How To Choose The Best Fish Oil Brand

By Adrian Oaks / January 15, 2016

There are many different brands of fish oils on the market, and deciding on which one to buy can be a daunting task. Take a look at our guide below for some in depth information on fish oils.

Buyers Guide

The list below will help you decide on the best fish oil brand that will suit your needs. Please keep in mind that there are many things to consider when deciding on the best fish oil brand. Price isnt the only factor. You will want to choose a product that conforms well to your type of situation or lifestyle. For example, if your are an weightlifter/active person, you should look for something with high EPA & DHA ratios. If you are taking fish oil to treat a particular disease, you should be most concerned about potency and contaminants. If you have bad digestion than you need to pay special attention to the type of fish oil you are consuming. These factors and many more can influence the buying decision. With the above in mind, let’s take a look at the legend below. This list contains 6 columns:

Fish/Type: This is the fish type the oil is originally extracted from and where it is caught. The fish used in commercial fish oils can be wild caught or farmed. This is an important factor for those worried about contaminants.

Absorption: This column measures the overall absorbability of the oil. 1 - for the most bio availability to 3 - for the least. This column is arguably one of the most important. For more information about the different oil types check out the rest of the article below.

EPA and DHA content: These 2 columns list the EPA & DHA content of each serving size.

Price: The price per bottle. 5-10 = $, 10 – 25 = $$, 25-50 = $$$, above 50 = $$$$

Notes: Some Products have a special feature which can set them apart from other products, even if they are lacking in certain categories. This column can also contain important facts about the process or company behind the specific oil.

Best Fish Oil Brand

Here we will go through the most important things to consider when choosing your product. The main things you want to look at are the DHA/EPA ratio, the type of fish, how the oil is extracted, and bio availability.

Fish Type/Location

The type of fish the oil originates from is an important consideration. Most fish oils are made using pelagic fish, such as anchovies, sardines, salmon, tuna, cod, and mackerel. In general, the lower the fish is on the food chain the less contaminated it will be. Also, when it comes to contaminates, the general rule is that wild caught fish tend to be less contaminated. Fish raised in commercial farms stay close to the shore their whole lives. This is a problem since most of the toxic run off from land and commercial dumping accumulates in these areas. This category is important for those who are concerned about toxins and heavy metal buildup in the fish supply. Since most fish oils are heavily distilled, they are generally very safe and contain almost non existent levels of contaminants.

Biological Availability

One of the most important factors to consider is biological availability. Biological availability refers to the amount of oil that is absorbable when ingested. Fish oils come in 4 different types – triglyceride, ethyl ester, re-esterified tricylglyceride, and phospholipid. This category is an important one since you want to make sure the fish oil your taking is actually having an effect. It is pointless to consume fish oil if you have trouble digesting it since most of it will pass through the body and not be utilized. As a general rule, if you have strong digestive fires than this category is less important.

Triglyceride oils are the most common naturally occurring form of omega-3's. They are made by pressing the entire fish to extract the oils. Some heat is used however the oil is undergoes much less processing that the other methods. This type of oil is the least processed of the 3 types. This is good because natural foods generally tend to have the most bio available amounts of omega-3's.

Ethyl esters are oils that highly filtered and molecularly distilled. This results in a much higher EPA and DHA profile than triglyceride oils. However, there is an issue with this type of process. This type of oil tends to be more resistant to the pancreatic enzymes that break down and digest oils in the body. What this means is that any fish oil that isn't broken down by the pancreas results in wasted product. In fact, EE oil has been shown to be 20 - 50% less absorbable than triglyceride oil. If you have pancreatic or GI issues it may be wise to avoid this type of oil or look into an enteric coated capsule. Enteric coated fish oil capsules have a protective coating on them that doesn't dissolve until the fish oil capsule enters the small intestine.

Re-esterified triglycerides are essentially synthetic triglyceride oil. These oils are converted from triglyceride oil into EE oil, and then back again. The results of this process are oils that have had their molecules changed around. Not surprisingly, these are among the least bioavailable of oils. This type of oil is most commonly seen in the 10$ - 15$ price range.

Phospholipids is a special type of oil only found in krill oil. Phospholipids are fats that are found throughout the human body. Regular consumption of these lipids in the form of krill oil helps to support cell membrane health. Krill oil also contains other beneficial compounds such as choline and astaxanthin. Choline is found in the blood plasma of humans. It plays a pivotal role in raising the level of HDL (good) cholesterol in the body. Some studies have shown a possible link to the liver and neurological system; however this is still under debate. Astaxanthin is a powerful antioxidant carotenoid that gives krill oil its red color. Some clinical trials have shown it to be supportive of cardiovascular health and it has been shown to have anti-inflammatory properties. Krill oil was not widely used in the past but it is gaining popularity due to its (relatively) low containment levels.

As an aside, krill are not actually fish. They are small crustaceans that make up a large portion of the oceans lower food chain.

Their is however one category that isn't on this list - fermented. Fermented oils fall under a different category all together and they are by far the rarest of the fish oils. This type of fish oil has gone through long, slow fermentation process that is much different from the typical processes's used by most manufacturers. This process ensures maximum abosrbability because the oil is left in a completely unaltered state. There is only one company that still makes this type of oil (a cod liver blend) and it is quite expensive. To learn more about fermented cod liver oil check out our write up here.

As a general rule triglyceride oils will be the easiest to digest, followed by ethyl esters and than re-esterfied triglycerides. Phispholipids are even more digestible but they are only found in krill oil which makes them quite rare.

Omega 3

You will want to pay special attention to the EPA and DHA breakdown of your fish oil. These 2 essential fatty acids will make up the bulk of your omega-3 supplement and they by far the most important. We take omega-3's primarily for these 2 fatty acids. They are considered base building blocks for our bodies and contribute greatly to our overall health and longevity. The best fish oil brand will be at around 70% EPA/DHA to total omega-3's. This is a pretty standard practice but some of the cheaper brands will have a much lower ratio, sometimes as low as 30% although this is vary rare. This information is always readily available but you must learn to always check the label of your product. Here is a quick example of what to look for:

We see here that the serving size is 2 capsules and the ratio is about 40/60 with a total EPA and DHA of 1100 out of 1280. Based on this label it looks like this is a pretty good buy. This will give you a very large dose of fatty acids. How much or how little you need depends on a variety of factors. Take a look at this article for a good write up on dosing guidelines.

Note: the lone exception to this rule would be products like krill oils or fermented cod liver oils. These products are in a different category due to their unique processing methods or ingredients.


On a final note, no matter which fish oil you choose you should always check to make sure it has not gone rancid. Depending on the type of extraction used, some fish oils oxidize much faster than others. The easiest way to tell if your fish oil is good is to bite into a capsule to taste the oil – if it tastes like fish then it is consumable. If the oil gives off a slightly pungent taste/smell than its time to order another bottle. Keeping your fish oil refrigerated and away from light will greatly increase the lifespan of your capsules.

More Reviews

Now that you are more knowledgeable about fish oils, feel free to check out some of our in depth reviews. We cover the most popular brands and give reviews based on taste, product consistency, containments, and price point. Here is a good starting point: Carlson, Nature Made, Nordic Naturals, Green Pastures.