You’ve made the decision to take an omega-3 supplement, but which one should you buy? Here are 6 important factors to consider before parting with your money.
1. Look for the levels of EPA and DHA
There is no consensus among experts on the ideal omega-3 recommended daily amount.
For general good health, leading health agencies such as the World Health Organisation (WHO) suggest that the minimum amount of combined EPA and DHA healthy adults should be having per day is 250-500mg. It also depends heavily on your omega-3 6 9 ratio.
If you want your fish oil supplement to have a real benefit it needs to contain decent amounts of EPA and DHA. This isn’t always that easy to find out, as many supplements bury this information in the small print of their labels or websites.
Don’t be fooled by 1,000mg claims; this is usually the weight of the capsule. Trust us, there isn’t a single 1,000mg capsule that contains 1,000mg of EPA and DHA. It’s simply not possible. A well-known health food shop has a best selling 1,000mg capsule that contains… wait for it…300mg of EPA and DHA combined.
Our clinical strength fish oil packs a real punch, with 3,500mg of omega-3 (2,000mg of EPA, 1,000mg of DHA and 500mg of other omega-3s) in every teaspoon, while a daily dose of four of our tiny capsules contain 1,460mg of omega-3 (860mg of EPA and 440mg of DHA).
2. Check for evidence of purity
Such a simple word, but such a complex subject, which we will try to cover concisely but comprehensively. Fish oil can contain high levels of environmental pollutants such as heavy metals (mercury, lead and arsenic), PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyl), dioxins and furans. These need to be removed during the distillation process and should meet international standards when tested.
Our oil comes from sardines, anchovies and mackerel, which have very high levels of omega-3, but are small and have short life spans – so they have little time to build up pollutants.
Heavy metals can be particularly damaging to our brains, especially for foetuses and young children. This is why pregnant women are advised to limit how much tuna they eat and to avoid some fish completely (like swordfish) due to high mercury levels. PCBs have been shown in multiple studies to cause cancers as well as numerous other diseases. Dioxins and furans have also been identified as likely carcinogens.
All manufacturers promise their fish oil is free from toxins, however many fail to provide evidence, as they’re not legally obliged to disclose test results. If they can’t provide a Certificate of Analysis, which is a detailed report of the test results that all fish oil manufacturers carry out on every batch of their product, don’t buy their fish oil. You can find our results on our shop pages.
You should also look for evidence that the products have been independently tested by a reputable organisation and ask to see the test results. Bare Biology uses the IFOS programme (International Fish Oil Standards), because we believe they are thorough, well respected and have even stricter standards than those set by the government and other organisations. All of our test results (called Consumer Reports) are available on our website. You can trust any brand that is certified by them, as they don’t just check purity levels, they check the amount of EPA and DHA and the freshness of the oil. Oxidised or rancid oils taste bad, repeat on you and many believe they are harmful (more on this below).
3. Make sure the supplement is fresh
Rancid. It’s not a pleasant word or thought. Have you ever smelled rancid meat? Or accidentally taken a swig of rancid milk? Pretty nasty. If you’ve taken a fish oil supplement and spent the rest of the day burping it up, this is a sure sign that the fish oil has oxidised and turned rancid.
Certain types of fats, especially long-chain polyunsaturated ones like fish oil, are very prone to oxidation. This is measured in tests using the ‘peroxide value’, shown in the Certificate of Analysis we talked about earlier, and should be less than 5meq/kg (milliequivalent per kilogram). The peroxide value is a measure of the reaction of oxygen with the fat.
When we take delivery of our pristine fish oil in its big drum from the manufacturer, the peroxide value is 0.4 meq/kg. It’s SO fresh, it literally doesn’t smell of anything other than a mild scent of the sea. As soon as the oil is handled to mix in the lemon oil and decant into bottles, it’s exposed to oxygen. We do this extremely carefully and use nitrogen (a common, harmless practice) to reduce the exposure as much as possible. However, a degree of oxidation is inevitable, and the addition of flavour affects the test results, so we finish with a result of around 4 meq/kg. Which is still very low, and not very fishy.
4. Choose a highly absorbed (or bioavailable) supplement
Also referred to as ‘bioavailability’, this is how easily your body can use the nutrients in your fish oil, which is based on the molecular structure of the fatty acids. The more natural its structure, and the less ‘processed’ it is, the better. So fish oil direct from a fish will be most easily absorbed.
When obtaining fish oil from a supplement, there are three types to choose from.
- Natural triglyceride: Just as ‘cold pressed’ is the best stuff to go for when buying extra virgin olive oil, natural triglyceride is what you get when you squeeze the whole fish and extract its natural oil. It’s the next best thing to eating fatty fish. The downside of this oil is that it tends to have low levels of EPA and DHA because it’s not concentrated. It can also contain high levels of contaminants, as it isn’t purified.
- Ethyl ester oil: This is what you get when natural triglyceride oil is concentrated and purified. Ethyl ester oil is still a semi-natural product, because the process is similar to one that naturally occurs in the body. It is often sold as ‘fish oil concentrate’, because the process can increase levels of EPA and DHA by up to three times. However, the bioavailability from the ethyl ester concentrate is 27% less than natural fish oil.
- Natural triglyceride form (also known as synthetic triglyceride oil or reformed triglycerides): This is what you get when ethyl esters are converted back into natural triglycerides. These oils have identical structures to natural triglycerides, but with higher concentrations of EPA and DHA. They are the most expensive fish oil supplements, but also the most effective as they are 70% more bioavailable than ethyl esters. Natural triglyceride form makes up a small percentage of the market, and is what we use at Bare Biology.
5. Check if it's sustainable or eco-friendly
The main source of omega-3 is from marine fish oil, but fish stocks are declining for certain species, such as wild salmon and trout.
So, how can you make sure the fish in your fish oil comes from a sustainable source? The British Dietetic Association recommends you look for Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certified products, or consult The Good Fish Guide from the Marine Conservation Society.
At Bare Biology we only work with Norwegian fisheries and manufacturers certified by both Friends of the Sea and IFFO-RS, the global responsible supply standard, and use fish that have been caught within the strictest international guidelines.
6. Understand value for money
Cheaper isn’t always better and more costly doesn't necessarily make a product more expensive. Honest. Due to the high levels of EPA and DHA in our fish oils, they’re not just better for your wellbeing, they are also good for your wallet. Cost per gram, we’re much better value than others on the market. So don’t be taken in by low prices, as it often means you have to take higher doses to get any real benefit.
For example, our Life & Soul liquid costs £1.67 per daily 5ml spoonful, which contains 3,500mg of omega-3. If you were to try and get this much omega-3 from another best-selling capsule (ahem), you’d have to take 28 of them. Not only would this cost you £2.28 a day, but you’d be consuming 220 calories and have an extremely upset stomach.
A note on fish oil liquid vs tablets
There are a number of reasons why people prefer liquid supplements over tablets, and vice versa. This is why we offer both.
The key benefit of taking omega-3 in liquid form is it tends to be absorbed better. Your digestive system has to effectively break down the capsule before it can absorb the omega-3. Most brands use pork or beef gelatin, which is very tough and therefore harder to breakdown. We use fish gelatin, which is easier on your digestion and also means our supplements are suitable for non-meat eaters.
The key benefit of taking capsules is convenience. There are no drips and no risk of spilling (and wasting) the supplement, which makes them more suitable when you’re travelling. You don’t want a suitcase full of fish oil.
They are also popular with people who are sensitive to the taste of fish – although our Life & Soul and Action Heroes liquids have the faintest taste of the sea, with a twist of Sicilian lemon. And they won't repeat on you. Promise.