The Best Fish Oil Supplements
The best fish oil supplements provide at least 1,000 mg EPA+DHA omega-3 fatty acids per serving, are certified by third-party labs, and are sustainably sourced. To determine our top picks, we spoke with five doctors specializing in nutrition, consulted over a dozen scientific studies, and read hundreds of ingredients labels. Finally, we brought in our favorite three to experience ourselves.
How we chose the Best Fish Oil Supplement
We started with a mega-list of fish oils — nearly 200 in all. But because supplements don’t undergo the strident, top-down policing of prescription drugs, it was important to vet this list by way of independent testing. We required our picks be approved by at least one third-party organization.
United States Pharmacopeia (USP)
National Sanitation Foundation (NSF)
The International Fish Oil Standards (IFOS) Program
Several kinds of omega-3 fatty acids are present in fish oil, including two of the three essential for humans: Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). (The third — ALA, or alpha-linoleic acid — crops up in non-fish foods. We talk more about food sources of various omega-3s here.)
The World Health Organization and Consumer Lab both recommend 500 mg combined EPA and DHA for a minimum daily dose. We required all of our top picks to provide at least that in two or fewer softgels. No one likes taking more pills (and paying for them) if they don’t have to.
No added colors or flavors
Color and flavor additives can disguise rancid fish oil in supplements that might otherwise look and smell like something you shouldn’t eat. What’s more, the easiest fish oil supplements to take — fruity chewables — typically contain a puny amount of nutrients. You might as well be administering Swedish Fish. We hate to say it, but fish oil should smell and taste like fish.
Five-star rating from the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC)
You can’t responsibly talk about consuming fish oil without talking about sustainability. Real, wild fish go into the fish oil supplements we consume, and they’re an important part of the ocean ecosystem. If any population is over-harvested, it causes a ripple effect all the way up and down the food chain.
A particularly alarming example occurred in the early 2000s
In order to keep overfishing in check, the Marine Stewardship Council evaluates fisheries to make sure they use sustainable practices. To earn the MSC “blue label,” a fishery must take only a sustainable amount of fish out of the water, ensure its operations have a low environmental impact, and comply with all relevant laws. Purchasing fish oil that aligns with MSC ethics means that what bolsters your health, bolsters the health of the product’s original ecology, too.
The 3 Best Fish Oil Supplements
The highest-quality fish oil we could find. Just plug your nose.
Why we chose it
2,000 mg of EPA+DHA per serving
With a serving size of two softgels, that breaks down to a substantial 1,000 mg of EPA+DHA in every one of Nutrigold’s thumbnail-sized pills. The pricetag sits on the mid-high end of fish oils, but at this potency, you’re getting a big quantity of the best quality, for less.
Loads of third-party certifications
Nutrigold’s otherwise unassuming brown bottle is covered in so many accolades, it looks like a tiny, eager Boy Scout. In fact, it has more third-party certifications for label accuracy and purity than any of the other 183 supplements we looked at, including nods from the International Fish Oil Standards Program (IFOS), Consumer Lab, and an 77 out of 100 rating from Labdoor.
Just 5 ingredients
Nutrigold is made with less than half a dozen ingredients, one of which is water. The purity of this supplement extends to its lack of toxins: Its PCB and mercury levels (less than 0.01 PPM) are both way below the upper limit for supplements, which is less than 0.09 PPM.
Points to consider
If you love seafood, it isn’t a smell that will necessarily put you off. Some of our testers proclaimed that the scent of a capsule, once broken open, was akin to “freshly cooked salmon.” If you have a picky nose or can’t stand any fishy aftertaste, you may want to go with Wiley’s.
No Fishy Aftertaste
Life & Food
A tiny package, packed with potency you can’t taste.
Why we chose it
Thick coating means no fishiness
Unlike our other top picks, Life & Food’s Omega-3 Supreme’s softgels don’t smell like fish. For that, you can thank their “enteric coating”: thick capsule walls meant to hold together until they reach your lower digestive tract, where they eventually (and harmlessly) dissolve. This extra-thick coating completely eliminates the fishy smells that come along with most other fish oil supplements, including Nutrigold.
