Tilapia fish is a farm-raised white-fleshed fish that is available throughout the year. This fish has progressively grown in popularity, thanks to its inexpensive price tag and mild flavor.

However, some recent studies have put a question mark over its health benefits because of its omega-6 fatty acid content. Some other reports have also stated that these fish are unhealthy because of the high levels of antibiotics and pesticides in them.

Let us learn some more about Tilapia fish and the benefits and dangers associated with eating this fish.

What is tilapia fish?

Tilapia is one of the oldest farm-raised fish in the world. Over 135 nations around the globe raise this fish (1) with China being the biggest producer. There are many different species of this fish that have been developed by aquaculture producers.

The three main species available in the market are – Nile or Black tilapia, Blue tilapia and Mozambique tilapia fish. Tilapia feed on algae or small aquatic plant and are primarily raised in freshwater systems using cages, ponds, raceways and open waters.

The quality of the fish largely depends on the quality of the feed and the quality of the farming conditions. Some producers have also developed organic production methods for tilapia.

Nutritional Facts of tilapia fish

Tilapia is a rich source of high-quality protein, and its fat content ranges from moderate to low. It is a rich source of selenium and vitamin B12.

A 3.5 ounce serving on tilapia fish contains (2) –

  • Calories: 128
  • Carbohydrates: 0 grams
  • Proteins: 26 grams
  • Fats: 3 grams
  • Selenium: 78 % of RDI
  • Niacin: 24 % of RDI
  • Vitamin B12: 31 % of RDI
  • Potassium: 20 % of RDI

Fat

Tilapia contains a small number of unsaturated fats, including some fatty acids. These fats help reduce inflammation. This fish also includes some saturated fats; these fats can cause a build-up of LDL cholesterol.

Cholesterol

Tilapia contains a considerable amount of cholesterol. There is 36 mg of cholesterol in a 4-ounce serving of this fish, which amounts to almost 19 percent of the daily value.

Protein

This fish is a rich source of protein.  The protein found in tilapia is complete protein as it contains all the essential amino acids.

Minerals

One four-ounce serving of tilapia fish contains 11.3 percent of the daily recommended value of calcium and 10 percent of the RDA of potassium.

Advantages of adding tilapia fish to your diet

1. It is inexpensive

When you consider the prices of the other seafood and fish available in the supermarket, you will find tilapia to be the cheapest option. It is, in fact, the fourth most commonly consumed seafood in the US.

health benefits and risks of Tilapia fish infographic

2. It has a mild taste

Tilapia has a mild flavor and finds favor with picky kids and adults who do not like the fishy flavor. This fish tastes like the sauce it is being cooked in, so is popular with all.

3. Low mercury exposure

Large predatory ocean fish that are near the top of the food chain have the highest levels on methylmercury in them. Tilapia fish is much smaller and has lower levels of methylmercury than bigger fish.

This factor makes tilapia a safe fish to eat regarding mercury content. Even the American Pregnancy Association lists tilapia as a fish that has low mercury content and is considered safe for expecting mothers (3).

4. Promotes weight loss

Tilapia fish is low in calorie content and high in proteins, which makes it the ideal for weight loss. A hundred-gram serving of tilapia contains only 128 calories and 26 grams of protein (4).

5. Can reduce the risk of certain cancers

Like most other fish, tilapia also is a rich source of selenium. One 3.5 ounce serving of tilapia can take care of 78 percent of your required dietary needs. Selenium has many health benefits. Some studies have also linked selenium to lower risk of prostate cancer.

Health risks of tilapia fish

Numerous health risks have been linked to tilapia, especially the variety imported from countries that do not follow strict regulation for fish farming.

1. Tilapia can lead to inflammation

Recent studies have shown that eating tilapia fish may lead to inflammation, which can lead to many serious health issues like heart disease, arthritis, and asthma.

According to a scientist from the Wake Forest University, the inflammatory potential of tilapia is much more than that of a hamburger or pork bacon (5).

According to research from the Wake Forest University School of Medicine, farm-raised tilapia have low levels of omega-3 fatty acids and very high levels of omega-6 fatty acids.

A 100-gram serving of wild-caught salmon contains over 2,500 mg of omega-3 fatty acids, while tilapia contains just 240 mg of omega-3 for a similar meal.

Tilapia also contains a high amount of omega-6 fatty acids. Omega-6 fatty acids are considered harmful as they can increase inflammation if eaten in excess (6).

Several experts recommend a ratio of 1:1 for omega-3 and omega-6 fats. While salmon meets this criterion, tilapia doesn’t.

2. Tilapia may have high concentrations of antibiotics and pesticides

Farm bred fish like tilapia often live in crowded conditions which makes them susceptible to disease. To keep them alive, farmers feed them antibiotics.

These fish are also treated with pesticides to combat sea lice. These pesticides are so deadly that they can kill wild salmon if exposed to it.

FDA has rejected over 187 shipments of tilapia from China from 2007 to 2012 because they were polluted with veterinary drug residues and unsafe additives (7).

According to Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch, several toxic chemicals are being used for the farming of Chinese tilapia (8)

3. Animal feces is fed to farm-fed Tilapia

Farm bred fish have a very high amount of organic cancer-causing pollutants as compared to the wild caught ones. This is so because chicken feces is one of the main ingredients of farm fish feed.

According to one FDA report, it is a common practice to feed fish with the feces of the livestock animals in China (9). This practice can contaminate the water with salmonella and increase the risk of foodborne diseases.

It is important to note that 73 percent of tilapia imported to the US comes from China.

4. Can increase the risk of Alzheimer’s

Tilapia contains arachidonic acid, one of the omega-6 fatty acids (also called n-6 PUFAs). This fatty acid is known to increase the risk of Alzheimer’s disease.

5. Environmental factors

Tilapia farming can have a severe impact on the native fish varieties. The native wild varieties of fish can be nudged out of their natural habitat by tilapia because of its hardiness and sheer volume.

These farmed fish also upset the plant beds and disturb the ecological balance of the places in which they breed.

How to eat tilapia safely?

Buy wild-caught tilapia as it is safer to eat. However, wild caught tilapia is hard to find. While buying tilapia, avoid the variety farmed in China. Opt for fish that is sourced from the US, Canada, Netherlands, Ecuador and Peru (10).

One should avoid tilapia farmed in China and look for other alternatives.

Healthier alternatives

  1. Opt for wild-caught fish varieties.
  2. Look for fish that have been certified by the Marine Stewardship Council.
  3. Look for fish that are hormone, pesticide, and antibiotics free.
  4. Choose a fish that has been fed a natural diet.
  5. Wild-caught salmon is a rich source of omega-3 fatty acids.
  6. Halibut is a low-calorie fish with a mild flavor. It is a perfect choice for those trying to lose weight.
  7. Pacific cod is rich in high-quality protein.
  8. Arctic char is an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids and carotenoids.
  9. Herring is considered to be the world’s best source of vitamin D.

Conclusion

Tilapia is an inexpensive, farm-raised fish. It is low in calories and is rich in quality proteins. It also contains selenium, vitamin B12, potassium, and niacin, which have many health benefits.

Unfortunately, many health risks have also been linked to tilapia fish. It contains high levels of omega-6 fatty acids that are considered harmful. Tilapia farming practices have been under the scanner for high usage of antibiotics and pesticides.

There have also been reports of the fish being fed animal feces on Chinese farms. So, it is best to avoid eating tilapia fish farmed in China. Have wild-caught fish like salmon which are rich sources of omega-3 fatty acids instead.

Tilapia is one of the oldest farm-raised fish in the world. Tilapia feed on small aquatic plant and are primarily raised in freshwater