As its name indicates, cod liver oil is an oil extracted from the liver of a cod. This natural substance is praised for being a rich source of omega-3 fatty acids, which research indicates may help lower blood pressure and reduce inflammation. The most common acids found in cod liver oil are eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), which has shown to reduce incidence of cardiovascular disorders, and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). (1)
According to Adventures in Nutrition, DHA offers a greater reduction in triglycerides and a greater increase in HDL cholesterol (the good kind. LDL is the bad kind). (2). Additionally, cod liver oil is typically a pretty reliable source of Vitamin A and Vitamin D. There are many options of cod liver oil available on the market, and the oil is typically sold either in liquid oil or encapsulated form. We took a peek under the hood of some of the best cod liver oil available, and compared them.
The Best Cod Fish Liver Oils
- Best Overall Cod Liver Oil: Carlson Cod Liver Oil
- Best for Omega-3s: Nordic Naturals’ Cod Liver Oil
- Best For Vitamins: Olde World Icelandic Cod Liver Oil
- Best Capsules: Carlson Cod Liver Oil Capsules
Editor’s note: The content on BarBend is meant to be informative in nature, but it should not be taken as medical advice. The opinions and articles on this site are not intended for use as diagnosis, prevention, and/or treatment of health problems. It’s always a good idea to talk to your doctor before beginning a new fitness, nutritional, and/or supplement routine. Individual needs for vitamins and minerals will vary.
Best Cod Liver Oils
Knowing the vitamin and omega-3 breakdown of the cod liver oils under consideration are important, but it is also good to know the source (where the fish are from). On top of that, having some grasp on the kind of extraction process (and when it happens) is also valuable information. For example, the fresher the fish the better when extracting the oils used in these products.
Best Overall Cod Liver Oil
Each 1 teaspoon serving of Carlson Cod Liver Oil contains 1,100mg omega-3 fatty acids, making it one of the richest sources of these fatty acids available on the market. It uses Arctic cod caught off the coast of Norway and extracts the oil from fresh fish on the day its caught.
Using Arctic cod caught off the coast of Norway, Carlson Cod Liver Oil offers a rich source of omega-3 fatty acids at a reasonable price. Carlson takes pride in its natural lemon flavor, intended to cut down on the fishy taste sometimes associated with cod liver oil.
Although some of the vitamin content comes from synthetic sources, the use a natural lemon flavor to mask the fishy taste typically associated with cod liver oil helps put Carlson’s on top of our list.
Who Should Take Carlson Cod Liver Oil?
- People who value oil extraction from freshly caught fish.
- Those seeking a rich omega-3 option.
Who Shouldn’t Take Carlson Cod Liver Oil?
- Anyone seeking a fully natural source of vitamins.
- Those who won’t appreciate the strong lemon flavor.
It was a tough choice between Carlson’s and our next pick, but Carlson’s just hit on too well with our criteria to place it anywhere else.
Best for Omega-3s
A teaspoon of serving of Nordic Naturals’ Cod Liver Oil contains 1060mg of omega-3 fatty acids, which is pretty substantial. They use wild caught fish off of Norway’s coast in a manner that they claim, “maintains the sustainability of the ocean’s ecosystem.” Supporting the health of the environment is a nice benefit when it does not demote the quality of the product, which is safe to say of this non-GMO verified, third party purity tested oil.
Nordic Naturals offers a plentiful source of omega-3 fatty acids while using natural orange flavors to disguise any fishy taste. The manufacturer touts their process for catching wild fish in a sustainable and responsible fashion off the coast of Norway.
The only thing that might be pause for consideration is the lack of vitamin D and being a bit pricier than competitors on a cost per serving basis. However, the natural orange flavoring used to cover some of the fishy taste is a nice touch and all-in-all, Nordic Natural’s is worthy of a high spot on our list.
Who Should Take Nordic Naturals’ Cod Liver Oil?
- People seeking a strong Omega-3 suppliment.
- Customers who value environmental sustainability when making purchases.
Who Shouldn’t Take Nordic Naturals’ Cod Liver Oil?
- Those who prefer having Vitamin D in their cod liver oil supplements.
- Anyone opposed to orange flavor.
No one would second guess if you chose to go with Nordic’s Naturals over Carlson’s as it will likely come down to flavor preference of the aftertaste if Vitamin D isn’t a high demand.
