All fish oil products should clearly list their ingredients and nutritional content in a section that’s labeled as Supplement Facts. Reading this list can be a little overwhelming the first time you see it, but it doesn’t have to be.
Before we get started, let’s cover the basics.
What are omega-3s anyway?
Omega-3s are types of essential fatty acids (EFAs, for short). You can think of them as building blocks. They are considered “essential” because the body needs them to carry out important tasks (brain development, cellular growth, metabolism, etc).
However, your body needs fuel to make them. Food and supplements are the body’s only source of these EFAs.
When you look at the Supplement Facts on your bottle of fish oil, you will notice A LOT of information about ingredients. You should also see an area that gives you a “breakdown” of the omega-3s.
What you should see in the Supplement Facts
Since this label is nearly identical to the Nutrition Facts you see on tons of grocery items, a good 90% of the information listed here should be very familiar to you. Notably, you’ll see things like total calories, calories from fat, total fat, and total carbohydrates.
The unfamiliar parts will most likely relate to omega-3 fatty acids. You can expect to see individual amounts given for EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid), DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), other omega-3s, and total omega-3s. We’ll go over each of them.
EPA: This ingredient is known as a “long-chain” fatty acid, and is one of the omega-3s people seek when taking fish oil. While many health benefits have been well documented, EPA is commonly known as the “heart-healthy” component in fish oil.
More from FishOilBlog.com: What Else Does EPA Do?
DHA: Like EPA, DHA is another important omega-3. This is one of the most concentrated omega-3 found naturally in the human body. In fact, 97% of the fats found in the brain and as much as 93% of the fats in the retina are from DHA. This fatty acid has a solid reputation for being an incredible building block for mental and visual health.
More from FishOilBlog.com: What Else Does DHA Do?
Other Omega-3s: There are nearly a dozen omega-3s commonly found in nature. Research on the importance of these other omega-3s is accumulating, but much more is known about EPA and DHA.
Total Omega-3s: This ingredient is probably the most commonly misunderstood item listed on the supplement facts.
Other Ingredients: Vitamin E, gelatin, and flavorings are common in softgels. In most cases, they are intended to improve the shelf-life, stability, and taste of the product.
Note: Don’t be surprised if you aren’t able to tell what form your fish oil is in. Fish oil may come in 2 forms — Natural Triglyceride form (which has 300x better absorption) or in the form of Ethyl Esters. Learn how to test your fish oil at home here).
Let’s talk more about what the actual numbers mean.
Demystifying the numbers
The 2 major ingredients on your bottle that you should pay attention to are: EPA and DHA. These are the “active” ingredients in fish oil.
It is pretty common to see a higher ratio of EPA to DHA. In fact, this ratio is usually 2 to 1…but this is a personal preference only. There are many studies showing the effectiveness of each, and even more showing that they work better together.
In some cases you may find that the ratio reversed — with more DHA than EPA — or you even find one type of omega-3 is left out entirely.
Total omega-3s are actually a combined amount per serving for ALL omega-3s included in the fish oil product.
It would be great if there was a standard recommended dosage for fish oil, but there’s not. The reason is that lots of factors can influence how much omega-3 you need to consume. Here are just a few factors:
- How much omega-3 you consume through food sources
- How many omega-6s you are getting from your diet
- Existing health conditions
So what can you do? A good practice is to take an inventory of your current lifestyle. Then, start with low dose (500-1000mg/day) of high quality fish oil & monitor for results.
More from FishOilBlog.com: What Fish Oil Dosage Is Right For You?
Depending on why you started taking fish oil in the first place, your nutritional needs will likely be different from those of your friends and relatives.
When reading the numbers given in the Supplement Facts, be sure to pay extra attention to the serving size and the ingredients listed per serving.
And now some legal-ease: The information provided here is for informational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for advice from your physician or other health care professional. You should not use this information for diagnosis or treatment of any health problem. You should consult with a health care professional before starting any diet, exercise or supplementation program, before taking any medication or if you suspect you might have a health problem. And of course, you should never stop taking any medication without first consulting your physician.