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Fish Oil Basics

Omega-3 fats are healthy fats with many benefits. Omega-3 fats can help lower your risk of heart disease and some cancers and may improve your immune system. Research is being done to see if omega-3 fats play a role in preventing dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, depression, asthma and rheumatoid arthritis.  One of the best sources of omega-3 fats is fatty fish like salmon, trout and tuna. But some people do not enjoy eating fish and may benefit from a fish oil supplement. 




What are fish oil supplements?

Fish oil supplements are made of omega-3 fats taken from fish such as salmon, tuna, anchovies and sardines. They are made into pills or liquid supplements. These are called “omega-3 supplements” or “fish oil supplements.” They come in different doses ranging from 250mg to 2000mg. 


Should I take a fish oil supplement?

It depends. Canada's Food Guide recommends Canadians eat two 75 gram (or 2 ½ ounce) servings of fatty fish each week. A 75 gram serving is the size of a deck of cards. Two servings of fatty fish is equal to about 2000mg to 3000mg of omega-3 fat each week. Or, it is equal to 300 to 450mg per day. 

You may want to take a fish oil supplement if you:

  • Do not like to eat fish
  • Are vegetarian or vegan
  • Are at risk of heart disease
  • Have heart disease
  • Have congestive heart failure
  • Need to lower triglyceride levels

If you are on medication and are thinking of using a fish oil supplement, talk to your doctor. Health Canada says that fish oil supplements are safe for adults at a dose of up to 3000mg per day. 


Should I take fish oil supplements if I am pregnant?

An omega-3 fat called DHA is essential for your baby’s brain and eye sight. DHA is found in fish and fish oil supplements. If you are pregnant, eating two 75 gram servings of fish each week is the best way to get DHA. Read more about fish and mercury here.

If you do not eat fish, you can safely take fish oil supplements while you are pregnant. The exact dose that you need is not yet known. Check with your doctor for advice. Health Canada suggests you do not take more than 3000mg per day. For pregnant women who already eat fish twice a week, there is not enough research to show whether taking fish oil supplements will have any extra benefits for your baby.


How should I choose a fish oil supplement?

Make sure you buy a supplement that has been purified. That means it has been tested and meets government standards to be low in mercury and PCBs. Look for one with a Natural Product Number (NPN) on the product label. The NPN will only be found on supplements that have been tested for safety and quality. Ask your pharmacist about fish oil supplements that have a NPN.  


Are there any alternatives to fish oil supplements?

If you are allergic to fish or are vegetarian, there are other ways to get enough omega-3 fat in your diet. You can try supplements made from algal oil, which is a vegetarian source of DHA made from sea algae. Algal oil is also added to some foods including some yogurts and fortified soy beverages. Omega-3 enriched eggs and milk and foods like walnuts, ground flax seeds and flaxseed oil are also options.


The bottom line

Fish oil supplements are rich in omega-3 fats which are important for your health. If you don’t each fish, you may benefit from taking fish oil supplements. If you have certain health problems, are taking medication, are pregnant or breastfeeding, talk to your doctor to learn exactly which dose may be right for you. 

Have more questions about omega-3 fats and fish oil supplements? Call an EatRight Ontario Registered Dietitian at 1-877-510-510-2 or send an email.

Find out more

Omega-3 fats deliver Oh Mega benefits
Consumption Advice: Making Informed Choices about Fish
Get the reel scoop on fish and mercury

Last Update – September 23, 2015

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