Omega-3 Supplements Vs. Foods That Have Them

By: Ashley Olds - March 16, 2014

Having trouble getting the kids to sleep?

Surely your first answer isn’t to reach for a bottle of pills when you aren’t sure what’s in them. But, as a new study came out showing evidence of a link between omega-3 fatty acids and sleep in healthy children, it’s worth observing.

So, omega-3 fatty acids are dubbed “essential fatty acids”. That’s great. What does that mean?

Basically this: we all need them to function properly (both adults and kids), we have to get them from our diet, and there’s a few different kinds. According to WebMD, DHA and EPA are the types we can get from fish and fish oil, DHA on its own can be found in algae, and ALA (a precursor to those other two) can be acquired from flaxseed and various plants.

Supplements sometimes seem like a great and quick way to get what we need. But as with anything we put in our bodies (or our kids’), it’s good to do a bit of research.

Thus, Dr. Oz invited Dr. Cooperman of ConsumerLab.com onto his show to see what the results of omega-3 supplement studies yielded. Dr. Cooperman was surprised to learn that many of the claims supplements make are false – that 30% of them failed their test.

“They failed for either containing too little of the omega-3’s – much less than they listed – or for being spoiled even though when we purchased them they were well packaged and we tested them before they even had their expiration date,” he stated.

Rancid fish oil? Gross…

“Things you need to look out for are ‘pharmaceutical grade’,” he said, “There is no such thing as ‘pharmaceutical grade’ – it’s not a defined term.” Why? Because, as he adds, “The FDA doesn’t approve labs for testing fish oil.” Dr. Cooperman went on to say that two products that passed the test were Life Extension’s Super Omega and AdvoCare Omegaplex.

But wait… let’s back up a second. Why doesn’t FDA approve labs for testing fish oil?

While fish oil products raked in $1.2 billion in sales in the United States last year, you might be surprised to learn that they (like many supplements) are largely unregulated. Companies aren’t required to register products with the Food and Drug Administration or provide any proof that their liquids or capsules even have the ingredients in them that are advertised on the labels.

So, they can just lie if they want?

Bummer. I’ve been gobbling down that gunk for years. Maybe I’ll just add in some actual edible foods that have these “essential fatty acids” in them instead. Some foods high omega-3 include: Flax Seeds, Walnuts, Sardines, Salmon, Soybeans, Tofu, Shrimp, Brussel Sprouts, Kale, Spinach, Cauliflower, and Winter Squash.

Dr. Frank Sacks of Harvard, explains, “For good health, you should aim to get at least one rich source of omega-3 fatty acids in your diet every day. This could be through a serving of fatty fish (such as salmon), a tablespoon of canola or soybean oil in salad dressing or in cooking, or a handful of walnuts or ground flaxseed mixed into your morning oatmeal.”

Alright. That’s a lot of info. Some of those don’t sound too great. Others are things I buy and eat sometimes anyway – just not enough. Honestly, it’s a bit inconvenient to nibble on soybeans or walnuts when pills or oils take about half a nanosecond to swallow, but soybean or canola oil isn’t any more of a bother to add into food, really. That’s easy. Plus, it might just beat eating expired mystery-fish-juice – or feeding it to little ones.

If you’ve found a supplement that works for you, that’s great! Some people swear by this stuff. Share your experiences in the comments below.

Image (and recipe) via Youtube.

About the Author

Ashley OldsAshley enjoys pretending she knows how to do yoga and living in sweet denial about the worthlessness of her bachelor's degree. Stalk her on Twitter - if you can find her.

View all posts by Ashley Olds
  • Amanda

    Can be gotten?

    • Author

      Yikes! Thanks. Fixed it :)

  • Sam James

    It is exactly because the FDA does not test nutritional supplement products that the terms Pharmaceutical Quality or Grade were originally created to inform the customer that the highest standards of distillation, manufacture, and testing are used in the manufacture, testing and purity of the product as would be required if it was a pharmaceutical product. These terms were created over 14 years ago by Dr. Carol Locke, Harvard MD, who formulated OmegaBrite Advanced Omega-3, creating a new category of high concentrate, high purity Omega-3 supplements for the public. Dr. Locke formulated OmegaBrite to the highest standards of purity, concentration, and third party testing at all stages to ensure OmegaBrite was of the highest purity,quality, and every batch was tested. Dr. Locke raised the standard of purity and testing in the industry and created the first true Omega-3 supplement for the public with OmegaBrite’s 90% Omega-3 concentration. The words she created to describe the new level of purity and testing in Omega-3 supplements changed the industry in a positive way. Of course as in all good communication, these words were picked up and are now used by everyone.
    It is important to learn the level of quality, testing, purity and history of any brand of supplement you take as they vary a great deal, as does FDA approved medicines also. Look for brands that clearly state both the amount per capsule and the percentage of DHA and EPA the omega-3 supplement is as it makes a huge difference as Dr. Oz points out. The FDA requires that companies list the amount per serving, so you need to divide the serving by 3. The problem is the FDA does not require the company to reveal the size of the omega-3 fish oil capsule or the amount or % of fish oil or other omega-3 oil in the capsule- most are 30% and that means what is the other 70% made of you wonder? This means you may have to take a huge capsule to get the amount of Omega-3 you need.

    Research your omega-3 supplements carefully as the branding can be misleading as they all say they are super this or that. Brands of the highest quality like OmegaBrite have shown for 15 years the company commitment to excellence.

  • Auburn

    I subscribe to ConsumerLab and have read their fish oil report, specifically the part pertaining to soft gels. Can’t figure what Cooperman and Oz were looking at. Thirty-one soft gel brands were tested. Three failed to gain approval. Of the three that failed only one had what could be a serious problem. I’ve taken one of the brands tested and approved. I’ve used it for many years without any problems. That is Swanson Super Omega Super EPA and that is the least expensive brand tested.

  • Velt

    I think supplements have become too much of a thing these days. It’s overdone. Take a decent multivitamin, eat fairly healthy more often than not, and you’ll be fine. The more healthy you eat, the better your body is at telling you what you need. Studies are constantly coming out with biased “facts” and often paid for by the vendors selling what the study says is so great. Who knows what to believe anymore? Keep your activity level up and go with a diet tailored towards Japanese – their life expectancy is almost 90 and they don’t do supplements/vitamins.