When choosing a fish oil supplement, there are two main things you should look for on the supplement facts label: 1) the amount of EPA and DHA per serving; and, 2) the serving size.
Even if you pick up a container of supplements that reads “1,000 mg fish oil per pill,” that doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re getting 1,000 mg of EPA and DHA! When you turn to the supplement facts label, you might find that of those 1,000 mg of fish oil, each pill only supplies 100 mg of EPA and DHA – the rest could be other unsaturated fatty acids.
EPA AND DHA FACTS
You’d need to take lots of those supplements in order to achieve your daily EPA and DHA goal, which could end up costing you more in the long run than a supplement with a higher concentration of long-chain omega-3s.
That’s where checking the serving size is important, too. If you’re getting 100 mg of EPA and DHA out of three pills, you’d have to take a dozen before you reached 400 mg – and no one wants to take a dozen pills every day!
Look for fish oil supplements that have at least 200-300 mg combined EPA and DHA per pill, so that you don’t end up having to take dozens of pills to reach your goal.
Once you’ve narrowed it down to a brand with the dosage you’re looking for, turn your attention to the freshness of the supplement. The best way to determine the shelf life of a fish oil supplement is to check the Peroxide Value listed on the bottle.
The Peroxide Value essentially measures how much oxidation has happened during the processing of the fish oil – so the lower, the better. Look for fish oil supplements with a peroxide value under 5 meq/keg.
HOW MUCH FISH OIL SHOULD YOU TAKE?
Now that you know that it’s important to check how much EPA and DHA is actually present in fish oil supplements, how do you determine the number you should set as your goal?
The Global Organization for EPA and DHA Omega-3s (GOED) has some recommendations to help. GOED recommends consuming 500 mg per day for healthy adults, 700-1000 mg per day for pregnant or lactating women or those who have been diagnosed with heart disease, and more than 1000 mg per day for adults with additional health concerns like high blood pressure or high triglycerides, in order to prevent the development of heart disease.
The FDA recommends keeping EPA and DHA supplementation under 3 grams (3000 mg) per day.
WHO SHOULD TAKE FISH OIL SUPPLEMENTS?
My approach to getting enough omega-3s is the same as my approach to getting enough of just about any nutrient: food first. If you include seafood in your diet and enjoy eating fish, start there to get the EPA and DHA you need. Wild salmon and mackerel have upwards of 1,500 mg of omega-3s per 3.5 ounce serving. Eating at least two servings of fatty fish per week covers you for your recommended daily EPA and DHA.
If you don’t eat fish or don’t eat it consistently enough to rely on it as your main source of EPA and DHA, look into a supplement. Getting enough DHA is especially important for pregnant women, since it is essential for a baby’s brain and eye development.
If eating enough fish during pregnancy is a concern (especially with keeping mercury levels down), I’d look into a supplement. If you’ve been diagnosed with heart disease or have health concerns like high triglyceride levels and want to meet the recommendation of 700-1000 mg of DHA and EPA per day, I’d add a supplement to your routine, since it could be hard to reach those levels just by eating fish.
All in all, if you can get enough omega-3s through eating fish, that’s the way to go. If you need a little extra or don’t eat fish, reach for a supplement!