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Omega-3 supplement guide

Which omega-3 supplement to buy and why

When it comes to omega-3 supplements, there are many options to choose from. This guide will walk you through the different types and explain what to buy and why.

This article is based on scientific evidence, written by experts, and fact-checked by experts.
We look at both sides of the argument and strive to be objective, unbiased, and honest.
Top omega-3 supplements: Key benefits & buying guide
Last updated on January 12, 2024, and last reviewed by an expert on October 2, 2023.

If you’re not consuming enough omega-3s from sources like fatty fish, you might think about adding an omega-3 supplement to your routine. These supplements come in various types, from traditional fish oil to oil sourced from mammals.

Top omega-3 supplements: Key benefits & buying guide

Omega-3 fatty acids play a crucial role in maintaining good health.

The ideal approach to ensure you’re getting enough omega-3s is to eat foods rich in them, such as fatty fish.

If fatty fish isn’t a regular part of your diet, supplements could be a good alternative.

But, it’s essential to note that not all omega-3 supplements are created equal in terms of health benefits.

Here’s a comprehensive guide on what to know about omega-3 supplements.

In this article

Different forms of Omega-3s

The type of fish oil, whether natural or processed, can influence the structure of its fatty acids. This matters since our bodies may absorb some forms better than others.

While all these forms are beneficial for health, research suggests that omega-3s from ethyl esters might not be as effectively absorbed as other forms. However, a few studies argue they’re absorbed just as efficiently.

Summary: Omega-3s are found in various forms, with triglycerides being the most common. Some more refined fish oils might contain omega-3 ethyl esters, which may not be as easily absorbed.

Natural fish oil

This oil is extracted from the tissues of oily fish and is mainly in triglyceride form. It closely resembles the fish’s original state.

Natural fish oil offers several valuable nutrients.

13 evidence-based health benefits of fish oil
Suggested read: 13 evidence-based health benefits of fish oil

The percentage of omega-3s in fish oil, covering both EPA and DHA, falls between 18–31%, but this can differ based on the fish.

Moreover, natural fish oil is a source of vitamins A and D.

Popular sources of natural fish oil include salmon, sardines, herring, menhaden, and cod liver. You can find these oils in both capsule and liquid formats.

Summary: Natural fish oil is rich in omega-3 fatty acids like EPA and DHA. It’s also a good source of vitamins A and D.

Processed fish oil

Processed fish oil is cleaned and concentrated. It’s made up of either ethyl esters or triglycerides.

Cleaning the oil removes harmful elements like mercury and PCBs. When the oil is concentrated, it can have higher amounts of EPA and DHA. Some might even have 50–90% pure EPA or DHA.

Most people buy processed fish oil because it’s affordable and often sold in easy-to-take capsules.

Your body might find it harder to absorb processed fish oil, especially if it’s in ethyl ester form. This form can spoil faster than triglycerides.

But some companies further refine the oil to turn it back into a synthetic triglyceride form, which the body absorbs better.

These oils are sometimes called reformed triglycerides. They can be pricey and aren’t as common in the market.

Summary: Processed fish oils are cleaned and concentrated. They can spoil quickly and might not be absorbed as easily unless changed back into triglycerides synthetically.

Krill oil

Krill oil comes from Antarctic krill, tiny creatures similar to shrimp. This oil has omega-3s in both triglyceride and phospholipid forms.

Suggested read: Krill oil vs. fish oil: Which is better for you?

Research shows that the body absorbs omega-3s from krill oil’s phospholipids as efficiently as from fish oil’s triglycerides.

Krill oil doesn’t spoil easily because it naturally has a strong antioxidant named astaxanthin.

Since krill are tiny with short lives, they don’t gather many harmful substances. So, their oil is usually pure and doesn’t need extra processing.

Summary: Krill oil has few contaminants and a strong antioxidant. It offers omega-3s that the body can absorb well.

Green-lipped mussel oil

Green-lipped mussels come from New Zealand, and their oil is mostly in triglyceride and free fatty acid forms.

Apart from EPA and DHA, this oil has a bit of eicosatetraenoic acid (ETA). This unique omega-3 might be even better at reducing inflammation than others.

