In searching for the best DHA product for my own 22 month old daughter, I realized the sheer amount of products on the market, and that they vary greatly. I decided to do a DHA review of companies willing to participate, chiefly to decide on which to give my own baby, but to share with you as well!
I set out to review the following:
Nordic Naturals Omega 3 Gummies
Nordic Naturals Children's DHA liquid
Nordic Naturals Children's DHA chewable softgels
Child Life DHA
Barleans Kids DHA
Oceans Kids Garden of Life DHA Chewables
Carlson Kids Chewable DHA
Spectrum Children's DHA
Dr. Sears DHA
Dr. Greene's TwinLab DHA
The companies that responded included Nordic Naturals, Smartypants, ChildLife Essentials, and Barlean's.
My overview (in no particular order):
For each brand, I give a link to their site (above), a break down of the products I reviewed, and at bottom more information about each company. For each product, I list the information printed on the package, the ingredients, nutrition information, cost (from Amazon), and my thoughts on the product. I gave each to my 22 month old daughter and tried them myself, so that I could give her impression and my feedback.
Nordic Naturals -
Baby's DHA - liquid with vitamin D3; 2 fluid ounces/60 mls; suggested use: 1-4 mls daily, with food (5-10 lb: 1ml; 11-20 lb: 2 mls; 21-25 lb: 3 mls; 26-35 lb: 4 mls); nutrition info (per 4 mls): 36 calories, 340-1200 I.U. vitamin A, 250 I.U. vitamin D3, 5 I.U. vitamin E, 988 mg total omega-3s (328 mg EPA, 480 mg DHA, 180 mg other), 480 mg omega-9; ingredients: purified arctic cod liver oil, rosemary extract, d-alpha tocopherol, vitamin D3; no gluten, milk, artificial colors or flavors; $13.55 for 60 mls or $0.68 per serving.
I squirted 1 ml into my daughter's mouth, and she opened for more. I proceeded to squirt 2 more mls (the total RDA) in and she happily took them down. I then tried it - yuck! Tastes very fishy. But, it is meant to be taken with food, which would mask the flavor.
Nordic Omega-3 Gummies Tangerine Treats - with purified fish oil for children 2 years and up; 3 gram gummies; serving size: 2 gummies; nutrition information per 2 gummies: 20 calories, 4 g carbohydrates (3 g sugars), 10 mg sodium, 82 mg omega-3s: (41 mg EPA, 27 mg DHA, 14 mg other); ingredients: organic tapioca syrup, organic evaporated cane juice, fish oil (from anchovies and sardines), porcine gelatin, pectin, citric acid, natural flavor and color, sodium citrate, organic sucrose crystals, fumaric acid; no gluten, milk, artificial colors or flavors; $33.96 for 120 or $0.57/serving.
We each had one - very tasty. Like gummy candy. She wanted more!
Ultimate Omega Junior - great tasting chew or swallow soft gels, great strawberry taste, for ages five through teens; 500 mg; serving size: 2 soft gels; nutrition information per 2 soft gels: 9 calories, 1 g fat, 15 I.U. vitamin E, 640 mg omega-3's (325 mg EPA, 225 mg DHA, 90 mg other), 28 mg omega-9; ingredients: purified deep sea fish oil (from anchovies and sardines), soft gel capsule (gelatin, water, glycerin, natural strawberry flavor), natural strawberry flavor, d-alpha tocopherol, rosemary extract; no gluten, milk, artificial colors or flavors (possible soy); $24.36 for 90 or $0.54/serving.
We each tried one (chewing, not swallowing). I bit down, and the oil squirted out of the capsule into my mouth - pleasant neutral taste (slightly strawberry-flavored). I swallowed the oil, but was left with the rather thick capsule. I just spit it out. She happily chewed away, enjoying (and eventually swallowing) the capsule as well.
Note: Nordic Naturals also makes a Children's DHA (liquid, just like the Baby's DHA) but it is 8 ounces or 240 mls (although in the photo on Amazon it appears the bottle says 220 mls). It costs $21.21, and the recommended serving is 2.5 mls, which comes to only $0.22 - $0.24/serving - the best bang for your buck! I found this review on Amazon:
The label for the infant's DHA lists the amount of DHA and EPA per 4 ml (a serving size is 1 to 4 ml). The Children's DHA lists a serving size as 2.5 ml. When you correct you are getting the same amount of DHA and EPA per serving. But you get 8 ounces here as compared to 2 ounces. For way less than 4 times as much. What you are not getting is the higher levels of D3 in the infant. This one also has a strawberry taste that the infant does not. So if you are buying this for DHA and EPA, this is a much better per ounce price.
