Grandma Used Cod Liver Oil – Why You Should Too

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What do you think of when you think of cod liver oil? Images of kids scurrying and hiding in all parts of the house? Mother with a stern look on her face holding out a spoon to a kid with a screwed-up disgusted expression? Most of us have no personal experience with cod liver oil prior to beginning a real foods diet. Our knowledge of cod liver oil comes from cartoons and old movies and, if we are older, stories from our parents childhoods. But cod liver oil was a part of daily life prior to the fifties. It is another part of our food heritage that is disappearing down the memory hole.

My parents were given cod liver oil daily by my grandmothers until they were teenagers. Most families with the money to afford it gave cod liver oil to the children of the house. It was a universally accepted as necessary for good growth, strong bones and disease resistance. This remained true well into the era of artificial vitamin supplementation. It took a couple of decades of convincing of mothers thru many ads and articles to give up this practice in favor of dosing kids with artificial vitamin supplements instead.

Adults with poor health also took cod liver oil to aid in their recovery during your grandparents era. And in antiquity fish oils were seen as a superfood necessary for the support of some of the most feared armies.

Cod liver oil was taken for strength and endurance

Let’s take a short trip thru the history of fish oils. The romans made a fermented fish oil they called Garam which was a staple in their diets. The oil was used by the aristocracy while poorer classes used the fermented fish to flavor their porridge. Roman soldiers credited their strength to this oil and wouldn’t march without it.

Vikings would get livers from the cod and place them in barrels by the door. Every house would have a drum full of fermented livers. They would take spoonful of oil upon leaving their homes. This practice helped make them some of the most feared fighters in European history.

What is in cod liver oil that makes us strong and vital?

Cod livers contain large amounts of the fat soluble vitamins A and D. Yes, they are indeed available elsewhere, but never in such abundance. Simply put, we need lots of these vitamins. Sally Fallon and Mary Enig said in “Cod Liver Oil: Basics and Recommendations”:

“Cod liver oil provides fat-soluble vitamins A and D, which Dr. Price found present in the diet of primitives in amounts ten times higher than in modernized diets.”

It’s also important to note:

“Cod liver oil is also rich in eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docasahexaenoic acid (DHA). The body makes these fatty acids from omega-3 linolenic acid. EPA is as an important link in the chain of fatty acids that ultimately results in prostaglandins, localized tissue hormones while DHA is very important for the proper function of the brain and nervous system. Those individuals who have consumed large amounts of polyunsaturated oils, especially partially hydrogenated oils, who are suffering from certain nutrient deficiencies, or who have impaired pancreatic function, such as diabetics, may not be able to produce EPA and DHA and will, therefore, lack important prostaglandins and necessary fats for the brain unless they consume oily fish or take a cod liver oil supplement.”

So if you’ve been eating the Standard American Diet (SAD) for most of your life, and most of us have, fish oils are vital to ensuring your body can make prostaglandins (hormone like chemicals) that control a wide range of body processes. Fish oil is also vital to ensuring your brain gets the fat it needs to function well. And we all love a well-functioning brain ;-).

With David Wetzel

With Dave Wetzel at the Austin WPF Chapter Potluck

Not All Cod Liver Oils are Traditional

Don’t run down to the health food store and buy yourself some cod liver oil till you read this!

Virtually all of the cod liver oil available in stores is a highly refined food product and not anything like traditionally made cod liver oil!

The process works basically like this. Companies buy rendered oil on the open market. The rendering process destroys much of the natural vitamin content. They then heat it to 380 fahrenheit to deodorize it further destroying the natural vitamins. When the oil is clean and deodorized they add synthetic vitamins back in. Virtually all the brands you see at the store buy this oil and put their own label on it. So what you get for your money is a highly refined fish oil with synthetic vitamins added. I was fairly outraged when I learned this! Traditional preparation of cod liver oil had disappeared from the market. Then enter David Wetzel …

At the local WPF chapter’s potluck last week David told the tale of how he came to discover how modern cod liver oils are made. How after learning this he decided he would need to add a traditionally prepared fermented cod liver oil to his companies products. And the great difficulties he faced in doing so. Green Pasture is to my knowledge the only producer of fermented cod liver oil in the world. Let’s pause a moment to reflect on that. The only producer in the world. Wow! This is a lot of responsibility. David deserves a ton of appreciation for what he is doing!