Small and easy to swallow
Life & Food’s softgels are about half the size of a typical fish oil softgel: tiny nubs, smaller than a jelly bean. Their manageable size makes them easy to take, especially if you gag easily when swallowing medicine, or are shopping for a senior who needs small swallables.
Points to consider
Need to take twice as many pills
That compact size comes with a compact omega-3 count. You will have to swallow twice as many softgels to get similar EPA and DHA levels as Nutrigold or Wiley’s Finest. On the upside: they’re no more expensive. If you do the math (and are willing to double up on the daily recommended serving), you actually get just about the same amount of omega-3s from Life & Food at the same price as with Nutrigold.
Best for Pescetarians
If you’re on the hunt for pure, and don’t mind paying for it, Wiley’s offers a super-sustainable option.
Why we chose it
Wiley’s pescatarian-friendly ingredients list: just omega-3s from Alaska pollock, fish gelatin (as opposed to Nutrigold’s bovine gelatin), glycerin, purified water, and vitamin E. With all that fish comes a fair share of fishiness: Like Nutrigold, these softgels emit an unmistakable sea-faring smell.
Wiley’s is a family brand, and its entire production line reflects ethical choices. The website proudly notes that its oil is made from the eyes, heads, and livers of fish caught for human consumption. Then Wiley’s repurposes the saturated fats refined out of its fish oils as biofuel. To top it all off: its packaging is post-consumer recycled paperboard. Because fish oil manufacture is a substantial sector in the marine market, we appreciated Wiley’s deep consideration for how the lifecycle of their product fits into the larger environmental picture.
Points to consider
Nearly twice as expensive
The transparency and purity of Wiley’s comes at a markup: You’ll pay double or more for Wiley’s versus equal amounts of omega-3s from other supplement brands. But those brands largely rely on cheap fish oil harvesting (grinding up whole anchovy as salmon fishmeal, then separating out the oil for a variety of purposes, including dietary supplements). Wiley’s ethical practices rationalize the cost.
Guide to Fish Oil
How to find the right Fish Oil Supplement for you
As always, talk to your doctor
If you’ve ever looked into any nutritional supplement — be it biotin to make your hair grow or a B complex to quell anxiety — you know that the medical community is a perennially hung court. Studies are inconclusive. When it comes to fish oil, its been proven effective against triglycerides but not much else, and some experts warn it can negatively interact with medications or exacerbate health problems. Talk to your MD to find out if some common concerns with taking fish oil (thinning blood, for example) should concern you.
Know if you’re already getting enough omega-3s
A supplement is designed to… well, supplement. If your diet is already rich in fish and omega-3-stocked nuts and grains, you probably don’t need to augment it with daily capsules. For the majority of North Americans, this won’t be the case. Western populations exhibit half the bodily supply of EPA+DHA than the population of Japan, where fish consumption is much higher.
Identify what is important to you in a fish oil supplement
People praise fish oil for soothing their joints and lowering their blood pressure, but it won’t have a chance to create any positive effects in you can’t afford it or can’t stomach it. Identify whether it’s price, flavor, or background practices that most impact your perspective, and shop accordingly.
Get the dosage right
As with any good thing, you can overdo fish oil, too. Even if you’re taking a top-of-the-line supplement that has been third-party tested for purity, like any of our top picks, an excessive dose can mess with your body. A standard daily dose of EPA+DHA: 1,000 mg. The FDA states that daily consumption should not exceed 3 grams (3,000 mg).
Like aspirin, fish oil is a blood-thinner, which makes it desirable for lowering blood pressure and reducing the risk of heart disease. “Too much fish oil increases bleeding time,” confirmed Dr. Rachel Carlton Abrams, author of Body Wise. “And that means for procedures, for injuries, if you fall and hit your head, you can bleed, like you’re taking aspirin.” This begins to happen at a daily dosage of about six grams, she said. That’s 6,000 mg, or three servings of our top pick, Nutrigold Triple Strength Fish Oil Omega-3 Gold.
