Cod Liver Oil vs Fish Oil: What’s The Difference? We Compare

Cod liver oil and fish oil are two popular fish oil supplements. There are many others prompting people to wonder about their differences. Therefore, let’s answer, what is the difference between cod liver oil and fish oil?

Cod liver oil is fish oil extracted from the livers of codfish. Fish oil is extracted from the flesh of fatty fish like salmon, herring, sardines, anchovies, mackerel and tuna. Fish oil contains more omega-3 fatty acids, calories, total fat and cholesterol than cod liver due to its higher, healthy fat content.

This article will dive deep and compare the two oils nutrients, benefits, costs, mercury levels and concerns.

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Disclaimer: Above link and others in this article are affiliate links which means I may earn a small commission at no extra cost to you. As an Amazon associate I earn from qualifying purchases. Always check with your physician prior to taking supplements or changing your nutrition habits.

The Difference Between Cod Liver Oil and Fish Oil

What is Cod Liver Oil?

Cod liver oil is oil extracted from the livers of codfish. The cod liver oil is used as a dietary supplement and provides the omega-3 fatty acids eicosapentaenoic acids (EPA), docosahexaenoic acids (DHA), vitamins A and D.

A tablespoon of cod liver oil contains 4,080 mcg of vitamin A, 34 mcg (1,360 IU) of vitamin D and 0.84 grams of omega-3 fatty acids 1.

What is Fish Oil?

Fish oil is oil extracted from the flesh of fatty fish like salmon, herring, sardines, anchovies, tuna and mackerel. Fish oil is used as a dietary supplement and provides the omega-3 fatty acids eicosapentaenoic acids (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acids (DHA).

A tablespoon of fish oil typically provides 1.50 grams to 4.66 grams of omega-3 fatty acids. The amount differs depending on which type of fish oil. Typical fish oils include the following:

  • Cod liver oil
  • Salmon oil
  • Herring oil
  • Sardine oil
  • Menhaden oil

Check the table below to find out how much omega-3s, calories, fat and cholesterol each fish oil provides 2.

Cod Liver Oil vs. Fish Oil: Nutrient Comparison

The following table compares all the nutrients contained in cod liver oil and fish oils:

Nutrient Cod Liver Oil (1 Tbsp) Sardine Oil (1 Tbsp) Menhaden Oil (1 Tbsp) Salmon Oil (1 Tbsp) Herring Oil (1 Tbsp)
Calories 41 123 123 123 123
Omega-3 0.84 g 3.10 g 3.62 g 4.66 g 1.50 g
Total Fat 4.5 g 14 g 14 g 14 g 14 g
Saturated Fat 1.0 g 4.1 g 4.1 g 2.7 g 2.9 g
Cholesterol 25 mg 97 mg 71 mg 66 mg 104 mg

Nutrient sources 3 4 5 6

When comparing the nutrients above you’ll notice a large difference between cod liver oil and the other fish oils. Let’s take a closer look at the nutrients and answer a popular question. What is better fish oil or cod liver oil?

Fish oil is better than cod liver oil for omega-3 fatty acid intake. If omega-3 fatty acids are provided by another source other than oil, then cod liver oil is better due to it providing Vitamins A and D which fish oil doesn’t contain.

Cod liver oil contains less calories, total fat, saturated fat and cholesterol than fish oil. This is due to the lesser amount of healthy fats and omega-3 fatty acids compared to the healthy fats provided by fish oil. Therefore, if you’re obtaining omega-3s from another source, cod liver oil may be the better choice.

One of the main reasons people takes fish oil is to benefit from its healthy fats, particularly the heart healthy omega -3 fatty acids. Many people know them as DHA, EPA and ALA. For this reason, many people ask, which fish oil is highest in omega-3?

Salmon oil is highest in omega-3 fatty acids of all the fish oils. Salmon oil contains 4.66 grams of omega-3 fatty acids for every tablespoon. Menhaden oil contains 3.62 grams, sardine oil 3.10 grams, herring oil 1.50 grams and cod liver oil 0.84 grams of omega-3 fatty acids.