I did look up the nutrition info - per 2.5 mls: 23 calories, 2.5 g fat (0.5 g saturated), 7 mg cholesterol, 2123 - 750 I.U. vitamin A, 0-10 I.U. vitamin D, 15 I.U. vitamin E, 631 mg omega-3s (205 mg EPA, 313 mg DHA, 113 mg other), 300 mg omega-9; ingredients: purified arctic cod liver oil, d-alpha tocopherol, natural strawberry flavor, rosemary extract; no gluten, milk, artificial colors or flavors.
As a bonus, they are a LEED certified facility - one more plus in my book! AND they are philanthropic partners with nine organizations, from an animal sanctuary to a food bank. How cool is that?
Other N.N. kids' products include: Omega-3 stix, Children's DHA (liquid and soft gels), Omega 3-6-9 (with or without D) Junior, Ultimate Omega Junior, Nordic Omega-3 Fishies and Gummy Worms, Nordic Berries.
Barlean's Omega Kids DHA- fruit punch flavored liquid, with vitamin D3; 8 fluid ounces/236 mls; suggested use: for kids from two through teens, take 1/2 teaspoon daily with a meal; nutrition information (per 1/2 teaspoon): 20 calories, 2.5 g fat (0.5 g saturated), 0-1143 IU vitamin A, 325 IU vitamin D, 3 IU vitamin E, 200 mg EPA, 275 mg DHA, 120 mg other omega-3, 40 mg linoleic acid, 35 mg other omega-6, 270 mg oleic acid, 220 mg other omega-9; ingredients: pure and pristine, molecularly distilled, pharmaceutical grade cod liver oil (harvested from deep-sea, cold water Norwegian cod), natural fruit flavorings, rosemary extract, ascorbyl palmitate, ascorbic acid, soy lecithin, sunflower lecithin, d-alpha tocopherol, vitamin D3; contains soy; $18.36 for 236 mls or $0.20 per serving.
I put 1/2 teaspoon of the liquid in a measuring spoon and gave it to my daughter. She swallowed it happily, but didn't want more. I tried it myself - ugh! Fishy. Very slight fruit punch flavor, but hardly noticeable. Would recommend mixing with food as suggested.
Barlean's Omega Kids Swirl - lemonade flavored liquid; 8 fluid ounces/227 mls; suggested use: for kids from two through teens take 1 teaspoon daily, straight or with food or drink; nutrition information (per 1 teaspoon): 20 calories, 1.5 g fat (0.5 g saturated), 5 mg cholesterol, 2 g carbs (0 sugar),170 IU vitamin A, 2 IU vitamin E, 180 mg EPA, 180 mg DHA, 13 mg LNA, 140 mg other omega-3, 50 mg linoleic acid, 50 mg other omega-6, 345 mg oleic acid, 70 mg other omega-9; ingredients: purified fish oil (salmon and/or cod liver), water, xylitol, glycerine, gum arabic, natural flavors, citric acid, xanthan gum, guar gum, turmeric, vitamin E and ascorbyl palmitate; $11.19 for 227 mls or $0.26 per serving.
I put 1 teaspoon of the liquid in a measuring spoon and gave it to my daughter. She swallowed it happily, but didn't want more. I tried it myself - yum! No fish taste, very lemony and sweet. I really liked it - not sure why she didn't want more! I did!
ChildLife Essentials -
Cod Liver Oil - strawberry-flavored liquid; 8 fluid ounces/237 mls; suggested use: 6 months through one year - 1/2 teaspoon daily; 2-12 years - 1-2 teaspoons daily; nutrition information (per 1 teaspoon): 45 calories, 5 g fat (1g saturated), 14 mg cholesterol, 870-1950 IU vitamin A, 0-40 IU vitamin D, 0-8 IU vitamin E, 1225 mg total omega-3 (600 mg DHA, 400 mg EPA, 225 mg other); ingredients: purified arctic cod liver oil, natural strawberry flavor; no gluten, casein, alcohol, artificial colors or flavors or sweeteners, no milk, soy, eggs, yeast or wheat; $15.26 for 237 mls or $0.16/serving.
We both took this directly from a spoon. Very slight flavor, pleasant - mostly neutral. We both would have taken more.
