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Fish Oil vs. Krill

Is krill a better source of omega-3 fats or just the latest marketing craze? Find out whether this new supplement is worth the premium price.

By
Monica Reinagel, MS, LD/N, CNS
5-minute read
Episode #177

by Monica Reinagel, M.S., L.D./N.

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I’ve gotten half a dozen requests from readers to weigh in on krill oil, an omega-3 supplement that’s being heavily marketed right now.   I’m sure you’re aware of the many health benefits of omega-3 fats: They can reduce your risk of heart disease and stroke, reduce pain from arthritis and other inflammatory conditions, improve your triglyceride and blood glucose levels, and may even help protect against depression, dementia, and Alzheimer’s disease. 

Because most of us don’t eat fish more than once or twice a week, lots of people take fish oil as a dietary supplement to ensure that they’re getting a steady supply. Now along comes krill oil, a new source of omega-3s that’s supposed to be even better for you than fish oil! Of course, it’s also more expensive. So let’s take a closer look at what advantages krill oil might (or might not) offer.

What is Krill?

Most fish oil supplements contain oil extracted from menhaden, anchovies, mackerel, cod, salmon, or tuna. Krill are not fish but a type of crustacean related to the shrimp. (If you have a shellfish allergy, krill oil is probably not for you.)  In addition to omega-3 fatty acids, krill oil contains astaxanthin, an antioxidant from the carotenoid family. Astaxanthin is found in sea algae and it’s what gives shrimp, lobster, salmon, krill and other sea-life that feed on algae their rosy color.

 

How to Compare Omega-3 Supplements

When comparing different omega-3 supplements, the first thing you want to do is check how much EPA and DHA they provide.   Remember, there are lots of different fatty acids in the omega-3 family and while all omega-3 fats are good for you, EPA and DHA are the most potent ones. A supplement with a higher percentage of EPA and DHA will provide more benefit per pill than one with a lower percentage. 

The concentrations of EPA and DHA can vary significantly from product to product. Check the nutrition facts label on the side of the bottle—and be sure to notice how many capsules they are counting as a “serving.” To keep things simple, just add the DHA and EPA together to get a single number.

In a representative sampling of omega-3 supplements from an online retailer, the amount of EPA + DHA per 1,000 mg of fish oil ranged from 275 mg to 850 mg. When it comes to cost-effectiveness, what matters is not how much you’re paying per pill—or even per milligram of fish oil—but how much you’re paying per milligram of EPA and DHA.   In my sample group, 500mg of EPA + DHA cost anywhere from $0.15 to $0.40.

The concentration of EPA and DHA in krill oil tends to be substantially lower, about 200 mg of EPA + DHA per 1,000mg. And as I mentioned earlier, krill oil supplements are quite a bit more expensive than regular fish oil.  In the end, it’ll cost you about $2.50 to get 500mg of EPA + DHA—making krill oil about 10 times more expensive than fish oil. 

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About the Author

Monica Reinagel, MS, LD/N, CNS

Monica Reinagel is a board-certified licensed nutritionist, author, and the creator of one of iTunes' most highly ranked health and fitness podcasts. Her advice is regularly featured on the TODAY show, Dr. Oz, NPR, and in the nation's leading newspapers, magazines, and websites. Do you have a nutrition question? Call the Nutrition Diva listener line at 443-961-6206. Your question could be featured on the show.