Omega-3 and white fish – are we being conned?

Yes, I believe we are.

We all know how oily fish are touted as great sources of omega-3 which, as it’s peddled as a sovereign remedy for so many ills, is in grave danger of assuming the mantle of snake oil, but what’s the story with white fish?

I ask because I have several packs of white fish in my freezer, from a variety of sources, all claiming to be “A natural source of omega-3” (and by the way, TV advertising retards, it is NOT pronounced ohmeega).

And how do you think we managed to survive before we were badgered into eating oily fish, and the omega-3 was crammed into so many foods it’s impossible to avoid? The bloody stuff is even in shampoo – what the hell is the point of that?

The European Food Information Council says that farmed Atlantic salmon, canned anchovies and canned sardines are the best sources, at 1.8, 1.7 and 1.4g, respectively, of omega-3 oil per 100g of fish, followed by herring at 1.2g and mackerel at 1.0g.

As you can see, the routine “high in omega-3” claims are just a tad ambitious – nothing is actually high in the stuff, for any normal meaning of the word “high”.

However, when it comes to white fish, the “natural source” claims are at best ambitious, at worst a total crock – pollack is 0.5g per 100g, and it goes steeply downhill from there. When it comes to the haddock and cod in my freezer, it’s getting close to an outright lie, as they have, respectively, 0.2g and 0.1g of omega-3 oil per 100g. That’s pretty damn close to none at all – put another way, omega-3 oils are 1/1000th of the total weight of a portion of cod.

All values from EUFIC, and all for dry-cooked fish (presumably fried or grilled, not boiled or steamed – I can’t think what else that might mean).

So, when I see something that proclaims itself top be a natural source of, well, anything at all, I expect the product, whatever it is, to actually contain a significant amount of whatever it purports to contain. Not, as with omega-3 and white fish, as close to bugger all as makes no difference.

We need a change to the legislation. Oily fish, though the content in real terms is very low (but we don’t need much), does, at least, contain dietetically significant amounts, and so can justifiably be labelled as a “valuable source”.

White fish, though, the omega-3 content of which can be vanishingly small, should not be allowed to have any claims made for it, as eating the stuff is extremely unlikely to provide any measurable benefits (you would, for example, have to eat 1.8kg of cod to get the same benefit as 100g of Atlantic farmed salmon). If the industry genuinely believes that 1/1000th of a portion of cod represents a significant amount of omega-3, they should be made to prove it.

In the meantime, feel free to regard omega-3 claims for white fish as simply advertising-industry hype – no more.

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2 thoughts on “Omega-3 and white fish – are we being conned?

  1. I couldn’t agree with you more, Ron. Piffle and poppycock. It is amazing how many spurious claims various companies get away with it – especially as the EU is constantly breathing down members’ necks regarding nonsensical minutiae. It never seems to pick up on obvious stuff.x

    • Trouble is, a lot of what the EU gets blamed for emanates from the Codex Alimentarius Commission, which is part of the UN, and the main cause is sloppy journalism. Ill-informed hacks often report its publications as if they were European law, which they most certainly are not. They are entirely voluntary standards.

      Wikipedia, sadly the source of much misinformation, actually covers the subject quite well http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Codex_Alimentarius

      Ron.

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