Pure DHA- natural berry flavored soft gels; 90 250 mg soft gels; suggested use: 6 months through 1 year - 1-2 capsules daily, 2-4 years - 4-6 capsules daily; nutrition information (for 3 soft gels): 5 calories, 0.5 g fat, 0-1 IU vitamin E, 90-195 IU vitamin A, 0-5 IU vitamin D, 185 mg omega-3 (60 mg EPA, 90 mg DHA, 35 mg other); ingredients: purified arctic cod liver oil, purified water, gelatin, glycerin, ascorbyl palmitate, lecithin, natural berry flavor; no gluten, casein, alcohol, artificial colors or flavors or sweeteners, no milk, soy, eggs, yeast or wheat (although the actual bottle says it contains soy); $7.38 for 90 soft gels or $0.16/serving.
I gave her one of these gels, and she said "candy" with a big smile on her face. She chewed it up, swallowed it down, and asked for more. I had one - again, pleasant, neutral taste with a slight hint of berry flavor. The capsule was very thin - easy to chew up and swallow.
Children's All-in-One Multivitamin Supplement + Omega-3's and Vitamin D- serving size: 4 gummies; nutrition information (per 4 gummies): 36 calories (5 g sugar), 1107 IU vitamin A, 40 mg vitamin C, 400 IU vitamin D, 20 IU vitamin E, .05 mg thiamin, 1.33 mg vitamin B6, 267 mcg folic acid, 67 mcg vitamin B12, .01 mg pantothenic acid, 100 mcg iodine, 4.3 mg zinc, 101 mg omega-3s (57 mg EPA, 24 mg DHA), 11.7 mg choline, 20 mcg inositol; ingredients: organic cane sugar, organic tapioca syrup, gelatin, pectin, citric acid, natural flavors and colors, pantothenic acid; no wheat, milk, eggs, gluten, peanuts, shellfish, artificial colors or flavors, salicylates, or high-fructose corn syrup; $17.95 for 120 gummies or $0.60/serving.
We each had one. Yum! They are sweet, like candy. We could have both had more!
A GREAT aspect of this company is that they are sponsors of Vitamin Angels - every time you buy their product, they make a matching 1-for-1 nutrition grant to a child in need.
All costs per serving were figured on a recommended serving size for a 22 month old. Older kids may require a larger serving, thus the cost/serving would increase.
Most sources say it is unknown how much DHA a child should receive each day, but I did find one source, Evelyn Tribole MS, RD who recommends "children 2-3 years old get 433mg of DHA/EPA with a minimum of 145mg of DHA, 4-6 years old get 600mg of DHA/EPA with a minimum of 200mg of DHA and 7 years and older including adults get 650 combined with a minimum of 220 DHA. For pregnant women the DHA minimum is 300mg". Another source (not recorded) suggested babies from 1-18 months get 32 mg/lb and children 18 months - 15 years get 15 mg/lb (of DHA + EPA).
The best way to pack in the good stuff is with the Nordic Naturals Baby DHA. It contains 741 mg omega-3's, including 360 mg DHA. It also has vitamin D, which many infants should be receiving anyway. It is on the pricey side, however, at $0.68/serving. If you subtract out what you would have to pay for a vitamin D supplement, however, I'm not sure what it would bring that total to. You'd want to make sure if you give your baby this you aren't over-supplementing with extra vitamin D from another source.
If you just look at value, the best value comes down to a close tie between Nordic Naturals Children's DHA ($0.24/serving, 631 mg total omega-3, 313 mg DHA), Barlean's Omega Kids DHA ($0.20/serving, 500 mg total omega-3, 275 mg DHA), and ChildLife Essentials Cod Liver Oil ($0.16/serving, 613 mg total omega-3, 300 mg DHA). These are based on a 25 pound 22 month old when figuring serving sizes to compare.
Although the Nordic Naturals Omega-3 Gummies Tangerine Treats and the SmartyPants vitamins were the best tasting - like candy - they also had very little DHA (both under 30 mg), were very expensive, and had added sugar. If you wanted a healthy "candy" for your kids, you could use these as a way to up their DHA intake (giving the recommended serving each day), but that would be expensive candy for the little bit of DHA they would be getting.
