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Fish Oil Basics: The Do’s, Don’ts, and Dosages… Simplified.

By t. | In Today's Workout | on March 15, 2011

If you’ve not had your head in the sand, lived on Mars, or raised in a bubble cut off from the western world you’ve heard of fish oil and it is somehow good for you.  You’ve heard it’s good for kids, brain function, fat loss, disease prevention, cancer, depression and lots of other great things.  Heck, some people would lead you to believe it’s the answer to world peace.

It is good for most of the things listed above.  If you’ve a clean diet void of all grains, gluten, and sugars, fish oil’s benefits are even more profound.  But I’m not getting into why fish oil, and the Omega 3s fatty acids in it, contribute to a healthier you.  I’ve a nutrition class covering all the diet info you’d ever need to know.  The next one will be scheduled and posted soon.  You should attend.

The info below is covered thoroughly in the nutrition class, but it can be a bit confusing at first.

Do’s:

  1. Take a high quality fish oil.  No matter your diet, fish oil is one supplement we all benefit from.  Typically, my advice on supplements is “don’t bother until you get your diet in order”.  However, fish oil, along with a few others things like Vitamin D, is practically impossible to get from whole food.  Even from eating Paleo, there are some things you will not get enough of.
  2. Take enough.  A little is not better than none at all.  Proper dosage will be covered below

Don’ts:

  1. Take any fish oil from CostCo, Walmart, Sam’s, Target, Big Lots, Dollar General, or a crack dealer.  It’s crap if it comes from these places.  Period.

Let’s take a closer look…

Supplement Facts:

Serving Size: 1 Softgel

Each Softgel Contains – % Daily Value:

Calories 10 (Calories from Fat 10), Total Fat 1 g – 2%*, Saturated Fat 0.5 g – 3%*, Polyunsaturated Fat 0.5 g – **, Monounsaturated Fat 0 g – **, Cholesterol 10 mg – 3%, Natural Fish Oil Concentrate 1000 mg, Omega 3 Fatty Acids (EPA/DHA and other Omega 3) 300 mg – **.

Ingredients:

Fish Oil Concentrate, Gelatin, Glycerin, Water, Tocopherol.
Contains: Fish (Anchovy, Sardine) and Soy.

In one capsule of this particular Fish Oil, there is 1,000mg of total content.  The important stuff, EPA and DHA, makes up less than 300mg of that 1,000mg.  I say less than because, they have generously included “other Omega 3s” in the make up of their fine product.  So what is the remaining 700mg made of?  The ingredients states “Fish Oil Concentrate, Gelatin, Glycerin, Water, Tocopherol.

Fish Oil Concentrate is trash.  Look at like this… it’s the stuff you get when you squeeze the juices from a fish’s arse.  Yummy?  I didn’t think so.  It’s sewer of the sea.

Gelatin is what the capsule is made of.  I recommend you take a liquid fish oil.  But if you cannot can’t stomach it, the capsule is going to be the answer for you.  Just note it takes a lot of capsules to get the proper dosages.

Water??  You wouldn’t add water to olive oil would you?  It’s just filler…  something to fill up the capsule.

Glycerin is a carbohydrate with a low index.  It’s used as a preservative.  Again, it’s not needed in a fish oil.

Tocopherol is alpha-Tocopherol, a synthetic Vitamin E.  Most fish oils contain Vitamin E from this source to help keep the oil fresh.  It’s a preservative.

The product contains fish and soy.  The fish are anchovies and sardines.  They are cheap at the grocery store and so is this fish oil for a reason.  In everything, you get what you pay for.  Higher quality fish oils are made from mackerel and cod.  And Soy?  Don’t consume soy.  Ever.

Read about the lawsuit filed against the manufacturers of cheap fish oil here and here.

Recommended (in no specific order) fish oils:
Stonger Healthier Faster Omega Maine
Poliquin – 720 Blend or Omega 3 Liquid
Carlson’s – MedOmega 2800 or Very Finest
Nordic Naturals – Ultimate Omega

Dosages:

The most common question I get at CFW isn’t about training.  It’s about fish oil, specifically “How much do I take?”   I answer with my typical “Males, 12-20 grams.  Females, 8-14 grams.”  I then get “Really?  That much?” accompanied by a look of disbelief.  That’s usually the person that blows me off and purchases the Wal-Mart brand and only takes the recommended dosages listed on the label.  Let’s try not to be “that guy” or girl.  If you feel that inclination, refer back to #2 under the “Do’s”.