Best for Vitamins
Each serving of Olde World Icelandic Cod Liver Oil contains 5,000 IU of Vitamin A, 200 IU of Vitamin D, and 962mg of fatty acids — pretty high stats for a big player in the market. The natural lemon and peppermint essence they add gives this cod liver oil a unique minty lemon taste which has a freshness factor to it. In addition to being a tasty option, and a vitamin packed contender, Olde World Icelandic is actually a bit cheaper than some competitors out there on a cost per serving basis.
Garden of Life offers a lemon mint flavored cod liver oil at a very competitive price point. Using Icelandic cod and “traditional” methods of extraction, each serving of Olde World Icelandic Cod Liver Oil contains 962mg of omega-3 fatty acids.
The only major knock is the minimal information available about the sourcing of the cod and the process used for oil extraction. With other options being a tad more transparent with that, they get the bump on the list. However, this is certainly an option to consider, especially if vitamin D is of a higher priority.
Who Should Take Olde World Icelandic Cod Liver Oil?
- Those who want a strong combination of Vitamin A, Vitamin D, and fatty acids.
- Folks who appreciate a fresh peppermint taste.
- Anyone looking to protect their wallet.
Who Shouldn’t Take Olde World Icelandic Cod Liver Oil?
- Customers who want to know where companies are sourcing their products.
- Customers that appreciate knowing the extraction process used to obtain the oil.
The big knock against Olde World Icelandic is the lack of sourcing transparency when compared to the other options. Based on the price tag versus the rest of the market, if they were to offer up that information and it’s on par with the rest of the field, it could very possibly ascend to our top pick.
Carlson claimed our top pick for oil and also earned the pick for best capsule. Each serving of Carlson Cod Liver Oil Capsules contains a good amount of what to look for in an effective oil — 460mg of omega-3 fatty acids, including 170mg of EPA and 200mg of DHA. In addition, they also include small amounts of vitamin A and vitamin D (which comes directly from the cod liver oil), as well a sythetic vitamin E. The softgels have a slightly lemon flavor and can be chewed or swallowed. Luckily for those not a fan of that fishy flavor, these capsules are designed not to leave behind a fishy aftertaste. We know the sourcing is consistent — fresh caught off the coast of Norway.
Not everyone enjoys swallowing fish oil in its liquid form. For those who prefer capsules, consider the offering from Carlson. Nutritionally, these are a bit lower in omega-3 fatty acids compared to some of the liquid options, but still provide 460mg of omega-3 fatty acids per serving.
The only real downside we can find is that each serving is two capsules instead of one, so for people who don’t particularly like chewing or swallowing capsules or other dietary supplements, this may be an annoyance. Overall, the pros heavily outweigh the cons and the choice for best capsule was well earned.
Who Should Take Carlson Cod Liver Oil Capsules?
- People who prefer to consume their cod liver oil via capsule as opposed to drip.
- Customers who prioritize consistent and transparent sourcing.
- Folks who appreciate the design to quell fishy aftertaste.
Who Shouldn’t Take Carlson Cod Liver Oil Capsules?
- Customers who want only natural vitamins.
- Customers that appreciate knowing the extraction process used to obtain the oil.
Ultimately, if the choice is capsule form or bust, then this is likely a best bet. Considering the way Carlson’s fish oil is transparently sourced, one of knocks against the capsules could be removed if the process is the same for them.
Benefits of Cod Liver Oil
There are many benefits to different types of fish oil, whether it be cod, krill, or others. For cod liver oil in particular, evidence shows that it is effective at lowering blood glucose, lipid levels, hs-CRP, HOMA-IR, and the incidence of perinatal complications. (3)
A study in the Nutrients determined that participants, who had prevalent heart attack or stroke, were less likely to report using cod liver oil supplements. (4) It is not all upside all the time though, as the same study found that self-reported arthritis was associated with increased cod liver oil use. The best way to avoid any self-inflicted risk is to discuss any supplementation with your physician prior to consuming any supplements that could have adverse effects.
How We Decided Our Picks
There are a few key features to consider when looking at cod liver oil. While the core of each offering is similar, there are distinctions in dosage, sourcing, and other areas. Consider some of these factors before adding any cod liver oil to your cart.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
There are two main sources of omega-3 fatty acids found in cod liver oil: eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). Keep an eye out for these two ingredients, typically broken down under Omega-3 Fatty Acids, or a similar labeling. Some brands will stack their cod liver oil with other omega 3s, beefing up their total omega-3 fatty acids while skimping on these two key ingredients.
