Fish oil pills may seem like a miracle cure, helping to prevent all sorts of health problems, since they are high in omega-3 fats. However, popping a few pills each morning isn't the best way to stay healthy. While swallowing a couple of fish oil pills is easier than trying to work more fish into your diet, eating fish can provide benefits that you don't get from fish oil supplements.
Fish Oil Benefits
If you want to lower your cholesterol or if you need to get extra omega-3 fats because you have a high risk for heart disease, you may want to take fish oil supplements. You would have to eat fish at least once a day, if not more, to get 1 to 4 grams of the omega-3 fats that you need. This could get old pretty fast even if you like fish, and it wouldn't be safe in terms of mercury and other contaminants that you might consume along with the fish. Fish oil supplements usually contain purified fish oil, so contaminants are not an issue.
Benefits of Eating Fish
For healthy people, eating fish twice a week is the best way to get your omega-3 fats. When you eat fish, you get protein, vitamins and minerals that you don't get if you take fish oil supplements. Fish is low in fat, and the types of seafood people eat the most -- shrimp, canned tuna, salmon, pollack, tilapia, catfish, crab, cod, clams, flatfish and scallops -- usually don't contain a lot of contaminants. Stick with baked or broiled fish and skip the fried fish, since frying decreases the health benefits and increases your heart disease risk.
Fish With High Omega-3 Content
To get the most out of eating fish, include a variety in your diet, since different types have different mixes of nutrients. This also helps limit your risk for getting too much of any one contaminant. Great options for consuming your recommended omega-3 fats include sardines, salmon, bluefish, tuna, menhaden, mullet, sturgeon, trout, herring and anchovies, since these all contain at least 1 gram of omega-3 fats in a 3.5-ounce serving.
Stay away from king mackerel, shark, swordfish and tilefish, since these are usually high in mercury. Taking fish oil supplements does not guarantee that you will avoid heart disease. A study published in "The Journal of the American Medical Association" in September 2012 cast some doubt on the benefits of taking fish oil supplements to reduce heart disease, finding that these supplements didn't reduce the risk of dying from the disease or the risk of having a heart attack or stroke.
Based in Massachusetts, Jessica Bruso has been writing since 2008. She holds a master of science degree in food policy and applied nutrition and a bachelor of arts degree in international relations, both from Tufts University.