Here’s the catch with the dosage.  The grams you take of fish oil is NOT the dosage.  The dosage is how much EPA and DHA you are to take.  Clear as mud?  I’ll clarify…

The nutrition label to the right is from a bottle of Carlson’s Very Finest Fish Oil.
One serving (1 Teaspoon) contains 1,600mg of Omega 3 fatty acids.  Of which 800mg are EPA and 500mg are DHA.  A total of 1,300mg (1.3g) of the total 1,600mg.  See the difference in concentration between this product and the CostCo?  The concentration of EPA and DHA per serving of total fish is much higher.
EPA and DHA is all we care about in the dosage and you need atleast 1 Gram of combined EPA and DHA per 10 lbs of your body weight.  So here’s how you figure your daily dosage:

  1. Find your body weight
  2. Multiply your bodyweight by .05 to .10 to find combined amount of EPA/DHA you need each day.  This is a variable you decide on.  0.5 is for less active or very healthy.  .10 is for very active, injured, or sick.  Many use .075 for this factor.
  3. Using the amount of EPA/DHA in each serving of your fish oil product.

Example:  If you are 140lbs and active, you multiply your bodyweight by .10.  This tells you your requirement is 14 grams of combined EPA/DHA per day.  Using the Carlson’s label above, add the EPA and DHA amounts.  800mg + 500mg = 1,300mg (1.3g).  There are 1.3 grams of combined EPA/DHA in one serving of the Carlson’s Fish Oil. Divide 14 by 1.3 and you get 11.  You should take 11 servings of this product each day.

Again, each fish oil product is different.  Only use a high quality, concentrated fish oil.  Otherwise you’re adding toxic fatty acids to your diet and not getting any benefits of taking fish oil.

If this doesn’t help, I present nutrition classes and offer nutrition counseling services.  Show up or set up a session.  I cover all the information you’d ever want in two nutrition classes at a VERY affordable price. Yet, I still get too many nutrition questions via email, text, or my personal fav…  on the gym floor while I’m trying workout.  I don’t push my nutrition classes because I make millions from them.  I push them because it’s an organized, all encompassing, presentation of nutrition information where attendess are able to ask question in a proper forum.  You don’t call, email, or just stop by your doctor’s office with questions do you?  You schedule an appointment so you have his/her full attention.  Think about it.
-t.

19 Comments to "Fish Oil Basics: The Do’s, Don’ts, and Dosages… Simplified."

  • Whitney says:

    March 16, 2011 at 1:23 am -

    Children should not take any EPA. Only DHA. If you’re giving your child a fish oil supplement make sure you learn about the negative effects EPA has on adolescent brain development. DhA is encouraged.

  • Noelle says:

    March 16, 2011 at 9:20 am -

    Thanks for the info t. I use the liquid by Carlson’s (pictured above.) I got a huge bottle for extremely cheap on Amazon via the dealer direct. The taste isn’t fishy and it’s extremely easy to take! I’d highly recommend it! The whole9 calculator has been extremely helpful as I’ve been changing Fish Oils, and go from injured to healthy throughout the year. :)

    Thanks for the push am crew!!

  • No GOOD says:

    March 16, 2011 at 9:48 am -

    SO when I read post like that I wonder if TOny use to have a pocket protector and taped glasses haha. Great post great info and here is an FYI for all of you. The best place to get Carlson’s is Vitamin SHOPEE, It is expensive and sometimes as hard to get as INOV 8’s. But when you go in there always buy at least 2 bottles. When you check out ask them to check for any internet specials. It cuts the cost 50% per bottle.

  • Caleb says:

    March 16, 2011 at 10:10 am -

    Just got some today from Vitamin Shoppe, they are running an in store special for $26 per bottle, still slightly cheaper online, but a great deal none the less.

