Are Fish Oil Supplements Worth It?

By now, nearly everyone is aware of the health benefits of eating fish (there are numerous, but the most notable are anti-inflammatory effects and cardiovascular benefits from the omega-3 fatty acid content). Although eating fish has been shown to have health benefits, fish oil supplementation has not been so clear cut. Some clinical studies have shown positive effects, while others haven't. As such, the recommendations for fish oil supplementation are controversial.

However, a recent study by the BMJ sheds some light on the subject. This TAP Integrative article, sums it up well, but in essence, the authors of the study conclude that “habitual use of fish oils is associated with a marginal benefit for CVD [cardiovascular disease] events in the general population.” Also, interestingly, the positive associations with fish oil supplementation were independent of risk factors that included sex, age, ethnicity, household income, body mass index, fruit and vegetable consumption, oily fish consumption, smoking status, alcohol consumption, physical activity, and major comorbidities. (i. e. fish oil supplementation is beneficial regardless of these factors).

My nutrition mantra is food is the foundation of health and supplements should be just that: a supplement to a healthy diet, not a replacement for it. So if you like fish and don't have a fish allergy, the best way to get omega-3 fats are from eating fish regularly (a couple times a week). However, if you can't stand fish or just don't have access to it regularly, taking a high quality fish oil supplement is a great way to achieve similar cardiovascular benefits.

When it comes to what types of fish to eat, wild caught/sustainable fish that are low in mercury are best. The Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch is a great resource for this information, but generally speaking, smaller fish are better. Focus on salmon, skipjack tuna, cod, tilapia, herring, sardines and anchovies. If you just read anchovies and sardines and cringed, I get it! Don't be afraid of these tiny, but tasty fish. They pack a punch, but when used in the right way are DELICIOUS. Try something new with the following recipes:

Sardine and Avocado Endive Wraps

Classic Puttanesca Sauce

Happy eating!