Updated February 2022
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Buying guide for best cod liver oil

You may have heard your grandparents or parents talk about how they took cod liver oil as children. This traditional health remedy has been around for centuries, especially in northern European societies, to support the immune system in the dark winter months.

Cod liver oil is coming back into fashion in the health and wellness world, and for good reason. This fish oil supplement derived from, yes, the livers of codfish, not only contains the some of the best sources of omega-3 fatty acids but is also an excellent source of vitamins A and D, which can be lacking in today’s diet and lifestyle.

What is the best cod liver oil for you? When it comes to supplements, we want you to make safe consumer choices. Unfortunately, many fish oils contain unwanted ingredients or are rancid! To understand more about this nutrient-dense supplement, read our guide below. If you’re chomping at the bit to get started on a cod liver oil regimen, check out our recommended products.

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Ancient Vikings produced cod liver oil by laying the livers on branches over a kettle of boiling water. The steam caused the oil from the livers to drip down to be later skimmed off for consumption.

Key considerations

Why take cod liver oil?

If you’re not salivating at the thought of eating the actual livers of Gadhus morhua (codfish), taking a daily supplement of cod liver oil can give you the same health-promoting components.

  • Omega-3 fatty acids: Cod liver oil contains two beneficial omega-3 fatty acids: eicosapentaenoic acid, also known as EPA, and docosahexaenoic acid, also known as DHA.

    The standard American diet is notoriously low in these anti-inflammatory fatty acids. The overconsumption of omega-6 fatty acids in processed, fried, and junk foods unbalances the healthy ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acids, which can lead to disease-causing inflammation. Regularly taking an omega-3 supplement, such as cod liver oil, helps lower inflammation and has other much-studied benefits, such as improved heart health and mental health, as well as alleviating a host of health issues, such as arthritis pain.

  • Vitamin A: One teaspoon of cod liver oil contains 90% of your recommended daily allowance of vitamin A, depending on the brand. Vitamin A is a key antioxidant that is vital for your vision (especially beneficial if you have issues with night vision) and plays a role in hormone production. It’s important to avoid fish oil supplements with added synthetic vitamin A to avoid toxicity.

  • Vitamin D: Almost everyone knows that taking vitamin D is vital if you don’t get enough sunshine in your life. Let’s face it, most of us have an indoor lifestyle and could use a dose of the sunshine vitamin. Cod liver oil is an excellent natural source of vitamin D. In fact, it used to be given to children to prevent rickets, caused by extreme vitamin D deficiency. Vitamin D is great for your bones and immune system, and it potentially lowers the risk of developing certain diseases. Some health experts insist that taking vitamin D in a natural food source (like cod liver oil) along with omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin A is the most synergistic and safest way to absorb these vitamins.
"Cod liver oil may heal ulcers in the stomach or gut."

Cod liver oil features


Cod liver oil comes in two forms: softgels or liquid.

  • Liquid cod liver oil comes in a bottle and can be taken alone or mixed into juice or a smoothie. If you have a hard time swallowing pills, a liquid is preferable, though it has a fishy taste. Liquids tend to have more vitamin A and D per serving compared to softgels. They also contain a much higher omega-3 profile of both DHA and EPA. Some liquid cod liver oil must be refrigerated after opening.

    Price: Liquid cod liver oil has a slightly higher starting price than softgels, at $20. Most liquids fall into the $30 to $40 range and come in bottles of 8 to 17 ounces, with a typical serving size of one to two teaspoons.

  • Softgels have virtually no taste, which is a huge bonus for many. They also don’t need to be refrigerated after opening the way some liquid forms do.

    Price: Softgels tend to be less expensive than liquids, ranging from $10 to $20. However, softgels made with special extraction and processing methods (like fermentation) can cost $30 to $50. Depending on the manufacturer, each bottle contains 90 to 250, with a daily dose of one to three softgels.


Cod liver oil is known for its gag-reflex-inducing taste. Even softgels can cause embarrassing “fishy” burps. That’s why many brands add a taste-masking flavor like orange, lemon, or mint to their formulas. Choose one that contains natural flavor extracts rather than flavor enhancers or taste and odor removers.


Some manufacturers ferment the codfish livers before processing them into oil. There is recent controversy about the efficacy and safety of fermented cod liver oil. Makers of fermented CLO claim that the distillation process to make regular cod liver oil removes most of the vitamins, which are then just added back in synthetic form, something that doesn’t occur during the fermentation processing of the oil.

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Did you know?
One teaspoon of cod liver oil contains 41 calories and 4.5 grams of fat (split between monounsaturated, polysaturated, and polyunsaturated fats).


  • Look for a brand that contains astaxanthin. This antioxidant helps prevent the oil from turning rancid.

  • Try mixing liquid cod liver oil in other food. To make liquid cod liver oil more palatable, try mixing it in a small amount of lemon water, juice, smoothie, applesauce, or yogurt.

  • Refrigerate or store liquid cod liver oil in a cool, dark place after opening.

  • Spend more for a quality product. Quality matters when it comes to cod liver oil. Consider spending more to cut out harmful contaminants and synthetic ingredients that may affect your health in the long run.

Other products we considered

For fish oil nerds, the processing of cod liver oil is a hotly debated topic. Without delving deep into it, we like these alternatives to regularly distilled cod liver oil. For consumers looking for a fermented cod liver oil, Green Pasture Blue Ice Fermented Cod Liver Oil is considered the gold standard. Devotees love the improvement of longtime skin and teeth issues and claim the fermentation process makes vitamins more bioavailable. Another specialty cod liver oil is Rosita Extra Virgin Cod Liver Oil Softgels produced by a Norwegian family dedicated to sustainable fishing. This product uses ancient extraction methods, without heat or chemicals, for some of the purest and most reputable cod liver oil on the market. We also love that it meets European regulations for contaminants, some of the strictest on the planet!

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The vitamin D content of cod liver oil supports the building of strong bones and helps prevent osteoporosis.


Q. My doctor recommended that I take fish oil. Is cod liver oil different from fish oil?

A. Fish oils are similar to cod liver oils in their omega-3 profile, so if that’s why your doctor is recommending fish oil, either will do. However, the two differ in the part of the fish used. Fish oils are from the flesh of tuna, cod, and other deep-sea fish, whereas cod liver oil is only derived from the livers of codfish. Cod liver oil has the added benefit of containing bioavailable vitamins D and A, whereas regular fish oil contains little of these. As always, consult with your doctor or healthcare practitioner before starting a supplement.

Q. What are the potential side effects of taking cod liver oil?

A. Cod liver oil can act like a blood thinner. Before starting a cod liver oil regimen, definitely talk to your doctor if you’re already taking blood thinners or high blood pressure medicine or are pregnant or asthmatic. Other minor side effects can be fishy belching (not harmful to your health), nausea, heartburn, bloody stool, and low blood pressure. Also, consider monitoring your vitamin A and D levels while taking cod liver oil to avoid toxicity.

Q. What’s the difference between Alaskan, Nordic, and Icelandic cod that you see on cod liver oil labels?

A. In short, cod is cod. Its nationality doesn’t matter to us, and it shouldn’t be a factor in your health. If you’re environmentally minded, however, most cod liver oil is derived from Atlantic cod, which once was plentiful but now is overfished. If this is troubling to you, you might want to consider taking a fish oil supplement that’s sourced from anchovies, mackerel, or sardines.

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