  • Scott S says:

    March 16, 2011 at 10:59 am -

    As a reformed Costco fishoil person, t. nails it. The best way to take Fish Oil is to drink the Carlson’s right out of the bottle. You have to translate grams to gulps but that is easy enough. The stuff works!

  • LiveHand says:

    March 16, 2011 at 11:14 am -

    One of the major tenants of paleo is high quality foods… I take that to mean as many bio-available nutrients in as little calories as possible (definition: nutrient dense). For example: processed grain is a bad choice because it has low nutrient value per calorie consumed but clean, raw, grass fed calf’s liver would be an excellent choice because it has ultra high nutrient value per calorie consumed. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t put too much weight on calories – its just one factor in the equation.

    Anyway, my point is, if you’re going to have fish oil, why not get fish oil + vitamins? I recently switched to cod liver oil because of the high amounts of Vitamin A and D you can get from it. If you’re looking for some high quality stuff I would check out Green Pasture’s High Vitamin Butter Oil/Fermented Cod Liver Oil Blend. This will give you all of the fat soluble vitamins you need. Most fish oils are actually cooked (similar to vegetable oils) during processing. From what I understand Green Pastures uses cold pressing and fermentation to bypass this step.

    This is Chris S. by the way. I have a new handle!

  • t. says:

    March 16, 2011 at 12:13 pm -

    Chris… how much EPA and DHA are in a serving of Green Patures Cod Liver Oil? I took a quick Google of it and can’t find it. It’s not on the products label.

    While there’s nothing wrong per se with choosing a cod liver oil for the added benefit of Vitamin D over a fish oil without measurable amounts of D, the benefit is very slim, almost none even.

    Here’s why…

    The FDA’s recommended daily allowances are all very low for optimal health. The are the minimals for disease prevention. And with all the sickness and disease we have in the US, they’re obviously not high enough for that.

    The FDA’s recommended daily allowance (RDA) of Vitamin D is 400iu. The cod liver oil you listed above has only 60% of the FDA’s RDA of Vit D per serving. Since almost all Americans have a Hypovitaminosis (deficiency) of the Vitamin D, the 400iu the FDA recommends is a far cry from the 3,000 – 5,000iu’s most Americans need each day.

    That is per serving. In theory, you will get much more Vit D from your cod liver oil since, like all fish EPA/DHA products, you have to take 5, 10, even 15 times the serving size. But since I cannot find the EPA/DHA amounts per serving in the Green Pastures product, I cannot figure how many servings and therefore even how much Vit D I will be consuming from this product.

    In my list of recommended supplements, Vitamin D is number two. Right behind and almost even with fish oil. So should we be concerned with it? Yes.

    The article I posted today is focused on EPA/DHA supplementation. Again, in my nutrition class, I cover the big picture of nutrient dense FOODs.

    Don’t confuse supplementation with food.

    I recommend taking supplements on an individual basis. I take fish oil for EPA and DHA. I take Vitamin D for Vitamin D. Just like I take BCAAs and Glutamine, but each in from a separate, dedicated source.

    Bottom line: Trying to make sure you get your “bang for your buck” and taking a EPA/DHA product higher in A and D will get a you an EPA/DHA product with less than the amounts of EPA/DHA you need. And in the case of Green Pastures Cod Liver Oil, at a very high price… so there’s no “bang for your buck” there.

  • t. says:

    March 16, 2011 at 12:25 pm -

    Whitney,
    There are studies the both promote and dissuade the use of EPA in children. As parents and consumers you need to read and educate yourself and make the best, most informed decisions. Not just for your kids, but for yourself also.

    Don’t ever just take someones word for it and just do something because they say to. Even the info I put out… research it first. I’m not beyond reproach. I’m a college drop out that joined the army, not a MD or nutritionist.

    Challenge everything.

    But Whitney, you bring an interesting twist to the diet convo… children. I think it’s funny how mom will take prenatal vitamins and fish oil while prego. Then worry about her diet (some do anyway) and when the baby comes, feed it a high lactose formula. Then cereal, then french toast and orange juice. And once it goes to school allow it to be fed rice crispy treats and Mtn Dew.