Choosing green-lipped mussel oil over fish oil is seen as a nature-friendly option.

Summary: Green-lipped mussel oil offers a variety of omega-3s and is an eco-friendly option.

Mammalian oil

This type of omega-3 oil is derived from seal fat and is naturally in triglyceride form.

Besides EPA and DHA, it also has a good amount of docosapentaenoic acid (DPA). This omega-3 can offer several health perks. Plus, mammalian omega-3 oil has very little omega-6.

Summary: Mammalian oil is rich in DPA and also provides EPA and DHA in their natural state.

ALA oil

ALA, or alpha-linolenic acid, is the plant-based type of omega-3.

You can find it in high amounts in flax seeds, chia seeds, and hemp seeds.

While your body can change ALA into EPA or DHA, this change isn’t very efficient. Also, plant oils tend to have more omega-6s than omega-3s.

Summary: ALA oil comes from plants and has omega-3s and omega-6s. However, it doesn’t directly provide the active forms of omega-3s, EPA and DHA, for your body.

Algal oil

Marine algae, especially microalgae, provide another source of EPA and DHA in triglyceride form.

Suggested read: 6 science-based health benefits of krill oil

Interestingly, the EPA and DHA in fish come from algae. Smaller fish eat the algae, and as bigger fish eat them, the omega-3s move up the food chain.

Research indicates that algal oil has even higher levels of omega-3s, especially DHA, than fish oil. It’s a great choice for those who don’t eat animal products.

Besides, algal oil might also offer essential minerals like iodine.

On top of that, algal oil is good for the planet. It’s free from harmful elements like heavy metals, making it both sustainable and healthy.

Summary: Microalgae offer a plant-based source of EPA and DHA. They’re eco-friendly and a perfect omega-3 source for those avoiding animal products.

Omega-3 capsules

Many people prefer omega-3 oils in capsule form.

These capsules are tasteless and easy to swallow, making them a favorite.

Capsules typically use a gelatin outer layer, and many have an enteric coating.

This special coating ensures the capsule only dissolves once it’s in your small intestine, which can prevent any unpleasant aftertaste, often referred to as fish burps.

However, this same coating can hide the smell of spoiled fish oil.

If you’re using omega-3 capsules, it’s wise to open and sniff one now and then to ensure it’s still fresh.

Summary: Many people like omega-3 in capsule form, but the coating can hide the scent of bad oil. It’s smart to check the freshness once in a while.

How to choose the right omega-3 supplement

When you’re out buying an omega-3 supplement, always take a moment to read the label in detail.

Here’s what you should look out for:

Summary: Ensure your supplement has the right type and amount of omega-3s. It’s better if there’s an antioxidant to keep it fresh.

Picking the best omega-3 supplement

Most individuals can benefit from a basic fish oil supplement to boost their health.

Suggested read: Fish oil dosage: How much should you take per day?

But it’s good to note that natural fish oil generally has just around 30% of EPA and DHA, meaning the remaining 70% consists of other fats.

For a higher omega-3 concentration, choose supplements that have up to 90% EPA and DHA. Brands that offer omega-3s as free fatty acids, triglycerides, or phospholipids are ideal.

Some trustworthy omega-3 brands to consider include Nordic Naturals, Green Pasture, Bio-Marine Plus, Omegavia, and Ovega-3.

Summary: Standard fish oil is generally sufficient for most. If you need a hefty dose, pick a highly concentrated omega-3 supplement.


For the average person, a simple fish oil supplement should do the trick.

However, ensure it genuinely contains the stated ingredients, focusing on its EPA and DHA content.

While animal-based omega-3 products typically have EPA and DHA, vegetarian alternatives mainly offer ALA, except for algal oil, which is a great source of quality omega-3s and vegan-friendly too.

For maximum benefits, consume these supplements with a fat-rich meal to enhance omega-3 absorption.

Remember, just like fish, omega-3s have a shelf life, so avoid bulk buying.

Ultimately, adding omega-3s to your diet could be one of your smartest health moves. Always make an informed choice.

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