Simply put, “fats like fats,” explains nutrition scientist Ashley Jordan Ferira, Ph.D., RDN. “Consuming fat-soluble nutrients (i.e., a lipid) with other lipids is most beneficial for all fatty things,” she adds.
This is because lipids play the critical role of transporting nutrients and aiding in their absorption in the gut and in cells throughout our body—including dietary fats like omega-3 fatty acids. As it turns out, lipids sometimes even require the assistance of other lipids to optimize their bioavailability.
This is the case with certain forms of omega-3s found in fish oil (i.e., ethyl esters and free fatty acids) commonly used by some supplement brands. In these formulas, without a high-fat meal, the marine omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA simply won’t be readily absorbed and enter the broader body for the cardiovascular or central nervous systems to utilize.
“Ethyl ester fish oil products on the market are fine options, but their bioavailability is simply lower. These forms of fish oil taken without a fat (e.g., while fasting) is a lose-lose situation,” says Ferira. “You might as well flush them down the toilet!”
Ferira goes on to explain: “Specifically, ethyl esters are inferior to triglycerides when not consumed with a fat-containing meal. Ethyl esters are missing the glycerol backbone component of triglycerides, so they have to ‘steal’ glycerol backbone from fats in your diet or in circulation.”
For optimal bioavailability (aka, a sound investment) there’s one form of omega-3s that’s sure to be readily available for the body to use: their triglyceride form.
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