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[Review] The Complete Fish Oil Buyer’s Guide – 26 Top Products Reviewed

complete fish oil buyers guide, best fish oil products, best fish oil supplements, fish oil, fish oil supplements

Fish oil is the most popular supplement in America1; it’s also a market hypersaturated to the point of exhaustion. On Amazon.com a search for “fish oil” returns 28,697 results; Google Shopping sends back a whopping 164,000; and Bodybuilding.com spits out a relatively meager 161 products.

Whether you’re a beginner or seasoned supplement vet (you know it’s really bad when I was personally taking a 1-star fish oil product), shopping for fish oil can be a deceptive, overwhelming, overly complicated process. We’re here to cut through the clutter and help you save cash on one of the most important supplements for your all-around health.

The truth about the fish oil category is that 90% of the top product listings on the major websites above are misleading, overpriced, and frankly, complete gar-báge. They sit under the umbrella of supplement titans and rely on 3 major things to inject themselves into consumer shopping carts:

1. instant brand name recognition & credibility (e.g. Optimum Nutrition, GNC)
2. intentionally deceptive marketing & labeling
3. costumer naivete and impulse buying

Here’s the reality: When you see front-label claims of 1,000 mg, 1,400 mg, 50,000 mg fish oil, this means NOTHING. What matters resides on the backside of the bottle and requires a little savvy investigation: EPA & DHA content, the % of EPA/DHA present, and most importantly, price relative to the rest of the market.

EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) & DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) are omega-3 fatty acids linked to a number of major health benefits, including: decreased triglycerides and blood pressure234; prevention of inflammatory diseases (arthritis) and atherosclerosis, which can help reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke56789; increased HDL (good) cholesterol levels10; improved cognitive function11; shunted breast cancer development12; and potentially even enhanced muscle protein synthesis13.

Quality of this oil is also CRITICAL, and somewhat paradoxically, the same “big brand” supplement goliaths that we’ve come to trust don’t manufacture high quality fish oils. The top products, and the ones I highly recommend spending your money on, are 5-star IFOS rated. IFOS is an independent ratings agency that tests fish oil products against 5 markers of quality14:

    • Purity, safety, and cleanliness (PCBs and highly toxic chemicals like dioxins and furans)
    • Heavy metal content (mercury, cadmium, lead, arsenic)
    • Accurate labeling (actual DHA & EPA levels vs. labeled claims)
    • Oxidation and stability (peroxide, anisidine levels)
    • Omega-3 concentration (>60% omega-3-to-total oil)

Given the proliferation of toxin-laced, farmed fish that can actually do more harm than good, THESE are the products that you want 100% of the time — they’re safe, incredibly effective, and actually deliver the health benefits expected from fish oil.


 

The Top 26 Fish Oil Products Reviewed


fishoil

Think about the last time you bought fish oil — what did you base your decision off of? I’ll bet for the majority of you that it was either brand name or that lofty front-end total oil claim.

Like shopping for a new smartphone, house, or HDTV, it’s time to become a smarter, leaner supplementeur. We’ve researched, analyzed, and graded 26 of the most popular fish oil products listed on Amazon/BB.com to come up with a definitive ranking based on EPA/DHA content, overall quality, and price (aka bang for your buck). Some notables:

– Our 5 star rated oils, and the ones we highly recommend spending your money on, include:

 

– IFOS 5 star ratings — often referred to as pharmaceutical grade — are reserved for the upper echelon of fish oil, and should be what you take, but there’s a limit to what’s reasonable price-wise. Products like Barlean’s Fresh Catch Ultra EPA-DHA and NordicNaturals Ultimate Omega-3 are insanely expensive; fortunately Carlson Labs and Life Extension provide value out of the IFOS tier.

– 8 out of 21 products fall into the dirty 30 club (Optimum Nutrition Fish Oil, Bodybuilding.com Fish Oil, Spring Valley Fish Oil 1000). That is, only 30% total EPA/DHA per serving, the rest being useless filler oil. Powerful marketing and lofty numbers on the outside; horrible products without much useful oil on the inside (not to mention unnecessary calories).

