Fish Oil Facts How To Read The Label

Fish oil  supplements are a very popular -and for good reason.  There is a lot of research that fish oil does a body good.  Many studies have shown that the fish oils, EPA and DHA, can lower triglycerides and even lower the risk of a heart attack. Eating fish  2 or 3 times a week (or taking about 1 gram of EPA and DHA) also appears to lower the risk of dying – from everything!

But, how do you know if your getting enough?  To help, let’s talk about how to read a fish oil supplement label. If my recent trip to Vitamin Shoppe was any indication, most people do not know what I am about to tell you.

When I was Vitamin Shoppe recently getting some supplements, I noticed a woman in the section where the fish oil supplements were located.  She seemed perplexed – and for good reason.  There are MANY different types of fish oil supplements out there!  Which fish oil brand is the best?  Being the good Samaritan that I am, I tried to help her (I love helping people at health food stores.  I don’t know how the staff feels about me doing this but for me it’s just a lot of fun).

When you look at a fish oil supplement, probably the first thing you see is a big number on the front label.  This number usually tells you the total amount of fish oil that the supplement contains.  For example you may see 1,500 mg on the front of the label or something like that.   Here is the problem.

When people look at the front of the label, they only see the total amount of fish oil in the supplement – not the amount of EPA and DHA. For example, suppose a supplement lists 1,200 mg on the front. That does not mean the supplement contains 1,200 mg of EPA and DHA.

To get the levels of EPA and DHA you have to look at nutrition label on the back of the bottle. When you do, prepare to be shocked because that 1,200 mg fish oil supplement may have very little EPA and DHA!

Remember, when we talk about how great fish oil is, we are really talking about EPA and DHA. Fish oil supplements often contain many other types of fish oils in addition to EPA and DHA.  That is how they can post that big number on the front of the label.

Now I’m not saying those other fish oils are useless.  I’m sure they do something good but the majority of  evidence on fish oils says its the EPA and DHA that we should be eating more of.   When I search for a fish oil supplement,  I look for a product that has at least 200 – 300 mg  each of EPA and DHA.


Speaking of “other fish oils”, what about Krill oil? After you read this, click over and read my Krill Oil review.


Also look at how many fish oil capsules you have to take to get that amount of EPA and DHA too! In some products a serving size may be 2 capsules while in others it’s only 1 capsule.  Products that say only 1 capsule is needed tend to be bigger in size than those that require you to take 2 capsules.  If you don’t like swallowing big pills, look for a fish oil supplement that has smaller capsules.

Fish oil facts

1. Don’t worry about mercury in fish oil supplements. Even Consumer Reports, which tends to be very conservative about supplements, reported a few years ago that none of the fish oil products they tested contained mercury.  I’m pretty confident that any product made in America is mercury-free.  This is especially true of you deal with larger, well known, companies that have a reputation to uphold.

2. If you are burping up fishy smell odors after you take a fish oil supplement, its probably because the fish oil has spoiled.  A little vitamin E is often to fish oil supplements to stop them from going rancid but this happens sometimes. Always look at the expiration date on the bottle.  Also, try keeping your fish oil supplements in the refrigerator to keep them  from spoiling. This should stop those fishy burps :)

3. Flax or Fish Oil?  When in doubt, go fish oil.  Flax is good but a lot of the heart healthy benefits of flax come from the fact that humans can convert flax into fish oils (EPA and DHA).  The problem is that we can only convert about 10% of the flax into fish oil so flax’s impact on lowering triglycerides etc. tends to be less than for fish oils themselves.

What do you think?


  1. Michele Boulanger says

    May I ask a question? Some omega supplements also have 6 and 9. Do we need only omega 3 or do we also need the 6 and 9? If 6 and 9 is also needed, do you know the dosage?

  2. Max Cascone says

    The average diet has way too many Omega-6s, and the fish oil has the O-3s needed to try to get to about a 1:1 ratio of O-6 to O-3. Not sure about 9s though.

  3. Cindy says

    Hi Joe,
    Can you give me some brand names of fish oil that you prefer? I can’t seem to find a fish oil that I like.


