The Best Fish Oil Supplement
The best fish oil supplements provide at least 1,000 mg EPA+DHA omega-3 fatty acids per serving, are sustainably sourced, and are certified by third-party labs to ensure potency, purity, and freshness. To determine our top picks, we talked to five MDs who specialize in human nutrition, consulted over a dozen scientific studies, and read hundreds of ingredients labels before finally trying out each of the top contenders for ourselves (to see if we could actually stomach them).
What it's best for:
Total Omega-3 Fatty Acids per Serving:
Capsules per Serving:
Marine Stewardship Council Certified:
Made in the US:
IFOS, ConsumerLab, Labdoor 77/100
NSF, Labdoor 73/100
All of the nutrition experts we talked to agreed: Fish oil supplements are the best way to get your daily dose of omega-3s next to eating fresh, whole fish. Omega-3 fatty acids are considered “essential” because our bodies need them to survive, but can’t produce them on their own — so it’s important you get enough.
The Best Fish Oil Supplements
Our top pick is Nutrigold's Triple Strength Fish Oil Omega-3 Gold. 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. It’s also certified by the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) for its sustainable harvesting practices and hits the recommended daily 1,000 mg combined EPA+DHA in just one softgel. A bottle of 180 softgels is about $49, or about 27 cents per 1,050 mg of omega-3s. (Life & Food's Omega-3 Supreme costs about the same, 30 cents per 1,050 mg of omega-3s and Wiley's Finest Wild Alaskan Fish Oil is nearly twice the price: 57 cents per 1,000 mg.)
No Fishy Smell
Life & Food Omega-3 Supreme is third-party certified by the National Sanitation Foundation and earned a high, but not record-setting, 73 out of 100 from Labdoor. Its extra-thick capsule coating that completely eliminates the fishy smells that come along with most other fish oil supplements, including Nutrigold. The package promises “no fish burps,” though your results may vary.
Another Good Option to Consider
Wiley’s Finest Wild Alaskan Fish Oil contains just as much EPA+DHA per softgel as our top pick, Nutrigold — and at similar purity levels — but it doesn’t have quite as many third-party certifications, and is nearly twice as expensive. (This higher price tag can be attributed to the fact that it’s produced by a much smaller, family-owned business.) We appreciated the company’s transparency and the pescatarian-friendly ingredients list: just omega-3s from Alaska pollock, plus fish gelatin (as opposed to Nutrigold’s bovine gelatin), glycerin, purified water, and vitamin E. Be prepared, though: Like Nutrigold, these softgels smell a lot like fresh fish.
How We Found the Best Fish Oil Supplement
We started by compiling a list of 183 of the most common over-the-counter fish oil supplements available from major retailers like Amazon, GNC, and Walgreens. Fish oil gummies were even in the running (turns out, they have a nutrient density similar to Swedish Fish). Then, we talked to multiple doctors and nutrition experts to determine what actually makes a great fish oil supplement. With that knowledge in-hand, we dove even deeper to find the most potent, pure, and sustainably produced over-the-counter fish oil supplements you can buy.
Third-party testing was a must.
Since nutritional supplements aren’t regulated by the FDA, we relied on multiple independent, third-party labs to verify three main things:
- Label accuracy. In its tests, Labdoor, a reputable third-party ingredients watchdog group, found that the actual omega-3 content in fish oil supplements varied (in both directions) from the amount written on the label by an average of 27.6 percent.
- Purity. Fish oil, as you might guess, comes from fish — living creatures that, unfortunately, happen to excel at absorbing toxins from their environment and through their food. There are a lot of toxins out there, but the most notorious ones that can end up in fish include mercury, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), and dioxins. Ingesting even a relatively small amount of any of these can wreak all kinds of havoc — from neurological disorders to cancer.
- Freshness. Fish oil can go rancid when exposed for too long to heat, light, or oxygen. This not only makes it taste and smell bad, but also actually converts it into a harmful substance that will aggravate the very conditions fish oil supplements are supposed to help remedy.
Each softgel needed to supply enough EPA and DHA.
Several different kinds of omega-3 fatty acids are actually present in fish oil, including two of the three main ones humans need: Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). The third, Alpha-linoleic acid (ALA), is found in vegetable oils, nuts, seeds, leafy greens, and grass-fed animals. ALA needs to be converted into EPA or DHA before we can use it, but our bodies don’t handle this conversion very efficiently. This explains why fish oil is more ubiquitous as a dietary supplement than, say, flaxseed oil.
We required all of our top picks to provide at least 500 mg combined EPA and DHA in two or fewer softgels.