Some cod liver oil supplements have been found to have heavy metals in them. It may be wise to consider if a particular product has been third-party tested.
Fish oils have a bit of a reputation for a fishy, less than pleasant taste. Many manufacturers attempt to mask that fishiness with natural flavoring, often utilizing mint or citrus.
Vitamin A and Vitamin D
Most cod liver oils include some combination of Vitamin A and D. While these two vitamins are naturally found in cod liver oil, it’s important to note that some manufacturers will bolster the levels of these vitamins in their recipes by adding synthetic ingredients.
The two most common forms of cod liver oil are liquid and capsule form. Ultimately, this comes down largely to personal preference, though it’s worth noting that most liquid forms have higher dosage rates per serving than capsules.
Take a look at the label and figure out how many servings per container are listed. Then, to get a comparison on cost per serving, divide the total cost by the amount of servings in a given container.
What to Consider Before Buying
If you are doing the proper research on which cod liver oil to buy then you may already be ahead of the game here. Aside from checking in with your physician about any supplements to take, here are some considerations to take into account before making a purchase.
Is It Best For Your Needs?
Reiterating that discussing what supplementation would most benefit you with your physician again because the combination of vitamins and omega-3s in cod liver oil can be great assuming it is the proper amount you need. If you are low on vitamin D, certain cod liver oils can deliver some of that to you, but potentially not at the potency you need.
Comparing what vitamin breakdown you desire with the content of a particular cod liver oil seems obvious, but it can be difficult to stick to that with all the marketing and other benefits that sound great upon review. Cod liver oils aren’t going anywhere and you can come back around if it is something that you would like to add to your daily vitamin stack. Double check before clicking the purchase button that what you are buying is actually what you need in terms of vitamin breakdown, since these oils are not often not delicate on wallets.
This nods again to your daily vitamin breakdown, but something worth noting. If you follow or plan to follow a particular diet that gives you the physician recommended amount of a particular vitamin, it may be best not to add supplementation on top of it. For example, if your current or future diet is supplying you with a sufficient amount of vitamin D, perhaps the cod liver oil options that don’t add any or add only negligible amounts of vitamin D are the smarter options.
It’s wise to consult a medical professional before adding cod liver oil to any health regimen. If cod liver oil is right, it’s wise to take the same amount at the same time everyday and to keep track of what type of effect it has and adjust accordingly as prescribed by a professional.
Folks in certain parts of the world have been relying on cod liver oil for centuries as a way to bolster omega-3s and vitamin intake. Today, there are a host of cod liver oil options widely available, so we hope this list makes it easier to choose the best option for you.
What is cod liver oil good for?
Cod liver oil is a rich source of omega-3 fatty acids, which may help with blood pressure health and regulating inflammation. Additionally, cod liver oil is a good natural source of Vitamin A and Vitamin D.
What are the side effects of taking cod liver oil?
Cod liver oil could result in the dreaded fish burps. Depending on each person’s diet and digestion system, these vary widely in frequency and severity.
Is cod liver oil good for hair growth?
There’s no evidence that suggests cod liver oil will help grow your hair back. It does, however, contain fatty acids which some research suggests may help keep skin moist.
When is the best time to take cod liver oil?
There’s no hard and fast rule about when to take cod liver oil. Some folks prefer taking it around the time of a meal, as some folks feel faint after taking a supplement on an empty stomach.
- National Library of Medicine. PubChem CID: 446284.
- Caroline Richard. Docosahexaenoic Acid. (2016) Advances in Nutrition. doi: 10.3945/an.116.012963.
- Shuli Yang, et al. Cod-Liver Oil Improves Metabolic Indices and hs-CRP Levels in Gestational Diabetes Mellitus Patients: A Double-Blind Randomized Controlled Trial. (2019). Journal of Diabetes Research. doi: 10.1155/2019/7074042.
- Marleen A.H. Lentjes, et al. Cod Liver Oil Supplement Consumption and Health: Cross-sectional Results from the EPIC-Norfolk Cohort Study. (2014). Nutrients. doi: 10.3390/nu6104320.