If you’re already on anticoagulants to prevent issues like blood clots or strokes, make sure to talk to your doctor about how much fish oil is safe for you to take.
Fish Oil FAQs
What are the health benefits of fish oil?
EPA and DHA have been said to assist brain function and support normal growth and development, but fish oil is typically consumed to treat the following:
- Heart disease
- High blood pressure
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Mood disorders
- Some cancers
The only afflictions that fish oil is clinically proven to relieve: high triglycerides and cholesterol.
Which foods are good sources of omega-3s?
Most experts agree that whenever possible, it’s best to get nutrients from whole foods rather than vitamins. “As is almost always the case with all nutrients, they are better absorbed as food, because that’s what our body was created to process,” says Abrams, “omega-3 from whole fish is better absorbed than from fish oil capsules.” Plus, whole fish provides nutrients fish oil supplements can’t, like protein, vitamin D, and selenium, the last of which helps protect against mercury toxicity.
Dr. Andrew Weil, famous for his writing on holistic health, recommends eating “oily fleshed, wild-caught, cold-water fish” two to three times per week. He lists his favorites as salmon, mackerel, sardines, herring, and black cod. Kressler agrees that this amount, combined with a lower omega-6 intake, would be enough for most people.
Abrams recommends checking FishWise for a list of the most sustainable, least-toxic species to eat. FishWise used to be known for its wallet-sized buying guides, but it now also has its own free app.
Even if you don’t eat animal protein, you can get omega-3s from food. This is where the third omega-3 comes into play — alpha-linoleic acid (ALA). It’s found in vegetable oils, nuts, seeds, leafy greens, and grass-fed animals, and our bodies convert it into EPA or DHA in order to be used. Some of the best sources: chia seeds and flax seeds, which contain 2,600 mg and 2,300 mg of omega-3s per tablespoon respectively.
What are the risks of eating fish?
Fish are only as healthy as the ocean they swim in, and increasingly reflect worrisomely high levels of mercury and plastics. The answer: Eat lower on the food chain. When it comes to toxins, not all fish are created equal. Picture a little fish with low levels of mercury in its system. If a medium-sized fish eats these little fish every day, its body will fill up with mercury. And if a big fish eats those medium-sized fish regularly, its body will be even more stuffed with toxins. This is called biomagnification, and it continues all the way up the food chain, straight to us.
Biomagnification is the reason why Abrams recommends eating sardines, which offer high levels of omega-3s and, because they’re low on the food chain, have very low levels of toxicity. They’re also a more sustainable source, adds Dr. Michael Murray, a doctor of natural medicine and director of product science and innovation at Natural Factors, a Canadian supplement company.
Why take fish oil?
There are a couple of reasons why getting all of your omega-3s from whole fish might not be the best or most practical way to go. Sears cautioned that because fish contain contaminants like PCBs and mercury, eating enough for a therapeutic dose of EPA+DHA could be dangerous. Abrams said that while nutrients may be better absorbed from whole foods, buying all the fish you need could get expensive, too — and, of course, some people just don’t like eating fish.
Can fish oil go bad?
When unsaturated fats, like EPA and DHA, are exposed to heat, light, or oxygen, they can oxidize, or go “rancid.” This can happen during production or even afterward, once the oil has already been packaged, if it’s stored improperly or kept for too long. Because of its molecular structure, fish oil is especially vulnerable to oxidation, so most supplements will come in dark brown or opaque bottles. If they don’t, stay away from them.
Oxidation doesn’t just mean going stale or becoming less effective either. It actually turns a healthy, anti-inflammatory substance into a harmful, pro-inflammatory one that might contribute to the diseases you’re trying to avoid in the first place. Rancid fish oil “increases inflammation, just like rancid cooking oils,” said Abrams. “That’s why you want to make sure you’re taking fish oil that is outside-tested for quality, for purity, for cleanliness, and that has an expiration date on it so it’s pulled off the shelf prior to becoming rancid.”
The best fish oil supplements: Summed up
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