How to Choose Between Types and Brands of Fish Oil Supplements
About the Author
Abby Campbell, BSc, SFN, SSN, CPT, is a leading professional fitness and nutrition expert, researcher, and published author of One Size Does NOT Fit All Diet Plan, one of Amazon's Top Gluten-Free and Weight Loss Diets. (You may read more about Abby at the bottom of this article.)
What is Fish Oil?
You've probably heard about fish oil from your family physician or friends who are health enthusiasts. They may have even encouraged you to take fish oil as a supplement. So, what is fish oil? Fish oil is derived from the tissue of oily fish. Oily fish include salmon, tuna, mackerel, herring, and sardines. They are also known as "cold-water" fish because they live near freezing waters and therefore have a thick layer of fat to preserve their body temperature. The fat they produce are the most beneficial to health.
Fat? If you think dietary fat is your enemy, think again! Contrary to what you've been told, dietary fat is not your enemy. The "No Fat" or "Low Fat" diet is a diet of the past, though there is some legitimacy to those concepts. During those fads, more and more people were opting for fast foods, as well as pre-packaged, processed, and refined foods. These fast foods contain "trans" or "hydrogenated" fats which are chemically processed and unnatural fats to preserve foods. Many health risks are a result of these unnatural fats such as cardiovascular disease, Alzheimer's disease, and cancer. However, fish oil's Omega-3 is essential to your health and actually provide you with great benefits. Keep reading.
Benefits of Fish Oil
Benefits of healthy fats include:
- formation of cell membranes, brain, and nervous system
- balance of hormones
- promotion of a healthy immune system
- keeping inflammation low
Omega-3 fatty acids can even heal and prevent the following:
- heart disease
- high cholesterol
- high blood pressure
- rheumatoid arthritis
- pre-menstrual cramps
- macular degeneration
- mental disorders and diseases
- weight loss
Essential Fatty Acids: EPA and DHA
Cold-water fish contain Omega-3, which is an essential fatty acid, for your body. It is broken down into two important types called EPA (Eicosapentaenoic Acid) and DHA (Docosahexaenoic Acid) which are very beneficial to your health. Interestingly, Omega-3 fatty acids are so essential because of their incorporation into your body's cells. They keep them "fluid" which promote a host of benefits to you and your health. Examples include:
- When brain cell membranes are more fluid, messages from neurochemicals (i.e., serotonin) can be transmitted more easily resulting in better brain function and mood.
- When muscle cell membranes are more fluid, insulin sensitivity is increased.
These essential fatty acids also play a role in the cardiovascular system, nervous system, and immune functions. Research even shows that DHA promotes better memory, concentration, and moods. It can even help deter and improve Alzheimer's disease. To your right is a list of other benefits of Omega-3's essential fatty acids EPA and DHA.
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Fish Oil Quality
When opting for a fish oil supplement, quality is extremely important. Like any other supplement, the quality of fish oil varies widely between products. Low quality fish oil can actually be harmful to your health as they are oxidized and made with poor quality ingredients. If you cannot afford to include a quality fish oil in your diet, then it's better to not include one at all. Following are a few things to check for when opting for fish oil:
- Purity - Fish oil must meet international standards for heavy metals, PCBs, dioxins, and other contaminants. Be careful as some manufacturers claim they do but really do not. Fish products of the purest quality are stamped with the AOAC (Association of Official Agricultural Chemists) International.
- Freshness - Because Omega-3 is susceptible to oxidation, they can go rancid quickly. Make sure you check expiration dates and store your fish oil as directed on the packaging. By taking rancid fish oil, you could be jeopardizing your health more than helping it.
- Potency - Make sure fish oil has an adequate amount of EPA and DHA levels. If it doesn't have the right amounts, you won't receive the desired anti-inflammatory effect that you're taking it for in the first place. High Omega-3 content should contain at least 30% EPA and DHA. Look for one where it adds up to one gram of Omega-3 per fish oil capsule.
- Bio-availability - Opt for "natural" fish oil rather than "purified" fish oil as it will be more easily absorbed.
- Sustainability - Endangered species of fish should be avoided. Opt for fish oil from salmon, anchovy, and sardines.
- Cost - To be practical, fish oil must be relatively affordable.
