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Fish oil is one of the most popular supplements because it contains omega-3 fatty acids. These are known to have many protective health benefits like being anti-inflammatory and supporting heart health. But should you take fish oil, or can you get enough healthy fats from your diet alone?
Benefits of Fish Oil
The health benefits of fish oil stem from the omega-3 fats that are present in it. The fish oil in supplements is extracted from the tissue of oily fish like mackerel, herring, or anchovies. Another type of fish oil, cod liver oil, comes from the livers of cod instead of the tissue.
Seafood sources of omega-3s are more bioavailable and usable by the body than omega-3s that come from plant sources and must be converted in the body. In order to get enough omega-3s from diet alone, you would need to eat fatty fish between 2 and 4 times per week. Omega-3s have health benefits that stand alone, but in order to promote optimal health, you want to consume an omega-3 to omega-6 ratio that is fairly balanced, as close to 1:1 as possible, but as high as 1:4 can be healthy. So, if you eat a lot of nuts and seeds, you may need to consume more omega-3 seafood sources each week to provide balanced omega ratios.
If you cannot eat seafood, fish oil supplements are another way to balance your omega-3 fatty acid intake. However, you should be aware that not all supplements are sourced from wild-caught fish. Both wild-caught and farmed fish oil can also contain heavy metals or other “filler” oils. As with any supplement, quality matters, and can vary widely from brand to brand. You’ll want a supplement that has been independently tested for purity.
Fish oil offers the benefit of anti-inflammatory omega-3s, but it can also support health in other ways:
- Heart health
- Healthy brain function and mood balance
- Healthy vision
- Healthy body weight
- Skin health
- Pregnancy and fetal development (especially DHA, a type of omega-3)
- Liver health
- Bone health
Ultimately, whether or not you should take a fish oil supplement depends on how much fatty seafood you eat on a weekly basis, and the other health conditions that you have. Most doctors will recommend a DHA supplement for women who are trying to get pregnant, are pregnant, or are breastfeeding. This is because fetal brain development relies heavily on having enough DHA present. Infants and young children also have high DHA needs.
If you want to know whether or not fish oil would benefit you, work with a nutritionist or your doctor for a personalized approach.
How Are Fish Oil and Cod Liver Oil Different?
Fish oil and cod liver oil are often confused or assumed to be the same thing, but they are distinctly different. While cod liver oil is a type of fish oil, in addition to containing omega-3 fats, it also contains natural sources of vitamins A and D. These are both essential nutrients for fighting inflammation in the body and for supporting the optimal function of the immune system.
In most cases, you could choose to supplement with either fish oil or cod liver oil. If you take cod liver oil, consider whether any other supplements that you take might also contain vitamin A or vitamin D, and keep track of how much preformed vitamin A you are eating in your diet. If you eat liver on a regular basis, for example, you are probably getting a lot of vitamin A. Cod liver oil is generally not recommended during pregnancy, since too much preformed vitamin A can lead to birth defects.
Today’s Simple Step
Do you eat salmon or other fatty fish a few times a week? If the answer is no, then speak with your healthcare practitioner about the right way to include omega-3s in your diet. If you are allergic to seafood or otherwise unable to eat it, supplements may be able to provide the omega-3 fats that you need.
This Almond Crusted Salmon is an excellent source of omega-3 fats. Even if you’re not a fan of seafood, this nutty almond crust adds texture and warmth to the buttery flavor of the salmon.