Cod Liver Oil vs Omega 3: Which Is Better? Let’s Compare


Cod liver oil and omega-3 are two popular fish oil supplements people like to use. For this reason many people wonder which one is better. Let’s answer, which is better cod liver oil or omega 3?

Omega 3 is better than cod liver oil for omega-3 fatty acid intake due to its higher concentration of omega-3 fatty acids. If vitamins A and D are more desired then cod liver oil is better due to its combination of vitamins A and D and omega-3 fatty acids.

This article will take a closer look at the two and compare their nutrients, costs, benefits, mercury levels and side effects.

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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 Omega-3

Many people wonder if there is a difference between the fish oil supplements available on the market. It’s no different when discussing cod liver oil and omega-3. Let’s answer, what is the difference between omega 3 and cod liver oil?

Cod liver oil is extracted from the livers of cod fish and omega 3 is extracted from the flesh of fatty fish like sardines, anchovies, sardines, menhaden, herring, mackerel and tuna. Omega 3 contains more fatty acids, calories, total fats and cholesterol than cod liver oil. Cod liver oil contains more vitamins A and D.

Let’s take a closer look at each supplement separately.

What is cod liver oil?

Cod liver oil is extracted from the livers of cod fish instead of their flesh due to the higher concentration of fatty acids in the liver. 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.

The flesh of a cod fish is lean compared to other fatty fish. The liver of a cod fish is larger than a typical fish and is where the fish’s fatty acids are located. Since the oil is extracted from the liver, it’s also a source of the vitamins A and D.

Cod liver oil supplements are manufactured as a liquid or soft gels. The liquid is taken using a spoon and the soft gels are swallowed orally like any other pill or capsule.

Check Amazon for the current prices of cod liver oil, cod liver oil.

cod liver oil soft gels
Cod Liver Oil Soft Gels

What is omega 3?

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

The amount of omega-3s contained in the supplement vary from the manufacturer. The flesh of fatty fish is where most of their omega-3 fatty acids are located.

Omega 3 supplements are manufactured as a soft gel or in liquid form. The liquid omega-3 is taken using a spoon and the soft gels are taken orally. A high percentage of the fatty acids come from the DHA and EPA.

Check Amazon for the current prices of omega-3, omega-3.

Cod Liver Oil vs Omega 3: Nutrient Comparison

The following table compares the nutrients contained in cod liver oil and typical fish oils used for omega-3 supplements:

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 2 3 4 5 6 7

Due to its less healthy fat, cod liver oil contains less calories, total fat, saturated fat and cholesterol than the other omega-3 fish oils. For people consuming omega-3 rich fish, cod liver oil may be the better choice.

For people who aren’t consuming fish or omega-3s from another source, an omega-3 supplement or fish oil may be the better choice. Keep reading the section below to find out how to determine how much omega-3 fatty acids should be consumed.

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.

Cod Liver Oil and Omega-3 Costs

Deciding on which oil to consume may involve more than determining whether vitamins or omega-3s 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 omega 3?

Omega-3 costs more than cod liver oil. The average cod liver oil price is $20.68 per 180 softgels and omega-3 is $26.55 per 180 softgels.

I checked the following two stores for the prices of each and found the following results.

Walmart

  • Ultra Omega-3 – NOW Brand (500 EPA/250 DHA, 180 Softgels)
    • $30.79
  • Cod Liver Oil – NOW Brand (1,000 mg, 180 Softgels)
    • $18.37

Costco

  • Omega-3 – Trunature Brand (900 mg, 200 Softgels)
    • $24.99
  • Cod Liver Oil – NOW Brand (1,000 mg, 180 Softgels)
    • $22.99

Omega-3 and cod liver oils are easy to locate. I typically can find more affordable prices and availability on Amazon, Check them on Amazon and the current prices here, Fish Oils.

omega 3 supplement softgels
Omega-3 Softgels

Cod Liver Oil and Omega-3 Mercury Levels

The FDA and EPA have issued warnings and suggestions regarding mercury levels in fish and how often they should be consumed 8. This is especially important for the following:

  • Developing children
  • Young infants
  • Pregnant women

They established a list of the following:

  • Fish to avoid
  • Good choices
  • Best fish

Since mercury is so important, knowing which contains more is crucial. Therefore, does cod liver oil or omega-3 have more mercury?

Cod liver oil and omega-3 have similar levels of mercury. Cod fish and most of the fish used for omega-3 are listed on the FDA’s best choices of fish regarding mercury levels. 

Cod, anchovy, sardines, shrimp, herring, some mackerel and tuna are all on the best choice list.

If you’re pregnant, breast feeding or has a young child, Always check with a physician prior to eating new foods or changing your dietary habits.