NOTE: Enteric Coated Capsules.
Enteric coating was designed to prevent a fish aftertaste. However, Consumer Reports (2011) found that the enteric coating was not being absorbed properly in many brands. Instead of breaking up in the small intestine where it should, it was disintegrating in the stomach.
Recommendation is to opt for soft-coated capsules or liquid when looking for a fish oil supplement. High quality fish oils rarely have an aftertaste.
Types of Fish Oil Supplements
Fish oil supplements come in many forms: liquid, capsules, soft gels, or chewable soft gels. Choosing the type of fish oil supplement is your preference. If you are concerned about the absorption of capsules, you may opt for liquid. Though the thought of liquid fish oil may not sound appetizing, it's not as bad as you may imagine. There are quality brands that actually have flavored their fish oil which helps with taste. If you are one who has difficulty swallowing capsules, then you may want to opt for liquid as well. Capsules may be your choice if you are looking for convenience of transport. They can easily be taken to work or stashed in your purse or luggage when you are away from home as well.
Once the packaging of the fish oil supplements has been opened, it is more vulnerable to go rancid. Therefore, make sure you store it in a dark cool area as light, air, and heat speeds up the oxidization process. Liquids require refrigeration storage.
Fish Oil Reviews
"I have tried many brands of fish oil. Also, I've tried the enteric coated, soft gels, and liquid. Personally, I never liked the enteric coated capsules because they were hard and difficult to swallow. Certain brands of soft gels also had a fishy aftertaste even though I kept them in a dark cool place to store. After much research, I found a couple of brands that are continuously tested by AOAC International with its headquarters in Gaithersburg, Maryland. AOAC International is a non-profit organization that publishes standardized, chemical analysis methods designed to increase confidence in results of chemical and microbiologic analyses. Because of their reputation, I have only opted for fish oils with their stamp of approval. After reading tons of fish oil reviews on Carlson Labs fish oils, I have only used their fish oil in liquid. I was a bit concerned because it was a liquid, but they have flavored liquids in orange and lemon. Both are palatable. My other concern was a fishy aftertaste or burps. I get neither from Carlson Labs. In my opinion, it is the highest quality fish oil supplement on the market." ~Abby Campbell
Best Fish Oil Brands
According to Consumer Reports (2011), the following 9 brands have passed their tests for contaminants, spoilage, and disintegration. However, the bolded brands are the ones that have passed exams by the AOAC.
- Barlean's Organic Oils EPA-DHA
- Carlson Omega-3 Gems
- Finest Natural
- Nature Made 1,200 mg
- Nature's Way Fisol
- Norwegian Gold Ultimate Critical Omega
- Spring Valley Omega-3
- The Vitamin Shoppe Meg-3 EPA-DHA
- Walgreens Omega-3 Concentrate
Nordic Naturals is also a brand that passes the AOAC. However, Consumer Reports could not test it properly due to its added lemon extract for flavoring.
Please note that this listing is a short list. There may be other fish oil supplements on the market that are quality products. Be sure to use the qualification test in this article to find the best fish oil brands.
Fish Oil for Weight Loss
Omega-3 fatty acids have been proven to help with weight loss by improving insulin sensitivity and using stored body fat for energy.
How Much Fish Oil
Take fish oil with meals for best absorption. Two to three grams of total Omega-3 is how much fish oil you should take per day. Split the dosage into two or three times per day, approximately one gram at each meal.
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Now you know how to look for a high quality fish oil brand and what type you should look for in a supplement. Just remember to always check with your health physician before taking any supplements if you have a medical condition. Though fish oil has plenty of health benefits, it may not interact well with your medication and can either heighten or decrease your medication's effects.
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About the author
Abby Campbell, BSc, SFN, SSN, CPT, is a leading professional fitness and nutrition expert, researcher, and published author. For the past 10 years, she has coached thousands of women locally and online to lose body fat and lead healthy lifestyles. Her clients have lost thousands of pounds, reclaimed health, and call her “Coach No Gimmick.” She is from Northern Virginia but now resides near Charlotte, North Carolina. Abby has been married for 20 years and has three grown daughters, one of which is autistic. She is a 19 year cancer survivor.
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