Which is Better: Fish Oil Supplements or Eating Fish?

When it comes to the word fat, many of us immediately think of negatives. Almost anyone can tell you too much fat is bad, and that cutting back is the healthiest choice for you. Reducing the fat in a diet of red meat is often considered heart-healthy. But there’s one fat out there that dietitians, health-gurus and doctors do not want you to cut back: Omega-3 fatty acids. Omega 3 fatty acids are especially crucial during pregnancy and childhood for brain development. Omega 3 can lower blood fat, help with stiffness in joints and pain within joints, ease some symptoms of depression, asthma and may even help fight Alzheimer’s and dementia. So, it’s an incredibly important nutrient for all stages of our lives. The question often asked is: which is better? Should be you be getting your Omega 3 fatty acids directly from fish, or a supplement, or both?

The Recommended Serving of Seafood

The recommended serving of seafood from the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans is 8 ounces per week based on a 2,000-calorie diet. That’s roughly 2 servings per week of seafood or fish. So, if you are eating your recommended amount of seafood during the week, you are already consuming the Omega 3 fatty acids your body needs.

So to answer which is better, supplement or eating fish, we need to consider how much seafood is or isn’t in your diet.

How Much Fish Do You Eat?

To begin deciding which is ultimately better for you: consuming fish or taking a supplement, it's important to note how much fish you eat in your diet.

While EPA (eicosatetraenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) can be found in plant-derived Omega 3s such as vegetable oils, walnuts, and others—it’s harder for the human body to use plant-based Omega 3’s than seafood based.

A study conducted by JoAnn Manson and her team published the result of a five-year study on Omega 3 supplementation in the New England Journal of Medicine. The study was aimed to determine if and how Omega 3 supplementation affected human rates of disease in a nationwide trial of 26,000 men and women, midlife and older.

One of the most interesting bits of information in this study was a significant finding among people who did and didn’t eat fish.

The Omega 3 supplementation did not seem to affect the overall incidence of disease, however, among those who did not eat or eat enough fish, taking an Omega 3 was associated with over 40% lower risks of heart attack among all the participants.

What all the above translates to is:

  • If you eat the recommended servings of fish during the week, your body shouldn’t need a supplement.
  • If you are allergic to seafood or unable to incorporate it into your diet, a supplement is highly recommended to help you get the essential missing Omega 3’s that are easy for your body to use.

If You Eat Fish, Which is the Best Source of Omega 3’s?

Not all seafood is created equal. Some have higher sources of Omega 3’s than others. If you aren’t allergic to fish and are looking to increase your seafood servings, here is a short list of recommended fish with 1,000 MG in Omega 3’s:

  • Anchovies
  • Herring
  • Mackerel
  • Pacific Oysters
  • Sablefish / Black Cod
  • Atlantic, Chinook and Coho Salmon
  • Sardines
  • Swordfish
  • Trout

Other fish in the range of 500 – 1,000 MG’s of Omega 3s are:

  • Alaskan Pollock
  • Crab
  • Mussels
  • Chump, Pink, and Sockeye Salmon
  • Sea Bass
  • Squid
  • Tilefish
  • Albacore and White Tuna
  • Walleye

What if You Don’t Like Fish?

Studies, doctors, and dietitians will still urge you to increase the fish you consume to the recommended two servings before trying supplementation if possible. There are many advantages, however, to getting what you need through increased seafood in your diet.

A meal of fish replaces less healthy food choices such as red meat or processed foods, for example. Choosing seafood as your main source of Omega 3’s are still the optimal means of getting the nutrient needed for your health.

There are several recipes as well as fish out there that don’t have the distinct “fish” taste, which will allow you to get this necessary nutrient without even realizing it.

What if You’re Allergic or Vegetarian?

If you’re allergic to seafood of a vegetarian, supplements will most likely be recommended by your health care provider. Consider asking your health care provider about algae-based supplements, as studies so far suggest algae-based supplementation is comparable to consuming fish.

The Clear Winner: Fish Beat Supplements

Ultimately, the amount of fish you consume will be up to you and what your health provider and dietary needs will be. In the case of being not sure what you should consume and how much, it’s always best to consult your doctor or dietician to guarantee you’re eating and taking the right nutrients for you. However, scientific studies and benefits all point to the consumption of fish as part of your diet as the best source of fish oils and Omega 3’s instead of supplements. It’s not only the crucial fatty acids either, but fish is also high-quality protein and provides iodine as well as vitamins and minerals. Seafood includes calcium, magnesium and vitamin D, for instance, which is a fat-soluble nutrient that many people today are lacking. Vitamin D functions much like a steroid hormone in the human body, and according to studies, a whopping 41.6% of the U.S. population is deficient in it. Fish and fish products are one of the best dietary sources of this vitamin, providing up to or more than 200% of the daily value.

According to Mayo Clinic in addition to the American Heart Association, having the recommended servings of fish is also excellent for your heart and reducing the risk of heart disease.

Of course, not everyone enjoys fish or can choose to eat it, but the evidence remains: eating fish is the best source for all the nutrients and benefits of fish oil over supplements.