Mercury warnings can change over time or affect only a particular area or state. Please check with your local EPA and FDA for the current recommendations 9.

I recently completed an article comparing cod liver oil and fish oil. Find out which costs more or had more mercury among other things, Cod Liver Oil vs Fish Oil: What’s The Difference? We Compare.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids in Omega-3 and Cod Liver oil

The omega-3 fatty acids provided by omega-3 and cod liver oil help provide the many benefits listed below. Fatty acids are not made by the body which is why many medical professionals and nutritionists recommend adding omega-3 sources to the diet.

Sources of omega-3 fatty acids include:

      • Fish (seafood)
      • Fish oil supplements like krill oil and cod liver oil
      • Seeds

The three common omega-3 fatty acids often referred to include:

      • 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 10.

Find out how krill oil compared to cod liver oil in my recent article, Krill Oil vs Cod Liver Oil – Which Is Better? Let’s Compare.

How To Determine The Correct Amount of Omega-3 and Cod Liver Oil

There’s no official recommendation for how much DHA and EPA omega-3 to take every day for those aged over one year old. 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 krill oil and cod liver oil supplement bottle.

The Table below contains the omega-3 DHA and EPA recommendations under one year old. In addition, ALA recommendations over one year old. These recommendations are from 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 11.

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 12.

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

The Health Benefits of Cod Liver Oil and Omega-3

The health benefits of cod liver oil and omega-3 include the following:

Heart Health

Heart health may be the most important benefit of cod liver oil and omega-3. They may help keep the heart healthy by preventing the following:

      • High cholesterol
      • High blood pressure
      • Stroke
      • Heart attacks
      • Heart disease

The fish oil helps to accomplish this by the following:

      • Lowering blood pressure.
      • Increasing good cholesterol and lowering bad cholesterol.
      • Lowering the fat cells in the blood (triglycerides).
      • Improving blood vessel function.

A study just released in 2021 examined the effect of cod liver oil on cholesterol. 600 people were split into two groups, one group receiving cod liver oil and the other group a placebo. The oil group lowered total cholesterol almost 20 more than the placebo group.

The LDL cholesterol also lowered approximately 6-7 more than the placebo group. The researchers indicated cod liver oil lowered cholesterol. However, in all cases, lifestyle changes should be the first treatment 13.

Addition research examined over 34 previous studies which included 1,356 people. It was found the omega-3s in fish oil lowered both systolic and diastolic blood pressure. The researchers found a larger reduction in people with high blood pressure 14.

Improved Blood Circulation

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.

Reducing Inflammation

Cod liver oil and omega-3s 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 16.

Eye Health and Improved Vision

Cod liver oil and omega-3 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 cod liver oil or omega-3 supplements 18.

Cognitive Issues

Anything with the Omega-3 and the levels found in cod liver 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 cognitive degenerative diseases like Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s 19.

Side Effects of Cod Liver Oil or Omega-3

Cod liver oil and omega-3 fatty acids are considered safe. Some minor side effects is why a physician should always be consulted with prior to taking any fish oil supplement. Cod liver oil and Omega-3 side effects may include the following:

      • Digestion issues
      • Bad breath or body odor
      • Allergies
      • Excessive levels of vitamins A or D
      • Easy bleeding

Addition article resources 2021 22 23 24

Read Next Additional Fish Oil vs Fish Oil Articles!

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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.
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  2. Nutrition Value: Fish oil, sardine[]
  3. Nutrition Value: Fish oil, menhaden[]
  4. Nutrition Value: Fish oil, cod liver[]
  5. Nutrition Value: Fish oil, herring[]
  6. USDA: Omega-3[]
  7. USDA: Fish Oil[]
  8. FDA: Advice about Eating Fish[]
  9. National Center for Biotechnology Information: Mercury accumulation in largemouth bass (Micropterus salmoides) in a Florida lake[]
  10. National Institutes of Health: Omega-3 Fatty Acids[]
  11. USDA: What is the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for omega-3, 6 and 9?[]
  12. National Institutes of Health: Omega-3 Fatty Acids[]
  13. National Center for Biotechnology Information: Role of Cod Liver Oil in Reducing Elevated Lipid Parameters[]
  14. Circulation: Does fish oil lower blood pressure? A meta-analysis of controlled trials[]
  15. National Center for Biotechnology: Marine Omega-3 Supplementation and Cardiovascular Disease[]
  16. National Center for Biotechnology Information: Cod liver oil (n-3 fatty acids) as an non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug sparing agent in rheumatoid arthritis[]
  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. National Institute of Health: Omega-3 Fatty Acids[]
  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?[]
  24. Wikipedia: Omega-3 fatty acid[]

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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