Know your Ingredients: Fish Oil, Omega 3, EFA

I think everyone can benefit from this blog post because Omega 3 insufficiency is rampant and there are a lot of poor quality supplements on the market. All of the many health benefits will not be discussed in detail. Instead, I will focus on how to identify whether your brand of omega 3 fatty acids is doing you any good. As a naturopathic doctor, I worry about the source of the omega 3, the processing method, and most importantly the composition. In this post, I will focus on the composition and discuss how to understand the label. 

Fish Oil Sample Label

omega 3 fatty acid vs fish oil

On the left, we have a straight forward label with all of the supplement facts. The total amount of fish oil is listed as 1 gram and of that 300 mg are EPA and DHA. EPA and DHA are the two omega 3’s that you want to pay attention to. EPA is the omega 3 associated with being an anti-inflammatory so it helps with things like arthritis and cardiovascular disease. DHA is associated more with helping brain development and delaying cognitive loss.

This fish oil label actually does a good job of showing the total amount of fish oil (1 gram) and how much of that is omega 3 (300 mg). The only problem is that the serving size of EPA and DHA are not nearly enough. In order to begin to approach adequate levels, you need to take 4 of these soft gels a day. But I do give them credit for having an easy to read label. Reading the label is important because as you can see all 3 fish oils vary based on the serving size and amount of EPA and DHA. After looking at the 3 labels below which one would you buy if all 3 prices were the same?

Fish Oil #1

Fish Oil Supplement Label 4

Fish Oil #2

Fish Oil Supplement Label 3

Fish Oil #3

Fish Oil Supplement Label 2

If you chose Fish Oil #2 then you are correct. It only has 1 capsule but a combined 820 mg of EPA and DHA. Fish Oil #1 only has 94 mg of EPA and DHA. Fish Oil #3 is 3 capsules but even in those 3 capsules, it combines for 360 mg of EPA and DHA. The choice is clear if you know your ingredients that you want and take time to read the label. With all of that said I will give an example of the type of fish oil I would recommend. 

This is fish oil supplement from Metagenics called OmegaGenics EPA-DHA 1000. Each soft gel has 1,000 mg of the essential fatty acids EPA and DHA. Now you can comfortably take a therapeutic dosage without having to take 10, 15, or even 20 soft gels. Three soft gels a day get you up to 3,000 mg of essential fatty acids. If you look at Fish Oil #1 it would take 32 soft gels to reach 3,000 mg of omega 3 fatty acids. Metagenics has good quality control, they also take time to make sure their processes are not causing the product to go bad. 

Quality Fish Oil

Fish Oil Supplement Label 1

So like I mentioned in the introduction I did not get into the many benefits of omega 3 fatty acids or talk about the food sources. During this series I only want to focus on improving your understanding of which ingredients to look for and how to compare labels. Now hopefully you take time to look at your fish oil. How does it compare to the quality fish oil? Is the label transparent or does it just say there’s fish oil with no EPA/DHA breakdown? For the next post I’ll focus on another ingredient that I see as a constant offender.

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