The World Health Organization and Consumer Lab both recommend 500 mg combined EPA and DHA for a minimum daily dose, so we used that as our baseline requirement. We also made sure that the amount of EPA and DHA was contained in a reasonable number of softgels — just two or fewer — since no one likes taking more pills (and paying for them) if they don’t have to.
Keep in mind, though: That was just the minimum dosage we required. Dr. Rachel Carlton Abrams, author of Body Wise, recommends a daily dose of 1,000-2,000 mg of EPA and DHA combined for the average person, and a bigger dose for those actually treating a condition. Dr. Barry Sears, who specializes in inflammation and created the popular Zone diet in the mid-’90s, told us that he recommends an even higher dose: 2.5 grams, or 2,500 mg, per day.
Anything with added colors or flavoring got dropped.
Color and flavor additives can disguise rancid fish oil in supplements that might otherwise look and smell like something you shouldn’t eat. Fish oil should smell and taste like fish, so if you’re looking for something that tastes citrusy, have a real orange along with your supplement. It’s better absorbed with food anyway.
We also required Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certification.
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. One particularly alarming example of this occurred in the early 2000s, when the supplement company Omega Protein of Houston caught 90 percent of the US’ menhaden, a small, oily fish that filters phytoplankton out of the water, and also happens to be a favorite food source of larger fish, like striped bass. As menhaden declined, striped bass starved and phytoplankton bloomed, blocking the sunlight and creating uninhabitable dead zones.
In order to keep overfishing like this 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, make sure its operations have a low environmental impact, and comply with all relevant laws.
The MSC keeps an eye on fisheries that produce both fish oil supplements and whole fish, so we required a 5-Star rating from the council for all our top picks.
Then we actually tried each of our top picks.
Before finalizing our decision, we ordered a bottle of each of our three final contenders and tried them for ourselves, examining each for appearance and smell.
Our Picks for the Best Fish Oil Supplement
Nutrigold’s otherwise unassuming brown bottle is covered in so many accolades, it looks like a tiny, eager Boy Scout. It’s certified by the Marine Stewardship Council and International Fish Oil Standards, approved by ConsumerLab, and was awarded a remarkable 77 out of 100 rating by Labdoor. 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. It only contains five ingredients, one of which is purified water. (Note that if you’re pescatarian, Nutrigold’s capsule is made with bovine gelatin. Wiley’s Finest Wild Alaskan Fish Oil is the best pescatarian option.) Among all of the top contenders, Nutrigold’s EPA+DHA per-serving dosage was one of the highest as well: 1,000 mg per softgel.
The Triple-Strength Fish Oil, one of the four fish oil formulas Nutrigold carries, also just recently received a formula makeover. It now comes in triglyceride instead of ethyl ester form. Without delving too much into molecular biology, what you need to know is that these are two different molecular structures, and one is easier for our bodies to process. Omega-3s occur as triglycerides in nature, but when they’re processed, or esterified, they become ethyl esters. It’s widely believed that ethyl esters are harder for our bodies to absorb than triglycerides are. The science behind this is still not conclusive, Dr. Joseph Feuerstein, an associate professor of clinical medicine at Columbia University and director of integrative medicine at Stamford Hospital, told us.
Whether the new molecular form used in Nutrigold’s formula works better or not, all of our testers thought it smelled delicious once we broke open a capsule — “like freshly cooked salmon,” they said. (If you think that sounds awful, worry not — our second pick is for you).
The price is reasonable, too. At $49 for 180 softgels, they cost just 27 cents each.
No Fishy Smell
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 acid-filled intestines, where they eventually (and harmlessly) dissolve.
You will have to swallow twice as many softgels to get similar EPA and DHA levels as Nutrigold or Wiley’s Finest; Life & Food’s softgels are about half the size and half the omega-3 count each. 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 at the same price as with Nutrigold.
Another Option to Consider
Wiley’s Finest Wild Alaskan Fish Oil is a solid option — it contains just as much EPA+DHA per softgel as Nutrigold in each pescatarian friendly capsule. Its impressive purity levels are on par with Nutrigold’s (less than 0.01 PPM). The ingredients list is impressively minimal, too: just omega-3s, plus four inactive ingredients, including purified water.
It doesn’t have quite as many third-party certifications, though, and it’s nearly twice as expensive at about 57 cents per 1,000 mg of omega-3s. Still, we’re happy to recommend this Ohio-based company that’s super transparent about its production processes and ingredients. In its extensive FAQ section, Wiley’s Finest gleefully shares that its oil is made from the eyes, heads, and livers of fish caught for human consumption.
It’s no surprise that Wiley’s Finest has a “use the whole fish” commitment and repurposes the saturated fats refined out of its fish oils as biofuel. Naturally, its packaging is post-consumer recycled paperboard.
