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Fish is taken into account a healthy source of protein as a result of it’s lean, straightforward to digest, and crammed with wholesome omega-Three fatty acids and different vital minerals.

Nonetheless, the darkish facet of the story is that about 50% of the fish we eat are factory farmed, and tilapia takes a fair proportion of that proportion. In line with Seafood Well being Information, it was the fourth most consumed fish in the US in 2017.

Not surprisingly, tilapia can be one of many most cost-effective sorts of fish available on the market. Which additionally may make you marvel —  may one thing so low cost truly be wholesome?

What Is Tilapia?

Tilapia is a tropical fish and a member of the Cichlid household. This fish is native to Africa and the Center East, although many of the tilapia you discover within the shops originate from fish farms. The truth is, over 135 international locations have tilapia farms, with China main the pack (and supplying on to the U.S.)

Many individuals take pleasure in consuming tilapia as a result of it’s such a mild-tasting white fish. It’s straightforward to cook dinner and works nice in tacos and different straightforward recipes.

Tilapia is a simple fish to farm because it eats an affordable weight loss plan, grows shortly, and is exceptionally hardy. Sadly, this makes tilapia a simple fish to farm with poor practices.

Why Tilapia Is Farmed

It’s wonderful how adaptable the tilapia fish might be. It could tolerate various concentrations of salt, and excessive focus of pesticides, remedy residues, and fertilizers. Such situations usually trigger an overgrowth of algae, which considerably reduces the quantity of oxygen within the water. That is typically an issue for different fish, however tilapia can survive these harsher situations.

Tilapia feeds totally on algae and marine planktons, though it might eat almost something, together with corn and soy. This may very well be an issue, as their weight loss plan may easily contain GMOs or pesticides.

Since it’s a tropical freshwater fish, tilapia can not survive in chilly water. Due to this fact, the vast majority of tilapia consumed within the U.S. is farmed in Asia.

The Risks of Tilapia Farming

China is the biggest exporter of farmed fish, which is an issue resulting from water air pollution. These farms additionally make ample use of pesticides, antibiotics, and different chemical substances to maintain fish alive and maximize revenue.

Sadly, the FDA doesn’t do an excessive amount of to verify the tilapia is secure. They solely pattern about 1-2% of imported seafood to display screen for unlawful chemical substances which are banned in the US. Among the many fish shipments examined, the rejection charge for tilapia is excessive: as much as 82% in 2014.

The tilapia fish that move (or escape) the FDA testing should still comprise questionable medicine or different residues, even when it’s not from China. A examine of tilapia coming from South America discovered that two out of three samples contained malachite inexperienced and gentian violet, each of that are recognized to trigger most cancers. All samples contained not less than one heavy steel, like mercury, cadmium, arsenic, or lead.

Though the degrees are under FDA security limits, it might nonetheless be dangerous in the long term. I like to recommend avoiding imported tilapia because you simply can’t know what’s in them.

Are There Reliable Sources of Tilapia?

Kind of. In case you actually need to eat tilapia, stick with the sort raised within the U.S.

Home fisheries are a a lot better wager as a result of they’re extra strictly regulated for cleanliness. On the draw back, they are usually costlier than imported tilapia.

When executed accurately, farmed tilapia just isn’t the worst in your well being. They’re fed vegetarian diets and farmed for comparatively brief intervals of time, that means that there’s much less room for biomagnification (the method wherein poisonous pollution accumulate up the meals chain). If the fish is correctly farmed and fed with high quality feed, then it ought to be much less polluted than the fish that eat different fish.

Nonetheless, we all know that’s not at all times the case! In case you select to sometimes devour tilapia, you need to supply it from respected firms. Ensure that in addition they use third occasion testing to make sure that the fish is secure for human consumption.

Is Tilapia Wholesome?

It is a difficult query to reply. There are a couple of good well being advantages of this well-liked fish, specifically its excessive protein content material and low calorie rely. Tilapia additionally may be very low in fats. Per 100 grams, it clocks in at slightly below two grams of fats. Nevertheless it’s exactly that small quantity of fats that carries its points.