– Notice how price per gram of EPA/DHA differs from price per serving — EPA/DHA per serving is what matters, just like % ABV in beer, mg caffeine in your daily triple espresso, % of yellow Swedish Fish per bag, or grams of protein in a post-workout shake are the principal metrics of their respective potency and value. Fish oil from GNC, Optimum Nutrition, and AllMax are laughably overpriced and should be avoided completely.

Click to enlarge each individual frame, or download the printable ‘Complete Fish Oil Buyer’s Guide’ here.15

 

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FishOil2

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References, Notes, Links

  1. http://www.consumerlab.com/news/Most-Popular-Supplements-Survey/2_5_2012/ []
  2. Zulyniak MA, Perreault M, Gerling C, Spriet LL, Mutch DM. Fish oil supplementation alters circulating eicosanoid concentrations in young healthy men. Metabolism. 2013 Mar 20. pii: S0026-0495(13)00051-6. []
  3. Arnarson A, Geirsdottir OG, Ramel A, Jonsson PV, Steingrimsdottir L, Thorsdottir I. Dietary habits and their association with blood pressure among elderly Icelandic people. Laeknabladid. 2012 Oct;98(10):515-20. []
  4. Nilsson A, Radeborg K, Salo I, Björck I. Effects of supplementation with n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids on cognitive performance and cardiometabolic risk markers in healthy 51 to 72 years old subjects: a randomized controlled cross-over study. Nutr J. 2012 Nov 22;11:99. doi: 10.1186/1475-2891-11-99. []
  5. Linoleic acid, a dietary n-6 polyunsaturated fatty acid, and the aetiology of ulcerative colitis: a nested case–control study within a European prospective cohort study. Gut. 2009 58: 1606-1611 []
  6. Simopoulos AP. Omega-3 fatty acids and athletics. Current Sports Medicine Reports. 2007;6(4):230-236 []
  7. Maroon JC, Bost JW. Omega-3 fatty acids (fish oil) as an anti-inflammatory: An alternative to nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs for discogenic pain. Surg Neurol. 2006;65(4):326-331. []
  8. Carter JR, Schwartz CE, Yang H, Joyner MJ. Fish Oil and Neurovascular Reactivity to Mental Stress in Humans. Am J Physiol Regul Integr Comp Physiol. 2013 Feb 13. []
  9. Chowdhury R, Stevens S. Association between fish consumption, long chain omega 3 fatty acids, and risk of cerebrovascular disease: systematic review and meta-analysis. BMJ 2012; 345 []
  10. Nestel P. Fish oil and cardiovascular disease: lipids and arterial function. Am J Clin Nutr. January 2000 vol. 71 no. 1 228S-231S []
  11. Rachetti AL, Arida RM, Patti CL, Zanin KA. Fish oil supplementation and physical exercise program: distinct effects on different memory tasks. Behav Brain Res. 2013 Jan 15;237:283-9. []
  12. Brasky T, Lampe J, Potter J, Patterson R, White E. Specialty Supplements and Breast Cancer Risk in the VITamins And Lifestyle (VITAL) Cohort. Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev. July 2010 19; 1696 []
  13. Smith GI, Atherton P, Reeds DN, Mohammed BS, Rankin D, Rennie MJ, Mittendorfer B. Dietary omega-3 fatty acid supplementation increases the rate of muscle protein synthesis in older adults: a randomized controlled trial. Am J Clin Nutr. 2011 February; 93(2): 402–412. []
  14. IFOS Program Ratings Criteria []
  15. All data is sourced from IFOS’ Consumer Reports, Amazon.com, Bodybuilding.com, and individual company websites []

 

Bryan DiSanto

Bryan DiSanto

Founder & Editor-in-Chief at Lean It UP
ELLO ELLO I'm Bryan DiSanto. I'm the Founder & Editor-in-Chief of Lean It UP, a CPT/CSN/Fitness Coach, Chef trained at Le Cordon Bleu – Paris, NYU graduate, ex-fat kid, and all-around fitness junkie.