Be prepared: Like Nutrigold, these softgels smell a lot like fresh fish.
The Best Fish Oil Supplements: Summed Up
Did You Know?
Fish oil can go rancid.
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.”
Not all fish oil is created equal.
While it’s pretty uncontroversial to say that getting omega-3s directly from fish is good for your health, there’s still an ongoing argument about whether or not omega-3 supplements have the same effect.
“We would think that something that’s natural, that’s essential to normal cell function and body function, would have clinical benefits. It just has to be proven,” said Harvard University researcher Dr. Preston Mason in a video produced by Frontline and The New York Times. “But in the meantime, there’s certainly been a lot of promotion suggesting a benefit in everything from Alzheimer’s disease to cardiovascular disease. But we still need the strong clinical trials to validate those hypotheses.”
The two marine omega-3s both have their own special role. While EPA is associated with lowering cholesterol and reducing inflammation, DHA is linked to helping with brain and nerve function. Abrams explained this distinction, but was quick to point out that it’s not as clear-cut as scientists once thought.
“Turns out, shockingly, you need both of them (EPA and DHA) for a lot of those processes,” she told us. “That’s why I don’t differentiate in my general recommendation. But if I have a pregnant woman in my office, I want to make sure that whatever she’s taking has a big dose of DHA.”
Some formulas advertise high levels of “fish oil” or “omega-3s,” but when you check out their EPA+DHA content, the part that really matters, that turns out to be much lower.
Costco’s Kirkland Signature-brand fish oil, for example, contains 1,000 mg of “fish oil concentrate,” but only 250 mg EPA+DHA per serving. Krill oils are even worse offenders because, according to Abrams, they’re more effective than fish oil dose per dose but cost more to produce. In other words, supplement manufacturers can boast about the potency of krill oil on their bottles while, to save money, including tiny amounts of it, mixed with omega-3s from other, less brag-worthy sources. Some of the krill oil supplements we looked at contained less than 100 mg EPA+DHA per serving.
An even less potent option: fish oil gummies. Of the three we looked at, two didn’t even disclose their EPA+DHA levels, and the other included only 57 mg. But we couldn’t be too surprised. Can you imagine chewing a fish-flavored gummy, let alone one potent enough to rival a softgel? It’s best to simply swallow your fish oil.
You can also just eat fish to get 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, “and it looks like, in studies, that omega-3 from whole fish is better absorbed than from fish oil capsules. And that’s not surprising because, again, eating whole food is what our body is made for.”
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.
Whole fish can also provide nutrients fish oil supplements can’t, like protein, vitamin D, and selenium, the last of which helps protect against mercury toxicity.
But 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 either. 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.
For those who do want to eat more fish, either instead of taking fish oil or in addition to taking it, she 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.
Omega-3s come from plants, too.
Even if you don’t eat animal protein, you can still get omega-3s from other sources. Some of the most omega-3-rich plant foods include seeds, beans, seaweed, the cabbage family (which includes broccoli, cauliflower, and Brussels sprouts), berries, and certain spices. Chia seeds have 2,600 mg of omega-3s per tablespoon and flax seeds come close with 2,300 mg per tablespoon. You can also find omega-3 supplements for vegetarians, often made with algae or omega-3-rich seeds.
Taking fish oil with a meal helps with absorption.
The experts we spoke to agreed that your body absorbs fish oil best when you take it with a meal. “When you take it with food, especially protein, they can act as emulsifiers, and they help emulsify the fish oil so it can be absorbed more readily,” said Sears. “So it’s always best to take fish oil with a meal. It doesn’t have to be a high-fat meal, just a meal that contains some proteins and carbohydrates.”
Labdoor agrees, and adds that you should avoid taking it before you exercise, or your stomach might protest. Apart from syncing with your workout routine, though, time of day doesn’t matter. If your supplement suggests a serving size of two, you can take them either together or morning and night. Abrams recommends the once-a-day approach, just so that you’ll remember to take them consistently.
You can also take too much fish oil.
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.
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 Abrams, “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.
Get a blood test. Most Americans consume 10 times more omega-6 than omega-3, according to the National Institute of Health. So it seems safe to say that almost everyone in this country could benefit from a bump in their omega-3 intake. But it’s possible that, especially if you’re health conscious, already eat plenty of fish, and avoid eating too many omega-6-rich foods, you could already have the perfect 1:1 omega-6-to-omega-3 ratio. You might even be lacking in omega-6s. Fortunately, a blood test — either at a doctor’s office or at home via a finger prick kit—can tell you where you stand.
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.