It’s vital to get your omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids in a healthy balance. An excessive amount of omega-6 fatty acids can result in irritation, which worsens issues like coronary heart illness. Sadly, tilapia accommodates an elevated quantity of omega-6s and never sufficient omega-3s to be thought of wholesome.

Briefly, you’re higher off consuming grass-fed beef or hen to get your coronary heart wholesome omega-Three fat.

What Concerning the Mercury in Tilapia?

Most individuals are involved about mercury ranges in seafood, particularly pregnant ladies.

The seafood with the very best quantities of mercury is normally on the prime of the meals chain, like swordfish and marlin. Nonetheless, farmed fish like tilapia are inclined to have mercury as effectively as a result of poor situations that it’s raised in.

The mercury content material in tilapia won’t be as regarding as the degrees present in sure forms of wild seafood. One solution to offset this threat is to be sure you’re getting sufficient selenium. Methylmercury binds to selenium within the physique, and when the mercury ranges are larger than the nutrient selenium, all types of issues can happen.

Thankfully, most seafood contains selenium in excessive sufficient quantities, so it’s going to assist your physique take care of the consequences of the mercury.

You can even purpose to get loads of wild-caught salmon in your weight loss plan, which is an unbelievable supply of selenium, amongst different vitamins.

Hearken to this podcast the place I sit down with the president of Important Alternative Seafood and discuss mercury issues in farm raised and wild seafood.

Higher Alternate options to Tilapia

Thankfully, there’s loads of fish within the sea that has higher dietary profiles than tilapia.

Listed here are a couple of nice seafood selections that beat tilapia nutritionally:

  • Sardines. In case you’re on the lookout for a kind of fish that rivals tilapia in protein, seize a can of sardines. They’re an excellent supply of omega-3s and are full of nutritional vitamins and minerals like selenium, calcium, and vitamin D. Here’s how to make them taste better in case you’re delicate to their robust odor. I get mine from Thrive Market.
  • Wild-caught salmon. Alaskan salmon is a superb alternative in case you’re on the lookout for a nutrient-dense various to sardines. We get ours (together with the 2 varieties listed under when in inventory) from Vital Choice.
  • Pink snapper. Just like tilapia, pink snapper is a low calorie, protein-rich alternative. Simply be sure you restrict your consumption to a couple instances per thirty days, as it could comprise mercury that may very well be dangerous to pregnant ladies or kids.
  • Cod. It is a good various in case you’re looking for a equally delicate, flaky fish. Strive utilizing cod filets in these do-it-yourself gluten-free fish sticks recipe!

The Backside Line

It’s best to keep away from tilapia due to its unhealthy farming practices, plus its potential to trigger irritation and disrupt your fatty acid stability. Since it’s a quite bland-tasting white fish, it’s straightforward to interchange it with one other extra nutritious, ideally wild-caught and fatty fish like salmon.

This text was medically reviewed by Dr. Jennifer Walker, an inner drugs doctor. As at all times, this isn’t private medical recommendation and we advocate that you simply discuss together with your physician or work with a health care provider at SteadyMD.

Do you eat tilapia? Are there higher options for cheap fish? Inform us within the feedback under!


  1. Babu, B., & Ozbay, G. (2013). Screening of Imported Tilapia Fillets for Heavy Metals and Veterinary Drug Residues in the Mid-Atlantic Region, USA. J Meals Course of Tech, 4(9), 1-7.
  2. Barboza, D. (2007). In China, Farming Fish in Toxic Waters. New York Instances.
  3. Meals and Agriculture Group of the United Nations (2014). The State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture.
  4. Seafood Well being Information (2017). Overview of the U.S. Seafood Supply.
  5. Younger, Ok. (2009). Omega-6 (n-6) and omega-3 (n-3) fatty acids in tilapia and human health: a review. Worldwide journal of meals sciences and diet, 60(sup5), 203-211.

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