  4. Joe says

    Cindy, when I get home Ill look and see the brand of fish oil I use. I use a brand that has smaller capsules . There is a brand out there that has an orange flavor to it also. when I get home Ill let you know.

  5. Joe says

    Cindy, I use Country Life Ultra Omega EPA /DHA. Its a small gel cap so its easy to swallow. There is another type out there – cant remember the name – that has an orange flavor and is also a small gel cap. I’m sure any health food store has it. Hope that helps :)

  6. Sheri says

    I prefer the product Coromega Omega 3 Squeeze for my omega 3 supplement. It comes in a small packet (like condiment packets in fast food places) and contains about a teaspoon of an emulsified pudding like substance.

    It tastes great and comes in Orange, Orange/Chocolate (think Tootsie Roll flavor), and Lemon/Lime (tart). It has 2000 mg of fish oil, and also has a bit of vitamin C and E in it.

    The emulsification process makes the fish oil more easily absorbed, which is vital for me since I malabsorb fats due to having a distal gastric bypass surgery. I love this product (and I don’t have any connection to the company at all) and can really tell a difference in my nails and skin when I take it.

  7. Joe says

    Sheri, thanks for letting me know about Cromega. I was not aware of fish oil supplements that tasted like chocolate and other flavors. I’m going to have to try that :)

  8. Tracey says

    Hi Joe,
    I looked at the back label of my fish oil and it lists 1200 mg of fish oil, provides 360 mg of omega 3 fatty acids consisting of EPA and DHA. However, when you look across to the daily value of EPA and DHA, it says ****** does this mean there is no EPA/DHA or a combined total of both equaling 360? I’m now wondering what the heck I’m actually taking!

    • Joe says

      Tracey, there is no daily value for EPA or DHA and so that’s why it doesn’t have a percentage. So your fish oil supplement has 1200 mg but both EPA and DHA only equal 360 mg? if the combined total in 1 pill is only 360 mg, thats not a lot.

      How many pills do you have to take? if you check the label it will give you the serving size -it probably says one pill or two.

  9. Bud Woods says

    Since I take a fish oil capsuile daily [because it works -far less back & joint pain and lower overall cholesterol levels] I like a lot of bang/buck. Swanson’s “Super EPA” 1 gram pills have 300 mg EPA, 200mg DHA + 50mg ‘other’ fatty acids. I take it right after breakfast and don’t get any ‘fishy feedback”. You can pay more if you wish!

  10. Anonymous says

    Hi, I just found your site and I want to thank you for clarifying supplement information. One thing that I do when I try a new product is I place it in vinegar. I have found that a “big box” retailer and it’s “warehouse” store uses plastic to encapsulate their fish oil product (for no fishy after taste). Two days after consuming it, the “plastic” leaves your body. So you have no fishy taste but a big waste of money for it goes to the landfill.

  11. jimmy G says

    Joe I am a bodybuilder and I’ve been taking taking fish oil for the various health benefits reported from many studies,now I’ve come across studies linking fish oil to prostate cancer of substantial degree, my father had prostate cancer so obviously I’m very concerned,because of the intensity of exercise involved in body building we usually take more supplements than the average joe,no pun intended,

    I don’t know what to believe anymore about what we’re told about nutrients and there safety,seems things change every coulpe years,I wish they would hold off on reporting the so called benefits of supplements until they research them fully to find out the health risks!

    Seems they are always quick to tout the benefits of a product and slow to report the risks,so how do we get the so called benefits of fish oil with out risking prostate cancer,makes u wonder what else we’re not being told about certain”Healthy Supplements”! What are at risk people to in particular?