I also contribute to Men's Health Magazine.

When I'm not working on my abs (or somebody else’s), whipping up avocado roses and avocado toast, or running a Tough Mudder, I'm probably yelling at a Carolina Panthers game somewhere.

Come be friends with me on Snapchat (BRYDISANTO).
Bryan DiSanto
  • serv2

    But where is Xtend-Life Omega 3 Ultra etc..?

  • Multra

    Would it be possible to review: Nutrigold Triple Strength Omega-3 Gold and OmegaVia Pharma-Grade Fish Oil. Thank you.

  • redwing

    Thanks this was a great starting place. You should also check out Fish Oil Reports (www.fishoilreports.com), which ranks based on the same criteria, but seems to automatically update as prices on amazon change.

    • Rankings appear to be based on price and not quality. Nature Made – 2 star rating in above article – is ranked #1 on fish oil reports. IMO, that does not indicate they’re using the same criteria.

      • Exactly. They’re ranking products based purely on the price per gram of DHA+EPA. That’s important, but it still doesn’t account for QUALITY, nor does it incorporate any quality attributes into their rankings. Especially with something like fish oil, you CAN’T just look at price.

        That said, I will bump NatureMade up a bit when I do a refreshed rankings — the price has dropped significantly (it’s at $9.37 now on Amazon).

        ^BD

        • Better pricing is always good. 🙂 I personally don’t take fish oil (son in college squeezes the budget a bit), but I do give it to our dogs – which is how I found your article because of research. Yes, they eat better than we do most of the time, although that’s paid off with better health and fewer vet visits.

          After reading your article (and being shocked by what I read), I switched them from Spring Valley to Carlson Labs. They have 2 or 3 more days on the first order, and I saw a difference within a week.

          One is currently on EFA1N liquid due to grain allergies and not being sure what capsules are made of, but it’s not any better than Spring Valley in terms of DHA and EPA. 🙁

          If you decide to do a similar comparison of liquid fish oils, I’d definitely be interested in reading it. I’m researching now to see if liquid would be more cost effective than capsules, along with fish oil vs krill oil.

          Kiddo graduates in May, so hopefully we can add fish oil to our supplements later this year. I’ll be ordering Carlson Labs for us.

          Thanks for a very informative article.

  • Arief Kurniawan Pattawari

    anyone notice the difference on the line it up ratings between image in article and the download/printable version? which one is correct?

    • Wow, I’m sorry about that. I’ll have the printable version updated. Everything within the article is correct.

      • Arief Kurniawan Pattawari

        Thanks, Bryan! 😉

        • Thanks for the heads up, always appreciated.

        • Arief — the printable version is now up-to-date and consistent with the article.

  • Moses

    i recently bought Health Nurture fish oil on amazon.. its pretty good as well.. they should include it in the list

    • Hey Moses — we’re going to do an updated version for 2014 to reflect new products, product change, price changes, etc. Stay tuned.

  • wm

    Topspinwilly

  • Pjaltme

    Thank you for the great information. I did notice though that the label on the Life Extension brand per Amazon states that the serving size is actually 4 capsules, which if correct makes it less of a bargain.

  • Tariq Habib

    I don’t understand your rating of the GNC Triple ultra. It is the only one with 100%

  • Tariq Habib

    I don’t understand your rating of the GNC Triple ultra. It is the only one with 100% EPA/DHA. It’s cost per gram and serving is below Pure pharma. Yet the big gap in rating! Is GNC a dirty oil or is the content inaccurate?

  • ThiefOfHearts

    would love to hear your thoughts on Minami Morepa Optimal EPA.DHA formula

  • Brett

    Innate Choice. Made from the fish sent by Jesus Christ himself.

  • Violetta

    Where does Nutrasea DHA stand on the list? I heard it is an amazing product in terms of quality and dha/epa amounts.