Is Your Fish Oil Supplement Top-Notch Quality? 7 Things To Look Out For
Deciding to take a daily fish oil supplement to provide your body with a consistent supply of the important omega-3s EPA and DHA probably feels like a pretty beneficial move for your health and well-being—and it is.
"We know from published research that over 90% of Americans1 fail to consume the minimum amount of oily fish recommended for general health, just two servings a week," says nutrition scientist Ashley Jordan Ferira, Ph.D., RDN, mbg's director of scientific affairs. "To mind this massively widespread nutritional gap, a potent omega-3 product taken daily makes a whole lot of sense."*
However, which supplement you choose is important for a number of reasons, ranging from the potential health benefits you experience to the health of the world's oceans.
And given the vast number of brands and different fish oil supplement options out there, vetting and selecting a product can feel like a much bigger task than initially meets the eye.
We've taken the guesswork out of the process by creating our omega-3 potency+ using the highest standards of quality, purity, and sustainability possible.
This deeper dive breaks down seven key components that separate truly cream-of-the-crop fish oil supplements from the crowd so that you can ensure the supplement in your routine aligns with your health and sustainability values. Here's what to consider:
Sure, you know that your fish oil supplement is made from fish—but what kind of fish, and from where?
You might not think it matters much, but some types of fish are actually richer in omega-3s than others—and a supplement sourced from a single type of omega-3-rich fish has some perks.
"Sourcing a fish oil product from a bunch of different types of fish from fisheries all over the world is not ideal," explains Ferira. "Not only is the carbon footprint way higher, but it's much harder to control the quality, purity, and oxidation of multiple fish oils combined into one mix." (More on those factors in a bit.)
On the flip side, a streamlined single-species fish oil product can control these factors with more ease and intentionality. Ferira's preference: anchovies, which are some of the most omega-3-rich fish in the world. She's partial to the wild-caught, cold-water variety.
Look for a fish oil supplement that lists a single type of fish as its source if you want to avoid a hodgepodge of different fish (potentially from all over the globe) from being smushed into a single product.
mbg's omega-3 potency+ goes even beyond this by fingerprint-verifying (via magnetic resonance technology) the fish species and its origin through a third-party testing and certification process called ORIVO.
"We literally ship our omega-3 potency+ softgels to Norway, so the state-of-the-art technology of ORIVO can independently verify our fish species and origin," Ferira explains. Very few other fish oil products take this extra step, especially in the U.S., notes Ferira.
Beyond the actual source of the omega-3s in a fish oil supplement, you also want to get a sense of the form of those healthy fats.
"For fish oil, the triglyceride form is where it's at," Ferira says. "It's at the top, and the other forms on the market are slightly or significantly inferior." The other forms out there: ethyl ester, phospholipid, or free fatty acid form.
"The triglyceride form is how marine omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA are found in the fat of the fish—and how we consume and absorb fat in our diet," explains Ferira.* "In other words, it's the form found in nature and native to the fish." This means that the triglyceride form is also the most bioavailable2, aka the easiest for your digestive tract to absorb and your cells to then use.*
Many of the products out there offer omega-3s in ethyl ester form, which isn't necessarily a problem but does mean that you'll need to pop your softgels alongside a meal that contains some fat to promote optimal absorption, Ferira explains.*
Free fatty acid-form omega-3s, finally, don't raise EPA and DHA levels in the body as effectively as triglyceride3, she notes per the science.*
Potency refers to how much of the key nutrient(s) or active ingredients a supplement contains, which (no surprise here) is directly tied to the efficacy of that supplement.
"For omega-3-rich fish and their oils, the active ingredients we're concerned about for potency purposes are the marine omega-3s EPA and DHA," says Ferira. "These are the bioactive (read: biologically active) lipids in the body and confer antioxidant4 and anti-inflammatory properties5.
They are critical for cellular function and signaling and ultimately positively impact health from our heart6 and joints to our brain and eyes."*
While many fish oil products display the milligrams of total fish oil or omega concentrate in a big font on the front of their label, it's the specific milligram amounts of EPA and DHA that really matter. (It's misleading for brands to advertise those other numbers because they often make you think you're going to get more EPA and DHA than you really are.)
"Turn over your bottle and look for these line items [EPA and DHA] in the Supplement Facts panel and add them up," Ferira suggests. Their sum is the true potency of your product, which ultimately determines the benefits you reap.*
Most adults should shoot for a minimum of 500 milligrams of EPA plus DHA per day, says Ferira.
She explains that this is the approximate daily omega-3 equivalent for the American Heart Association's recommendation for folks to consume at least two servings of seafood (like oily fish)7 a week.*
That's your starting point. In fact, science demonstrates the benefits of higher levels of daily omega-38 intake.