    I hear it all the time… “It’s hard to eat Paleo when you have kids.” I’d think you’d care more about their nutrition than your own. But so many parents use their children’s bad diets as an excuse for them to eat crap food.

    Isn’t it the supposed to be the other way around? I know my parents dictated to me what I ate. I don’t recall there being a choice between my greens and pizza. Pizza was a once a month, if we were lucky, reward. Not a staple.

    Some of our parents feed their kids a fairly strict paleo diet. Any of you who do, weigh in and tell us how you do it.

  • No GOOD says:

    March 16, 2011 at 1:17 pm -

    Tony definatly had a pocket protector. Im sure there are a few other CF’s around the country that have a foundation like ours. But when we have a topic like todays and all this feed back on how to live healthier, well that is one of the things that seprates CFW from EVERYONE!!!!
    Tony thank you for all the research you do to promote a complete healthy lifestyle for CFW. Between you and Whitney, I will say I dont have to do any research hahaha.

  • Rachel Kay says:

    March 16, 2011 at 1:38 pm -

    I wish that when I was growing up my parents fed me a paleo diet or for that matter, made me eat the green stuff that I hated. They did great on the behavior stuff but as far as nutrition, I was completely lost. I thought corn and potatoes were my vegetables. I believe that if you start them young they are going to get accustomed to eating and making the right choices. Trying to break those habits now is extremely difficult for me. I say the younger the better. I guess im glad I only had about 20 years of bad eating instead of 40.

  • Lil D says:

    March 16, 2011 at 2:18 pm -

    On the subject of vitamin D: It just goes to show that Americans don’t spend enough time outside. You don’t need to supplement with vitamin D if you just go outside for half an hour during the day.

    Getting natural sunlight also helps with your energy levels (at least it does for me). I’ve worked in an office building with no windows and energy-sapping flourescent lights for the past 5 months. When I started here, I noticed I was starting to get extremely fatigued later in the afternoon. Then I started eating lunch outside (and taking a couple breaks for about 5 minutes each to pop my head outside). I was already eating strict paleo, so by only changing my dining location, my energy levels went through the roof, and I no longer need my 1:30 cup of coffee.

  • No GOOD says:

    March 16, 2011 at 2:41 pm -

    I just got back from Vitamin Shoppe, What Caleb said is correct Carlons is on sale for $26. But ask them for the internet price and you save a few more dollars , $21.56

  • Anonymous says:

    March 16, 2011 at 2:45 pm -

    I was able to find the Test Data (http://www.greenpasture.org/public/Products/TestData/index.cfm) for their FCLO that’s used in the products… I’ll convert to 5ml / 1tsp because that is what Carlson puts on their label for one serving. The last test info for this lists: EPA 139mg/ml (695mg/5ml), DHA 89 mg/ml (445 mg/5ml), Vitamin A 2250 IU/ml (11250mg/5ml), and Vitamin D 663 IU/ml (3315/5ml). That puts it at ratings just below Carlson’s for EPA/DHA. I would have to believe that since its processed better at Green Pastures that you would have a better quality oil derivative.

    I’m kind of with WAPF in that if you’re eating a healthy diet and resting properly, you shouldn’t need many omega 3’s. In large supply for too long they may damage the body just like their cousin PUFA, omega 6 due to oxidization. Not to say that large doses aren’t useful for specific populations though. I also think that fish oil while still on the fish (whole food) would most likely be the best alternative and probably would win out over fish oil in terms of effect even in lower doses of the oil. Thoughts on this are that as a whole food your body will most likely have all of the co-factors and co-enzymes needed to use the omega 3’s. I don’t like fish or liver all too much which is why I supplement.

    Super Human Radio had Sally Fallon of WAPF (Weston A Price Foundation) on recently to talk about Vitamin A and its role in growth. She goes on to talk about how Vitamin A is what tells stem cells what to do which is why its so important for children, anabolism, and people who have been through serious ailments. http://www.superhumanradio.com/super-human-radio-show/645-forgotten-vitamin-a.html FYI: this is a bodybuilding radio show so you’ll have to ignore and skip through the commercials. The host is legit though, he definitely knows his stuff and is very objective.

