Is Tilapia Really Bad For You?

Tilapia is a popular fish that has earned a bad reputation, after a study indicated that it was not as healthy and nutritious as most consumers believed. However, the information provided may have been taken out of context, and now we hear that the mild tasting fish is pretty good after all.

The National Fisheries Institute, says tilapia has become the fourth most eaten seafood in the U.S., behind shrimp, salmon, and canned tuna, Fox reports.

“This fish gives you a lot of leeway to farm. It’s a very hearty variety that is adaptable to different types of feed. It tastes pretty good too,” says Mike Picchietti, president of Americas Tilapia Alliance.

It helps that the white fish is inexpensive, easy to farm, and doesn’t have a strong fishy taste or smell. But the question is, is it good for you?

Some of the bad rap tilapia received is due to a 2008 study from Wake Forest University School of Medicine, which found that tilapia contained far less omega-3 fatty acids than salmon and mackerel. But the findings also said the “inflammatory potential of hamburger (80 percent lean) and pork bacon is lower than the average serving of farmed tilapia (100 g).”

These findings raised questions about tilapia’s nutritional value. Furthermore, the study suggested that the fish has higher levels of arachidonic acid, an omega-6 fatty acid which is necessary to the body. However, it has been linked to Alzhemier’s disease and inflammation.

But why are opinions about tilapia’s health benefits changing now? The professor of physiology and pharmacology who directed the Wake Forest study, Dr. Floyd Chilton, says the comparison of tilapia to pork bacon was taken out of context.

“We never intended to paint tilapia as the cause of anything bad. Our goal was to provide consumers with more information about their fish. If your doctor or cardiologist is telling you to eat more fish, then you should look for varieties that have higher levels of omega-3 and avoid those with high inflammatory potential.”

It turns out that tilapia has the same omega-3 levels of other popular seafood, including lobster, yellowfin tuna, and mahi-mahi. It’s also very low in fat, making it a healthy alternative.

So how does tilapia really compare to bacon? A four-ounce serving of the white fleshed fish has about one-gram of saturated fat, 29 grams of protein, and about 200 mg of omega-3. In contrast, a one-ounce serving of bacon contains four-grams of saturated fat, 10 grams of protein, and only 52 mg of omega-3.

Nutritionists say that it is safe to eat tilapia like you would any other fish, and there is no need to stop buying it, according to registered dietitian Melainie Rogers, founder of Balance Nutrition in New York City.

“I tell my clients not to just eat one type of fish, no matter what, to reduce your risk of contamination. Not all fish have the same fatty acid profile, but tilapia in moderation is fine. It has lower cholesterol than red meat – plus it’s easy to cook.”

Seafood Watch gives the fish a “good alternative” rating because of recent improvements in the food industry, and they say if you want to be safer choose tilapia from Canada, the U.S., or Ecuador instead of the Chinese version, which has been questioned for allegedly using animal feces to feed the fish.

[Image via Shutterstock]