My daughter was happy enough to receive a flavored soft gel, treating it like "candy". If your kid will go for this, better alternatives for healthy "candy treats" would be the Nordic Naturals Ultimate Omega Junior ($0.54/serving, 640 mg omega-3, 225 mg DHA) or the ChildLife Pure DHA ($0.16/serving, 123 mg omega-3, 60 mg DHA). The former is much more expensive, but packs more of a punch too.
One product I'm leaving out, not because it's not a good product but simply because it falls out somewhere in the middle, is Barlean's Omega Swirl. At $0.26/serving, it delivers a respectable 500 mg total omega-3 and 180 mg DHA. It is sweetened with xylitol. But if you're looking for a less expensive yet tasty alternative to the sugary gummies, this would be a good choice.
However, not only was I interested in value, I was also interested in 1) toxins present in the fish (such as mercury), and 2) whether the fish were harvested sustainably. This plays a large role in whether I will support a company. It is also important that the company has their product tested by an independent laboratory (third-party tested), which I could confirm was the case for all four companies.
The NRDC provides information regarding mercury levels in fish. Anchovies, sardines, salmon (wild-caught) and whitefish (=cod) are all on the safe to eat list (these are the species used in the above vitamins).
The Monterey Bay Aquarium provides information on sustainability by species. Here's what I could find on cod, sardines, and salmon, though I was unable to locate any information on anchovies. I was also informed that these lists were intended for the commercial fishery as related to whole fish intended for food, and the standards used here were far inferior to those used in fish oil supplements. However, that means that at minimum they are as safe as the safest food fish, and according to their more stringent standards, one ingesting their products would be ingesting far fewer contaminants.
It is problematic that there are so many different names for the fish (for example, according to the Monterey Bay Aquarium, Atlantic cod is often called scrod or whitefish. The fish oil companies refer to it as skrei, which the Seafood Watch list doesn't even reference). To the best of my ability, based on the location from which they are obtaining their cod (North Atlantic waters of Norway) and salmon (Alaska), and due to the fact that all cod caught in the northeast arctic by Norway and Russia are on the "best choice" or "good alternative" list on the Seafood Watch list, I assume these must mesh.
Every batch of Nordic Naturals fish oils is third-party tested for environmental toxins, including heavy metals, dioxins, and PCBs. All fish oils used in NN products surpass the strictest international standards for purity and freshness. They seem to have a sound foundation for sustainable fishing. According to the materials they sent, "N.N. has built a direct relationship with the independent fisherman (in compliance with the Norwegian fisheries management system, which has been a model of sustainability for over 30 years) in order to manage the sourcing and production of our Arctic Cod Liver Oil. Thanks to this relationship, fewer fish are brought to shore each day. Since it is our mission to operate in an environmentally responsible manner, we work only with fisherman who utilize 100% of the Arctic cod for human or animal consumption." They also are conscious of bycatch and use methods to reduce this as well as habitat destruction. They are taking steps to minimize pollution as a result of their practices. They use "only wild-caught, sustainably sourced fish".
They also provide Certificates of Analysis to consumers who are interested. These are reports on the testing conducted on their products, including environmental toxin and heavy metal levels. I like this transparency.
And right now:
Nordic Naturals® Back-to-School Promotion Supports Kids’ Health
Company partners with Healthy Child Healthy World
Watsonville, CA (July 31, 2012) Nordic Naturals®, leading manufacturer of omega-3 supplements, has announced a Back-to-School promotion that features selected kid-friendly essentials and benefits its 2012 Cause Partner, Healthy Child Healthy World.
Nordic Naturals and Healthy Child Healthy World are teaming up this year to send an important message to families everywhere: It is essential that we protect our children from harmful contaminants by creating healthy environments where they can grow, thrive, and flourish.
To raise awareness about this important issue, Nordic Naturals will donate a portion of proceeds from selected Nordic Naturals children’s products to Healthy Child Healthy World during its Back-to-School promotion, which will run from August through October.