The following is the number of omega-3 fatty acids contained in cod liver oil and the other fish oils:

Type of Fish Oil Amount of Omega-3 per Tablespoon
*Salmon Oil 4.66 grams
Menhaden Oil 3.62 grams
*Sardine Oil 3.10 grams
Herring Oil 1.50 grams
*Cod Liver Oil 0.84 grams
* indicates the oils with 50-60% more DHA than EPA in their makeup, whereas the unstarred fish oils have 50-60% more EPA than DHA.

Fish oil and fresh fish are known for being a part of many diets like keto or heart healthy.

If you’re eating low-carb or want to give keto a try, many of my clients have followed this 28-Day Keto Challenge with great success. Visit their website and check it out.

The Omega-3 Fatty Acids In Cod Liver Oil and Fish Oil

Omega-3 fatty acids are polyunsaturated fats needed for their nutritional value. The fatty acids are not made by the body on its own which is why many medical professionals recommend adding sources of omega-3s to the diet. Sources of omega-3 fatty acids include:

  • Seafood
  • Seeds
  • Fish oil supplements.

The omega-3 fatty acids most nutritionists refer to are:

  • Docosahexaenoic acids (DHA)
  • Eicosapentaenoic acids (EPA)
  • Alpha-linolenic acids (ALA)

DHA and EPA are mainly found in seafood and ALA is found in plant based foods like seeds. ALA converts to DHA and EPA but the conversion rate is very low. Therefore, it’s best to consume DHA and EPA to receive the optimal benefits 7.

Find out how cod liver oil compared to omega-3 in my recent article, Cod Liver Oil vs Omega 3: Which Is Better? Let’s Compare.

Omega 3 Fatty Acids: How Much To Take Everyday

For EPA and DHA fatty acids, there is no standard daily recommendation for people aged one year or older. The omega-3s adequate intake recommendation from birth to 6 months is 0.5 grams and from 7 to 12 months is 0.5 grams.

The Table below contains the omega-3 recommendations by the National Academy of Medicine.

Age Group Male Female Pregnancy Lactation
*0-6 months 0.5 grams 0.5 grams    
*7-12 months 0.5 grams 0.5 grams    
**1-3 years 0.7 grams 0.7 grams    
**4-8 years 0.9 grams 0.9 grams    
**9-13 years 1.2 grams 1.0 grams    
**14-18 years 1.6 grams 1.1 grams 1.4 grams 1.3 grams
**19-50 years 1.6 grams 1.1 grams 1.4 grams 1.3 grams
**51+ years 1.6 grams 1.1 grams    
* Total omega-3s
** ALA only

The National Academy of Medicine (IOM), formerly called the Food and Nutrition Board of the Institute of Medicine, established the adequate recommendations for Omega-3 fatty acids 8.

They established adequate recommendations for EPA and DHA up to one year old and ALA recommendations from 1 year to adults.

The adequate recommendation for infants to one year old is equivalent to the mean intake of omega-3s in healthy, breastfed infants. They provide this recommendation because human milk provides all three omega-3s, ALA, DHA and EPA.

They only provide recommendations for ALA over one year old because ALA is the only omega-3 essential 9

I recently completed an article comparing krill oil and cod liver oil. Find out which one is better, costs more or had more mercury, Krill Oil Vs Cod Liver Oil – Which Is Better? Let’s Compare.

How To Determine The Correct Amount of Omega-3 Fatty Acids

There’s no official recommendation for how much DHA and EPA to take every day. Therefore, to determine how much DHA and EPA Omega-3 fatty acids to take:

  • Confer with a physician first.
  • Compare the dosage on a supplement bottle to the amount provided in a serving of whole fish.
  • Read the recommendations on the fish oil supplement bottle.

Additional tips about taking fish oil or cod liver oil:

  • Determine if the omega-3 fatty acids or Vitamins A and D are more important for you.
  • If omega-3 is more important the fish oil provides more.
  • If Vitamins A and D are more important, the cod liver oil may be a better choice.
  • Don’t take cod liver oil and fish oil supplements together.
  • Take Cod liver or fish oil with food to aid digestion and absorption of the oil.
  • Never discontinue medication for a fish oil supplement without conferring with a physician first.

