I don’t know about you, but I don't have time or patience for drama. So when the the scandal and controversy surrounding fermented cod liver oil broke out, I essentially shrugged my shoulders and went on with my life.
If you don’t have any idea what I’m talking about, it basically involved a lot of back-and-forth, “studies,” name calling, and defamation between former colleagues from cod liver oil companies and members/former members of the Weston A. Price Foundation.
Big eye roll.
Many of you have written, called, and stopped me in person to ask my opinion on what to do about fermented cod liver oil, and I hear you. You want guidance and clarification.
So I’ve got a to-the-point summary for you here. Let me start by saying I don’t think fermented cod liver oil was ever a mistake, per se, just part of our evolution as a real food community to constantly be seeking better ways for us to nourish ourselves and our families in an overfed, nutrient-deficient modern world.
The takeaways about fermented cod liver oil:
Fish oil is still good
When from wild cold-water fish, fish oil is good for you because it contains omega fatty acids – DHA and EPA – that the body absolutely needs. For the most part, plant versions (ALAs) won't cut it. You can read more about why omegas are so important here.
Cod liver oil is technically better
Cod liver oil, in its natural form contains these essential fatty acids PLUS vitamins D and A, which are extremely difficult to come by naturally in our modern diet. Most cod liver oil (even reputable brands like Nordic Naturals) has synthetic vitamin D and A reintroduced after initial processing in incorrect/unideal proportions.
For a very long time there was no unprocessed cod liver oil available other than FCLO, then only a very expensive liquid version, and only recently has the same company released capsules. It's worth noting that as of this writing, this company that sells the “extra virgin cod liver oil” happened to be involved in the FCLO drama which makes me mildly less interested in recommend them.
Fermenting oil is weird at best
Traditionally, foods are fermented to naturally preserve them, and the process also imparts more health benefits and digestibility in the way milk or cabbage are fermented into yogurt/kefir/cheese and sauerkraut respectively. A fermented food typically has a sour tang, but should never smell rotten.
While the drama-makers argue over the fermentation/rancidity of FCLO and explain it's the liver – not the oil – that's fermented, we can all agree that FCLO smells and tastes horrible. Anyone that tells you otherwise is lacking taste buds and olfactory abilities.
Rancid things not only stink, but their oxidative state can cause inflammation when consumed and even allergic reactions in sensitive individuals. The process the FCLO undergoes also *may* destroy some or all of the fatty acids in the fragile oils.
Alternatives are either limited/expensive or complicated
While always skeptical of the fermentation part of FCLO, I've felt like it was an acceptable compromise (on a case by case basis) because it was the only cod liver oil on the market that still contained vitamin D and A in the correct proportions.
I have also experienced profound health benefits from taking fermented cod liver oil myself, giving it to my family, and recommending it to patients. The very few folks I've met who found fermented cod liver oil didn't feel right for them or their children would simply stop and use something else.
These days, primarily because I don't like drama but also because there are probably better – if more complicated – ways to get these nutrients, my family and I no longer take fermented cod liver oil.
What to do instead of fermented cod liver oil
Your body still needs these nutrients.
So, if you love fermented cod liver oil and it is helping you, good! You do you.
As I have always said, it’s essential that you make your own decisions based on what makes the most sense to YOU and your body. My family and I took FCLO for a long time and only experienced its benefits. These days (especially as we travel around the world) we try to get most of our nutrients from food and supplement only on an as-needed basis.
If you don’t feel great taking FCLO or aren’t down with the controversy, then you need a new plan…
The three bases that you need to cover are fairly simple, but may take some effort and dedication:
- Omega 3 fatty acids (DHA and EPA specifically)
- Vitamin D
- Vitamin A (not from vegetable sources)
To get those essential omega fats, eating wild caught whole fish a few times a week is best. And if you prefer to take a supplement, regular fish oil will do just fine.
If you want to take cod liver oil, Rosita Real Foods will give you DHA, EPA, vitamin A, and vitamin D. EVCLO is now available in both liquid and capsules.
Nordic Naturals is another good option, although due to the proportions of vitamin A to D in the cod liver oil, stick with their fish oils.
If you decide to stick with fish oil, you can get vitamins A and D from chicken or beef liver. You'll also find vitamin D in lard and in egg yolks, provided they're from happy animals. And of course, plenty of healthy sun exposure.
Here are my four favorite (and kid friendly) recipes for liver. If eating liver is not going to happen, you can take liver capsules or empty them into a smoothie.
And in the case of vitamin D, you probably want to supplement because most folks don't spend nearly enough time in the sun or consume enough foods from well raised animals.
What are your thoughts about fermented cod liver oil?
How are you getting omega 3s, vitamin A, and vitamin D?
Let me know in the comments.