Therefore, it may be beneficial to opt for an even more potent fish oil supplement option that offers 1,000 milligrams or more—especially if you're looking to support cardiovascular health and function over the long term, specifically, she says.* (mindbodygreen's omega-3 potency+ earns its name by providing 1,500 milligrams of EPA plus DHA in each serving, which is the omega-3 equivalent to eating a serving of oily fish every day [anchovies, for example9].) A fish a day...
Quality & purity
Reputable brands invest in the quality of their supplements, from the raw materials to the finished product.
For fish oil, in particular, purity is of utmost importance, which means that levels of heavy metals, dioxins, furans, and PCBs should be as low as possible.
"One of the main benefits of fish oil is that you get to consume fish but minus the contaminant load because the fish oil should go through state-of-the-art processes to be purified," says Ferira.
Manufacturers can also minimize oxidation (or spoilability) of the fish oil through investing in advanced technologies, resulting in a clearer oil.
"Like any oil (including the olive oil you cook with), rancidity can be a major issue if quality-control parameters are not top-notch," Ferira highlights. "Practically, this [more oxidized, rancid oil] means a more yellow fish oil and a fishier smell."
With more and more consumers becoming cognizant of sustainability concerns around commercial fishing and the health of the oceans, it's important to also consider the environmental impacts of any fish oil supplement they might add to their routine.
"A sustainable fish oil supplement is one that considers the planet and optimizes environmental footprint, from the fisheries where the fish is caught all the way to the bottle your fish oil product comes in," says Ferira.
Starting with sustainably sourced, wild-caught, cold-water fish is a must. One of the reasons Ferira loves anchovies, specifically from the South Pacific? These waters are abundant in the itty-bitty omega-3 powerhouses.
Of course, the carbon footprint involved in then getting that fish from the boat it was caught on to the processing facility that concentrates, purifies, and bottles up the oil, and then to the manufacturing facility that gets that fish oil encapsulated into softgels for you to consume, is another important factor.
Many products include fish oil that's been shipped all around the world, which means a much higher carbon footprint (and more opportunities for oxidation of the fish oil, too), explains Ferira.
Ideally, brands leverage less fossil fuel and more alternative energy sources like solar and wind, minimize the use of plastic, and support environmental causes in order to respect the natural environment that provides them with their product as much as possible.
mbg's omega-3 potency+ is processed at a state-of-the-art facility in Chile that uses 100% renewable energy (which is verified by a third-party Green-e certification) and created and implements a plastics cleanup initiative called Olas Zero Plastico.
"Folks, we're talking about sustainability from sea to softgel," concludes Ferira.
Of course, your ability to get a clear picture of a fish oil supplement's sourcing, quality, purity, and sustainability relies on the transparency of the brand.
From the fish species used (as well as its country of origin) to the sustainability of each step of the product creation process, and more, the more information a manufacturer makes available about their supplement, the more confidence you can take that product with.
This is exactly why mindbodygreen has chosen to put our omega-3 potency+ through the ORIVO certification process.
By authenticating the fish species and location of origin in our product, we are able to provide a level of transparency that few other brands in the U.S. offer, Ferira says.
This mindbodygreen product is a part of the new school of supplements, the evolved and latest fish oil technology.
Plus, by working with a manufacturer that is truly "catch-to-capsule" (meaning that they source and process the fish oil all themselves), we are able to reduce the environmental impact of producing our omega-3 potency+ product.
In contrast, other fish oil products insert many more middlemen along the fish oil processing, production, and transportation process.
Minimal "other ingredients"
Of course, many fish oil supplements contain a number of ingredients beyond the actual fish oil you're after, which can leave a lot of room for unnecessary or synthetic additives (think fillers, dyes, and flavors), according to Ferira.
The cleanest formulas in the game keep their "other ingredients" lists short, sticking with plant-based antioxidants (such as rosemary) for natural freshness and preservation of fish oil. Tocopherols, aka vitamin E, are also a good option.
Plant-based options, such as lemon or lime oils, can also be used to promote freshness and pleasant flavor while combating fish burp. (omega-3 potency+ incorporates organic lemon oil for this very purpose).
If you've decided to take a daily fish oil supplement, there are a few crucial components you may want to consider in order to reap their many benefits (we've broken them down for you above).*
Alhough there are many top-notch fish oil supplements on the market, these key factors are what separate the highest quality ones from the others so that you can get the most bang for your buck.
Lauren Del Turco, CPT is a freelance health and wellness writer, editor, and content strategist who covers everything from nutrition to mental health to spirituality. Del Turco is also an ACE-certified personal trainer. She graduated from The College of New Jersey with a Bachelor of Arts in English and Creative Writing. When she’s not on deadline, you’ll find Del Turco hiking with her dogs, experimenting with new plant-based recipes, or curled up with a book and tea.