    I’d be willing to bet 90% of the population is deficient in A (along with D). It seems like the only good place to get it is organ meats. You can convert from beta-carotene but most people’s digestion can’t complete the conversion.

  • J-ROD says:

    March 16, 2011 at 3:45 pm -

    1 gram per %bodyfat is a simple rule. Quality is very important, rancid fish oil can be pro-flammatory. $ave money on fish oil by losing bodyfat! Mixed tocopherols is best E. DHA is for cognitive-, bi-polar, concentration,anxiety etc….. DHA/acetyl-L-Carnitine combo awesome for foggy brain. EPA to reduce inflammation. CRITICAL TO ROTATE your fish oil, you will become deficient in GLA otherwise!

  • t. says:

    March 16, 2011 at 5:40 pm -

    Anonymous… thanks for the info. And not being a dick. Ha. Usually when someone posts anonymously they’re saying unpopular or inflammatory (ha.) things.

    I didn’t have time to hunt the Green Pastures info. If I were to use the Green Pastures, I would get approximately 50,000iu’s of Vit D a day. That’s a bit much. So still, it may be a good idea to separate your supplements.

    Lil D… the sun thing isn’t going to get you enough Vit D.

    J-Rod… What’s the thought on using % BF for fish oil? I’m not sure I follow the % of body fat for proper dosage of fish oil. LBM would seem to be a better way of measuring. The equation I gave in the article is a definitely for the “general” population, but with the activity / health / injury factor, it allows for variations. %BF does not. Your thought?

  • LiveHand says:

    March 16, 2011 at 9:16 pm -

    Sorry I forgot to leave my handle on that last one (Anonymous). I was in a rush to get out the door. I totally agree that its probably not the best place to get your Vitamin D if you’re taking larger doses. Could actually be dangerous for extended periods. Great post. I’m a nutrition geek and love to see this stuff.

    -Chris S.

  • J-ROD says:

    March 16, 2011 at 10:29 pm -

    The body fat % number came direct from Charles Poliquin. Dosing is extensively taught with many supplements in Biosig. Take Vitamin D3 as an example. We learned the most effective dosage is 35,000 iu two times weekly as opposed to 5,000 per day. All studies showed that dosing twice a week is the most effective way of raising it the fastest. Don’t know why, doesn’t matter. Results is what we are looking for; like how to manipulate D3 to raise testosterone levels and strength output in 1 day!
    As a Biosignature Practicioner and Functional Nutritionist I have found it to be the simplest, most effective way to dose fish oil for my clients. It’s the KISS principal – Keep it Simple Silly. In all reality the math is very similar. The biggest difference is with obese clients; the dose is quite high at first. This is intentional – it works at turning off the fat storing genes(Lipogenic) and turning on the fat burning genes(Lipolytic). I have actually dosed at 1.5 grams of fish oil per % of body fat and had clients lose 2% bodyfat in one week without exercise.

  • whitney says:

    March 17, 2011 at 7:16 am -

    T. you are so right about the conflicting studies when it comes to EPA and children. In the realm of nutrition you can’t swing a dead cat without finding a conflicting study. I try to look at source material whenever possible but if the results are too conflicting I go to Wolf, Lalond, Kessler or W.A.P. to see their opinion. In the case of EPA and children Wolf supports the ‘no EPA’ theory so I lean towards that. What I actually did was lay off the omega 3 supplement for the kids and increase their wild caught fish intake until I could find more data. Re learning nutrition is a long and arduous process. I combine research with using myself as a guinea pig and going with what makes me feel better and what has good results on reversing my MS. For example, a few months ago I posted on here that I still let my kids eat the shite snack at school because I thought they needed to ‘keep it real’. Well, I don’t do that anymore. This winter we missed a lot of school because of holidays and weather and I noticed the kids had 0 melt downs. The only difference was they weren’t getting the school snack. I made the connection: they can’t have shite food 3x a week for snack, it gives them meltdowns. So I brought a giant bag of sweet potato chips, turkey jerky (thanks Jill P for the heads up on turkey jerky from Tidal Creek), dried fruit, kind bars, etc for them to eat at school and lo and behold no more meltdowns. Ever. T. I am forever in your debt for intriducing me to this lifestyle.

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