Thank you again Dave for bringing us all fermented cod liver oil! My health and my youngest child’s has improved markedly as a result of your products! It has made all the difference :-).

You can find good cod liver oil here.

Learn more about Cod Liver Oil

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This post is part of Butter Believer’s Sunday School and The Prairie Homestead’s Barn Hop, Traditional Tuesday’s at Cooking Traditional Foods, Fat Tuesday at Real Food Forager, Real Food Wednesday at Kelly the Kitchen Kop, “Gnowfglin’s Simple Thursday , Food Renegade’s Fight Back Friday, Real Food Freak’s Freaky Friday and Real Food Whole Health’s Fresh Bites Friday.

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lives just outside of Austin with her husband of 20 years Barry, youngest son Jake, three cats and about a dozen chickens. She has another older son and a beautiful daughter-in-law who live in Austin. While not a Grandma yet, with two grown kids she remains hopeful. Kathy wants a world where everyone has fresh wholesome food and feels that cookin' like a granny woman is the surest way to get there.


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Granny LOVES a great discussion! A thoughtful, in-depth look from all angles benefits us all. If you disagree let us know! But please remember you're in Granny's house and be respectful of that. If you wouldn't say it in your Grandma's hearing please don't say it here! No name-calling or foul language. Those comments that don't respect Granny's home will be deleted.

{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

Susan May 2, 2012 at 7:01 pm

I was telling my mom recently that I had just begun taking Green Pasture’s cod liver oil/butter oil blend because of chronic health issues, and she told me that our whole family took it when we were young. I only remembered taking a “tonic” but didn’t know what it was. I don’t remember any of us being sick very much either. Thanks for the article!

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Jackie @ Crest Cottage May 3, 2012 at 8:48 am

My husband and I have been strongly considering investing in cod-liver oil. I think reading your info may have just pushed us into it!

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Kathy May 3, 2012 at 9:01 am

That’s great Jackie!

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Jen May 4, 2012 at 7:27 am

I’m a FCLO holdout. I eat liver about 4 times a week and eat lots of eggs. I am hoping that’s enough to help me get what I need. Leslie has started using it with her family though. :)

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Mike F May 8, 2012 at 4:12 pm

I could be wrong but I don’t think the cod liver oil of our grandparents was fermented. I ordered a couple of bottles of green pastures cod liver oil/butter blend (chocolate and cinnamon) for me and my son. The fermented CLO caused him to get a rash on his mouth before bed. I recently switched to Carlsons, which is still considered good according to WAPF, and my son now gets no rash.

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Kathy May 8, 2012 at 6:35 pm

Your right our Grandparents cod liver was generally not fermented. However our great great Grandparents was, if they had access to it. David said in his presentation that the refining of cod liver oil began around the 1860′s or so. They didn’t have it down to a science yet though. As for Carlsons I don’t know much specifically about that brand. But if your child is reacting you’ll need another option.

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Sandi May 11, 2012 at 8:28 am

When I was in elementary school in the 50′s cod liver oil soft gel capsules were given to all the kids by the school every week! I loved the taste of the fish oil and would bite into my gel cap! (I know, I’m weird….)

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safia August 26, 2012 at 6:01 pm

I’ve heard that you can also apply cod liver oil on your face as well as taking it orally. Has anyone done this?

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Thelma September 25, 2012 at 3:08 pm

Just wondering if anyones has used cod liver oil has a antioxidant for the face which I undestand is a vitamin A antioxidant? Thanks..

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Kathy September 25, 2012 at 5:33 pm

A quick search turns up a few people trying it with success … I know personally that taking cod liver oil daily improves my complexion.

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Ginger August 16, 2013 at 11:17 am

Question: My grandparents and great grandparents lived on small farms in the Midwest, what would they have taken without access to much fish (definitely no access to cod)?

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Kathy August 16, 2013 at 9:08 pm

Hi Ginger … Cod liver oil was widely distributed I believe from the civil war era onward, though of course, pioneers wouldn’t have had too much access :D. Prior to that people without access would have gotten their vitamin A and D from other foods. In the midwest they most likely relied on butter and sunshine. Cod liver oil is just added insurance against deficiency of these very important nutrients.

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