Cod Liver Oil and Fish Oil Costs

Deciding on which oil to consume may involve more than determining whether omega-3s or vitamins are more important. With the rising costs of almost everything in the supermarkets, the cost is a likely factor.

Therefore, which costs more, cod liver oil or fish oil? Cod liver oil costs more than fish oil. The average cod liver oil price is $22.97 per 200 softgels and fish oil is $9.99 per 180 softgels.


  • Fish oil – Nature’s Bounty Brand (1,200 mg, 120 softgels)
    • $11.49
  • Cod Liver Oil – NOW Brand (1,000 mg, 180 Softgels)
    • $18.37


  • Fish Oil – Kirkland Brand (1,000 mg, 400 Softgels)
    • $12.99
  • Cod Liver Oil – NOW Brand (1,000 mg, 180 Softgels)
    • $22.99

Fish and cod liver oils are the easiest to locate. I typically can find more affordable prices and availability on Amazon, Check them out here, Fish Oils.

cod liver oil capsules

The Health Benefits of Cod Liver Oil and Fish Oil 

Aside from providing energy and making molecules, Omega-3 has many beneficial health benefits worth mentioning 10.

While cod liver oil and fish oil bring polyunsaturated fats to the table 11, combined with the other Omega-3s, fish oil can create healthier hair, skin, brain and vision. 

The following are health benefits of cod liver and fish oil:

Heart Healthy

Known to lower cholesterol and blood pressure, cod liver oil and fish oil may help keep your heart healthy and may prevent strokes, heart attacks and heart disease 12.

Along with that, fish oil is said to normalize blood flow and heart rate, making things easier on this vital organ. Plus it’s all done through the lowering of triglyceride levels. Triglycerides are the fats cells in the blood.

High levels of triglycerides are what can cause problems in the liver or heart.

Normal levels hover around 150 mg/dL or less, and fish oils supplements like cod liver oil (or the other resources of Omega-3) can help in keeping these levels at a healthy measure.

Essentially it helps clear out “bad” cholesterol while keeping or increasing the good cholesterol 13.


Like other Omega-3 rich foods, cod liver and fish oils have anti-inflammatory abilities. For this reason, taking fish oil supplements has been known to help prevent inflammation-related diseases like arthritis, diabetes and even some cancers 14.

Improved Circulation

Because Omega-3s are later converted into other helpful molecules, researchers believe the fatty acids help keep a body’s blood vessels strong, capable and flexible. This allows for better blood flow and improved circulation of oxygen 15.

Brain Capabilities

Anything with the Omega-3 levels found in fish oil can help build up and maintain brain cells. Brain cells are constantly being made and repaired by fatty acids. This can decrease the chance of getting cognitive degenerative diseases like Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s 16.

Eyes and Vision

Due to their omega-3s, fish oil can help prevent retina deterioration. If the intraocular pressure (the fluid pressure in the eye or IOP) is greater than the normal range of 12-22 mm/Hg, glaucoma could occur or will at least be a considerable risk 17.

With a diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids, eye problems can be less likely. They help keep that IOP at a healthy level. This is another fantastic reason to take fish oil supplements 18.

Cod Liver Oil and Fish Oil Side Effects

Cod liver oil and fish oil are considered safe, but there are some minor side effects. Therefore, a physician should be consulted with prior to taking any fish oil supplement.

Cod Liver oil and fish oil possible side effects include the following:

Bad Breath and Body Odor

The fish oils in the supplements can linger a while. This can result in bad breath lasting longer than is comfortable.

As for body odor, the supplements are made from pungent oils. Therefore, the fishy “grease” can stay in your system for quite some time and possibly increase the amount you sweat (but this does not happen often).

Digestive Issues

In rare cases, there have been those who suffered stomach cramps and digestive issues. In addition, some people have experienced heartburn and loose stool in response to the upset stomach.

Be cautious when taking fish oil and don’t take too much at a time. Following your physician’s recommendation, reading labels and suggested measurements carefully are beneficial with or without side effects.

