Fish Oil vs Omega 3s. What’s the Difference?

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    With the ever-increasing popularity of products containing omega-3 fatty acids, it is important to understand the difference between fish oil and omega-3s.

    Fish oil and omega-3 have both become popular nutritional supplements, but what exactly is the difference between them? Many people are aware that they both provide health benefits, but many do not know the exact differences between fish oil and omega-3. We'll look at their different sources, composition, and unique health benefits. It is important to understand the differences between these two products in order to make sure you are getting the most out of your supplementation routine. Let’s dive in!

    What's The Difference Between Fish Oil and Omega 3s?

    Without getting too sciencey, let’s discuss the basic distinctions between fish oil and omega-3s. The main thing to know is that fish oil is just a source of omega-3s. Omega-3s make up a group of essential fatty acids, known as eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), and alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). These three fatty acids are all types of omega-3s. They are termed “essential” because we must obtain them through our diet since our bodies are not able to make them on their own. These three fatty acids are all types of omega-3s.

    Each of these three fats serves different health needs and are also found in various food sources. DHA and EPA are typically found in fatty fish, which makes them a component of fish oil. ALA, on the other hand, is found in plant-based foods and is not a component of fish oil. That said, ALA has the ability to be converted to EPA and DHA in the body. Since ALA is found in plant-based foods, it is a great alternative for vegans and vegetarians to be able to obtain their essential omega-3s. Some examples of ALA-rich food sources include flax seeds, soybeans, canola oil, and walnuts.

    Different Sources Of Omega 3s

    There are a number of different sources where you can obtain your daily dose of omega-3s. Often, when we think of omega-3s, we immediately think of fish oil, but taking fish oil is not the only way to obtain these essential nutrients. There is an array of sources available, whether you follow a regular diet or a plant-based diet. Some of the most potent sources of omega-3s include fish oil, algal oil, flaxseed oil, krill oil, and fish liver oil. So, let’s discuss each one of these in a bit more detail. Hopefully, you will be able to determine which source is the best one for you!

    Fish oil

    Fish oil is a natural source of the essential fatty acid, known as omega-3. Fish oil is one of the best sources of dietary omega-3s due to its high concentrations.

    Fish oil is an easy way to get your daily dose of essential omega-3 fatty acids without making significant dietary changes. As a supplement or part of a healthy diet, fish oil can support overall wellness and keep you feeling your best. Fish oil is usually derived from fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, and trout. Choose fish oil supplements made from wild-caught fish with no artificial flavors or preservatives added. The source of the fish oil should always be listed on the label.

    Algal oil

    Algal oil is an increasingly popular alternative to fish oil for vegans looking to supplement their diet with omega-3 fatty acids. The high-quality, vegetarian source of long-chain omega-3 fatty acids is made from sustainably harvested microalgae, making it a great choice for health-conscious consumers who want to reduce their environmental footprint.

    Unlike traditional fish oils, algal oil provides a plant-based source of the essential fatty acid EPA and DHA that our bodies need but cannot produce on their own. Algal oil’s clean taste means fewer burps and aftertaste than those associated with other fish sources of omega-3. It can be used as a daily supplement or incorporated into vegan recipes for healthy cooking at home.

    Flaxseed oil

    Flaxseed oil, as you may have already guessed, is derived from nutritious flax seeds. Flax seed oil is another plant-based source of omega-3 fatty acids, making it a great option for vegan and vegetarian diets. Consuming the flaxseed oil on its own is a great way to get a large boost of omega-3s, however, flax seeds in their whole form offer tons of additional benefits as well.

    Flax seeds provide plenty of omega-3s alongside other essential nutrients such as dietary fiber and antioxidants. Not only does it contain high amounts of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), the most common form of omega-3 found in plants, but it also has numerous properties that make it beneficial for overall health.

    Additionally, studies show that dietary fiber from flax seeds can help promote healthy digestion and maintain healthy cholesterol levels (already within normal range) when taken regularly. Adding flax seeds to your yogurt, smoothies, and oatmeal are easy ways to boost your intake of fiber, keeping you feeling full and energized for hours!

    Krill oil

    Krill oil has been gaining attention as a natural source of omega-3 fatty acids. Krill oil is extracted from the bodies of Antarctic krill, which are tiny shrimp-like shellfish. Since krill oil is derived from shellfish, those with shellfish allergies should avoid this supplement.

    Studies have shown that krill oil contains a lower dose of EPA and DHA compared to fish oil, but its metabolic effects are similar. Krill oil might also provide women relief from PMS-related symptoms, as one study has found that regular intake of krill oil significantly reduced menstrual cramps and emotional symptoms of premenstrual syndrome. They found that the krill oil was far more effective for managing these symptoms compared to omega-3 fish oil.

    Another fascinating study has found that krill oil supplementation has the potential to aid in muscle support. Participants that supplemented with krill oil for six months had an increase in knee extensor maximal torque and grip strength.

    Fish liver oil

    Fish liver oil is another great source of omega-3s. And – not only is fish liver oil high in omega-3s, but it is also a rich source of vitamins A and D. Those who are pregnant or already supplementing with vitamin A from other sources should use caution with fish liver oil, as the levels in fish liver oil can be extremely high. Too much vitamin A can be toxic for the body, thus daily intake should not exceed 700-900 mcg.

    Fish liver oil contains naturally occurring vitamin D as well. Because of its vitamin D content, fish liver oil can also support strong and healthy bones.

    Health Benefits Of Omega-3s

    Omega-3 fatty acids are a type of polyunsaturated fat that is essential for overall health. They are a major component of cell membranes, which is important for the proper functioning of cell receptors and communication throughout the body.

    Omega-3s offer a variety of health benefits, from supporting heart and brain health to boosting skin and eye function. Many studies link higher intakes of fish and other seafood with improved health outcomes. The American Heart Association recommends consuming fish at least 2x per week for the omega 3 content. If fish is not an option, then supplementing with marine based oils (fish or algae) can be a great way to get adequate omega 3s in your diet.

    Dosage & Safety

    Doses vary from product to product so be sure to look at the label and always talk to your doctor about what kind of supplements you are currently taking or planning to take especially when taking prescribed medication. If you have allergies, make sure to look at the ingredients on the label to avoid any potential allergens or unwanted ingredients. Most importantly, you will ideally want to look for supplements that are C.L.E.A.N certified, third-party tested, non-GMO, and sustainably sourced. Care/of’s fish oil supplement, Wild at Heart, meets all these criteria – and is sustainably sourced from wild Alaskan salmon.

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    Dr. Carla Montrond Correia ND, CNS
    Medical Content Manager
    Dr. Montrond-Correia is a licensed naturopathic physician and a certified nutrition specialist (CNS). She holds degrees from University of Bridgeport, Georgetown University, and University of Saint Joseph, and supplemented her education with internships in the health and wellness space. She's focused on research, herbal medicine, nutrigenomics, and integrative and functional medicine. She makes time for exercise, artistic activities, and enjoying delicious food.
    Jordana Tobelem, RD
    Freelance Contributor
    Jordana Tobelem is a Registered Dietitian who enjoys helping others become the best versions of themselves through proper nutrition education. Jordana is passionate about promoting lifestyle changes through nutrition, physical activity, and behavior to create a superior quality of life. She uses her experience in the clinical field of dietetics to provide consulting services to an array of healthcare brands and companies. Jordana loves finding the most current research in nutrition to create meaningful content to share with her clients. Jordana has been a member of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics since 2018 and also holds certifications in both Personal Training and Health Coaching.