One dollar of every bottle sold of the following products will be donated to Healthy Child Healthy World:
- Nordic Berries™ – chewy, sweet-and-sour multivitamins provide 100% of the daily value of the most essential nutrients
- Nordic Omega-3 Gummies™ – easy-to-chew, omega-3 tangerine treats for ages 2+
- Children’s DHA™ – chewable, strawberry-flavored omega-3s support brain and visual function for ages 3+
- Baby’s DHA – omega-3s for babies 5-35 lbs. with a measured dropper for easy addition to formula or food
"Our fish oil comes from only sustainably farmed anchovy and sardine sources (small fish to eliminate contaminants). Our fish oil supplier is a USP certified facility that uses a vacuum filtration process to filter out any possible toxins that are present in the small fish and we are able to guarantee our fish oil is certified toxin-free through third-party laboratory testing. Testing for specific metals, such as arsenic, lead, cadmium, mercury and strontium are performed on all our fish oil before entering into gummies! Also, each type of finished fish oil is tested 3 times per annum for arsenic, lead cadmium, mercury and strontium. Also, we wanted to make a vitamin that was as planet friendly as it was kid friendly. Tuna populations are being fast depleted and small fish are considered the eco-friendly way to get your Omega3's. We only use sustainably harvested anchovy & sardine to source our omega 3 DHA and EPA, and SmartyPants are an excellent source of both of these important essential fatty acid fish oils."
"Barlean’s fish oil is accredited through IFOS (International Fish Oil Standards) and we have a 5-star rating which is the best rating you can get. This basically means, Barlean’s fish oil is some of the freshest and purest fish oil available. Here is a link to our IFOS documentation on our website: http://www.barleans.com/ifos.
Barlean's was featured on Naturally Savvy for their sustainability practices:
"Barlean’s is our feature green company of them month, chosen for their commitment to sustainability and responsibility. Barlean’s is committed to adhering to sustainable fishing practices, preservation of endangered species, and governmental fishing laws. While ensuring that their fish oils are high quality (and delicious), they also take great care minimizing their environmental impact. They source their products off the coasts of Norway, Peru, and Alaska, adhering strictly to government regulations to prevent overfishing and endangering other species.
Barlean’s ensures that:
- The commercial family fishery is 100% sustainable
- All printed materials are up to 80% recycled stock
- All packaging materials are biodegradable
- Pressed flax “leftovers” are provided to local farmers to enrich milk and eggs with Omega-3
- Only natural products are used in cleaning facilities and equipment
It’s no surprise that Barlean’s has been selected as one of America’s 100 Eco-Friendly companies. We love Barlean’s because not only do they give us products that are good for us, but we can feel great about buying them and supporting sustainable practices!"
According to a ChildLife representative, "Regarding the NRDC - The NRDC follows FDA rules pertaining to mercury and utilizes the EPA’s level of mercury to be safe for human consumption of fish. Higher methylmercury levels can lead to elevated levels of mercury in the bloodstream of unborn babies and young children and may harm their developing nervous system. These disabilities have been documented in ability to use language, to process information, and in visual/motor integration. U.S. EPA's 2001 Reference Dose (RfD) for methylmercury was calculated to protect the developing nervous system. Currently, U.S. EPA uses a RfD of 0.1 µg/kg body weight/day (ppm) as an exposure without recognized adverse effects. The mercury levels in ChildLife Pure DHA/cod Liver oil is Not Detectable which is less than 0.007."
Regarding sustainable fishing practices:
"Norway has the strictest fishing practices with significantly higher standards than those that are set by the U.S. Government and promoted on the MBA Seafood Watch list. This is what the MBA Seafood Watchlist says about the fisheries in Norway: Atlantic Cod, Iceland and Northeast Arctic (by Norway, Russia).
Most Atlantic cod in the U.S. is imported from Iceland and the northeast Arctic. Atlantic cod fisheries in these regions are well-managed and populations are increasing. The small portion of the fishery that uses hook-and-line gear is the "Best Choice" thanks to the low levels of bycatch and habitat damage. A portion of this fishery is certified as sustainable to the standard of the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC).
The cod used in ChildLife Pure DHA, meet and exceed the MBA Seafood Watch list for safe, and sustainable fishing, as well as toxicity levels. The cod caught is considered an Atlantic cod, however the species is native to the arctic waters of Norway. Whitefish would be the closest comparison, which is rated "Best Choice" in the MBA Seafood Watch list category."
Based on the above, for my child I would select either the Nordic Naturals Children's DHA, the Barlean's Omega Kids DHA, or the ChildLife Essentials Cod Liver Oil. They each provide a respectable amount of DHA in a daily serving, are reasonably priced, use sophisticated extraction processes with virtually no contaminants present (as evidenced by the third-party reports which you can access), and, according to each respective company (and to the best of my ability what I can reconcile with the Seafood Watch information) participate in sustainable fishing practices. I would feel good supporting any of these companies, and am confident I am getting a good value in purchasing any of these three particular products for my own daughter.
Samples were provided to me by all four companies for review purposes.