Metal and Mercury Contamination

Some fish tend to contain high levels of mercury. Therefore, consequences of taking too much fish oil may exist.

The FDA and EPA established a list of fish to avoid, best fish and good choices based on their mercury levels. Cod, salmon, sardines, herring and menhaden are all listed on the best choice list of fish 19.

Be cautious of where you get your fish oil supplements. Though some very good companies sell fish and cod liver oil, there will always be companies cutting corners and rushing processes.

Definitely do your research and make sure to avoid inferior products. If you don’t choose a reputable company, the fish used to make the tablets may not have been cleaned properly or fished out of safe areas.


Allergies exist for many things including shellfish. Although having a shellfish allergy doesn’t automatically disqualify someone from taking fish oils, there may have been cross-contamination in the making and manufacturing process.

Labels and medical professionals could elaborate further on any additional inquiries.


In rare cases, fish oil supplements have been known to cause nose bleeds and “easy bleeding.” This means if you get a cut, the bleeding might have a hard time stopping. Although this is rare, it can be dangerous.

If this or any other concerns come up, it might be best to stop taking the supplements and speak to a physician.

Unhealthy levels of Vitamin A and D

More so with cod liver oil, unhealthy levels of both vitamins may exist. This is especially so if taking more than the recommended dosage of fish oil. Although this is often debated, it’s good to be aware of this and discuss it with a doctor.

In addition, fish oil may cause:

  • Nausea
  • Rash
  • Reduced vitamin E levels
  • Negative reactions with certain medications

Addition article resources 2021 22 23

Read Next Additional Fish Oil vs Fish Oil Articles!

Salmon Oil vs Fish Oil: Which Is Better?


Article Resources: Foods For Anti-Aging follows strict guidelines to ensure our content is the highest journalistic standard. It's our mission to provide the reader with accurate, honest and unbiased guidance. Our content relies on medical associations, research institutions, government agencies and study resources. Learn more by reading our editorial policy.
  1. Wikipedia: Cod-liver oil[]
  2. Wikipedia: Fish oil[]
  3. Nutrition Value: Fish oil, sardine[]
  4. Nutrition Value: Fish oil, menhaden[]
  5. Nutrition Value: Fish oil, cod liver[]
  6. Nutrition Value: Fish oil, herring[]
  7. National Institutes of Health: Omega-3 Fatty Acids[]
  8. USDA: What is the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for omega-3, 6 and 9?[]
  9. National Institutes of Health: Omega-3 Fatty Acids[]
  10. National Institutes of Health: Omega-3 Fatty Acids[]
  11. USDA: Fish oil, herring[]
  12. National Center for Biotechnology Information: Fish oil supplements, longevity and aging[]
  13. National Center for Biotechnology Information: Role of Cod Liver Oil in Reducing Elevated Lipid Parameters[]
  14. National Center for Biotechnology Information: Cod liver oil (n-3 fatty acids) as an non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug sparing agent in rheumatoid arthritis[]
  15. National Center for Biotechnology: Marine Omega-3 Supplementation and Cardiovascular Disease[]
  16. National Institute of Health: Omega-3 Fatty Acids[]
  17. National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health: Omega-3 Supplements: In Depth[]
  18. National Center for Biotechnology Information: Cod liver oil: a potential protective supplement for human glaucoma[]
  19. FDA: Advice about Eating Fish[]
  20. National Center for Biotechnology Information: Cod Liver Oil Supplement Consumption and Health: Cross-sectional Results from the EPIC-Norfolk Cohort Study[]
  21. National Center for Biotechnology Information: Mother Was Right About Cod Liver Oil[]
  22. National Center for Biotechnology Information: Role of Cod Liver Oil in Preventing Myocardial Infarction[]
  23. National Center for Biotechnology Information: Fish, Fish Oils and Cardioprotection: Promise or Fish Tale?[]

Kevin Garce

Kevin Garce is a Certified Health Coach who encourages people by informing them on nutrition and food topics important to them. His years of research and knowledge inspire people to achieve their goals. Read more here About Me

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