    • Joe says

      Jimmy, I’ve also seen the fish oil /prostate cancer study and I have to be honest when I say I’ll believe it after i see another study showing the same effect. While we cant rule anything out, it is possible some mistake was made or the study was a fluke. Also this study didn’t show cause and effect but rather the researchers just noticed more prostate cancers in men who took fish oil. Who is to say something else common to fish oil takers caused the effect? to counter the paper, look at Japanese who eat a lot of fish. They actually have low rates of prostate cancer.

      a few years ago there was study finding that fish oils caused abnormal heart rhythm. This is opposite other studies showing that fish oils help the heart rate.

      while Id rather people at fish -and I know you do – I don’t think fish oil supplements have any problems – as far as prostate cancer is concerned – at this time especially if you keep it to about 1 gram per day (a piece of salmon has about this much).
      Here are a couple of other people talking about this also

  12. Kathy says

    When reading fish oil reviews on Amazon, I came across this discussion of ethyl ester (EE) vs triacylglycerol (TG) forms of fish oil, with the poster saying that EE fish oil isn’t “real”. ( There is also a link further down to an article that claims that EE oil isn’t as readily absorbed as TG forms. Can you shed some light on this issue? Thanks!

    • Joe says

      Kathy, Ive heard this before but I don’t think I’ve ever seen any good proof of it. Even comments you mentioned didnt convince me. A great book to read about this is the Omega 3 Handbook. I would also add that the strongest evidence for the benefits of EPA and DHA is eating fish. The evidence for fish is stronger than the evidence for EPA/DHA supplements.

  13. prazak says

    Hi Joe,

    On your thread related to Krill oil I posted a query about Brian Peskin’s argument and supporting research studies about the dangers of supplementing with fish oil. I would be curious to hear your take on this, because it very nearly has me doing away with my own fish oil supplements.

    • Joe says

      Prazak, yes and I just replied on my krill oil post. Basically I dont know enough about the guy. I did read some stuff that made me raise an eyebrow but without knowing more its hard to know. Generally, I think the simple answer is the right answer but I would be interesting in reading human trials to support his theories on things.

      Personally, I’d rather you eat fish more than take fish oil supplements :)

  14. Rob says

    Hello Joe… I had read that fish oils can help increase metabolism. In that respect, would it be better to purchase a fish oil with more EPA or DHA? I notice every product I have found never has the same amount of each. Thanks! Love your website.

    • Joe says

      Hi Rob, metabolism is the amount of calories we use in any 24 hour period. another way of defining it is that metabolism is the sum total of all chemical reactions (anabolic and catabolic reactions) also. Having said that there are only 3 things that cause us to burn calories – and effect metabolism

      1. resting metabolic rate (what we call RMR or BMR. This is the energy to basically keep us alive
      2. exercise
      3. digesting food.

      If fish oils raised metabolism, it would be through #3 – since we’d have to process the EPA and DHA.

      Of those 3 things, its actually the RMR (#1) that results in the greatest calorie use in any 24 hour period. Digesting/processing food (#3) only accounts for maybe 5% of the total calories we use. Therefore, I dont think fish oil would raise metabolic rate at all.

      Some fish oil supplements Ive seen only have DHA or EPA but I think getting a combo of both is better. There is no special combination of each, just get them both. If your getting 500-1000 mg per day then I think you are fine. You dont need fish oil supplements on days you eat fish. Also know that the best evidence for EPA and DHA stem from eating fish and not necessary taking fish oil supplements. For reference, a palm size piece of salmon has about 1200 mg of EPA and DHA.

      Hope that helps and glad you are enjoying my website :)

  15. Cade says

    Can fish oil really have a significant affect on focus and mental health in general? And is there any brain supplement that can actually help me? I’ve had problems focusing my whole life and its starting to become a problem with school and work.

    • Joe says

      Cade, fish oil gets research on a lot of different areas. DHA is often touted for its effects on the brain but how “significant” it is I think can vary according to when its used and what the mental health issue is. I dont think it will hurt if that helps?

      Since I dont know anything about you or your health, age etc I’ll just say that I’ve seen some interesting research on something called Huperzine. It’s an ingredient in memory supplements I’ve reviewed. Use the search box on my site and you’ll see it show up. I think it can have some side effects and so I’ll strongly recommend you speak to your doctor if you decide to try it.

      Question, have you ever seen a doctor about your focusing issues? If you have not, I think that is the best first step. Id see a doctor and see what might be going on before trying any supplement.

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