Why Does Tilapia Get a Bad Rap?


Few foods are as controversial as tilapia. One day the flaky white fish is a high-quality protein source, the next we’re told it may not be as virtuous as we think. It’s hard to know where the truth lies.

Here’s the good news: There’s no reason to avoid eating a moderate amount of tilapia.

While it’s true that tilapia imported from countries such as China, Columbia and Taiwan used to be raised in ponds where they fed on animal waste products, farming practices have changed in recent years. Today, tilapia that’s farmed anywhere in the world using recirculating aquaculture (where plants help keep the water clean) has earned it a spot on many watchdog groups’ ‘safe-to-eat’ list.

In fact, Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch program, which rates seafood choices based on whether they have been responsibly fished or farmed, includes tilapia from nine different sources that are all ranked as a “Good Alternative” or “Best Choice.”

Consumers should be aware that this can change. The oceans are vast and farming practices are always changing, so what’s free and clear today may be mired in muck tomorrow. To keep up to date, get the Seafood Watch program app. That way, you can check the rating for any type of fish – not just tilapia – before you visit the fish counter.

The Nutrition in Tilapia

How does tilapia stack up nutritionally? It doesn’t have the omega-3’s that heart-healthy powerhouses like salmon or sardines have. In fact it is very low in fat, with about 3 grams per serving. Because that fat is primarily omega-6, some media reports suggested it was worse than bacon. But bacon’s contribution to heart disease is from saturated fat not omega-6 fatty acids. And according to the American Heart Association, people who eat between 5 and 10 percent of their calories in the form of omega-6 fatty acids reduce their risk of heart disease relative to people who eat less of these polyunsaturated fats.

In addition, a 3.5-ounce serving of tilapia does contain about the same amount of omega-3s as some other seafood, such as catfish and shrimp. Plus, it’s a low-calorie source of lean protein – something nearly all of us need. And both omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids are considered essential dietary nutrients because our bodies cannot synthesize them on their own.

The American Heart Association encourages Americans to eat fish about twice a week, and tilapia is a great way to get one of those fish meals. Just keep in mind that reducing your risk of heart disease goes beyond adding more fish to your diet. The goal is to replace higher-saturated fat products in your diet with fish.

There are a slew of tasty ways to up your fish intake in a low-fat way, including this heart-healthy fish taco recipe. A bonus: you can use the leftover fish on top of a salad the next day.

Looking for more info about healthy eating and want to make an appointment with a registered dietitian? Call 1-855-434-5483 or visit Nutrition Services on henryford.com.

You can also read more nutrition advice in our EatWell section, so subscribe to get all the latest tips.

Categories: EatWell