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Is Tilapia Good For You?

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Is There A Problem With Tilapia?

Americans have been eating more tilapia than ever before. Yet research has expressed concerns on whether you could be inadvertently consuming pesticides from mass-farmed fish. Are you getting in alarmingly high levels of omega-6 fatty acids instead of the good omega-3 fatty acids you want? Is tilapia really as bad as bacon, as some research would have you believe?

Tilapia is a widely available fish that has been consumed since ancient times. These days, a fair share of it is imported. In 2012, a whopping 500 million pounds of tilapia were brought into the country from China.1However, tilapia began to stir up controversy when health risks of fish from China made headlines. Specifically, there have been ongoing concerns about the level of pesticides and antibiotics in tilapia. Even the nutrition of this fish has been questioned. So where should you stand on this issue? Here’s what you need to know.

Tilapia can be easily farmed in all types of conditions. It also has a very mild flavor, earning it the nickname “aquatic chicken.” This is especially appealing for anyone who isn’t a fan of strong fishy scents. Tilapia works well in a range of recipes, making it a super versatile ingredient.

Because these fish are vegetarian, their primary feed is made of corn and soy – two ingredients that are easily available and relatively inexpensive. This means that the fish can be farmed on the cheap. Therefore, it’s easy to find and sold at an attractive price.

Not Enough Omega-3?

Many people eat fish for the nutritional goodness. And aside from providing lean, healthy protein, fish also boast high levels of omega-3 fatty acids. The body needs these substances to create hormones that regulate arterial wall contraction, blood clotting, and genetic function. Experts have also confirmed that omega-3s can play a role in preventing stroke and heart disease. Furthermore, these essential fats can combat conditions like rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, and eczema. Studies are under way to explore their role in cancer prevention, too.2 Clearly, these fatty acids are something special.

Unfortunately, tilapia doesn’t contain as much omega-3 as one would hope. Some experts share that salmon is estimated to have ten times more omega-3 than a portion of tilapia of a similar size. That’s under half a gram of omega-3 fatty acids per 100 gm of tilapia, compared to between 3 and 4 grams in a similar amount of salmon or trout.3So if you’d like to get your fill of omega-3 fatty acids, switch to these other fish instead.

Another potential issue may lie within the soy and corn feed. Thanks to this restricted diet and the intensive industrial farming of these two crops, using huge amounts of pesticides and chemical fertilizers, farmed fish have a less nutritious diet than wild tilapia. The latter eats aquatic plants and algae, both of which have more nutritional value. As a result, farmed tilapia often have less omega-3 fatty acids (and other nutrients) than those in the wild.4

Inflammation From Omega-6

Here’s a surprising fact: According to research, tilapia has more omega-6 fatty acids than pork bacon! It even surpasses the omega-6 level in a doughnut, another food that many health and fitness enthusiasts rarely eat.5This doesn’t mean that omega-6s aren’t essential, though. They’re important for brain function and normal body development. However, this fatty acid also causes inflammation, and intake must be balanced with the inflammation-fighting omega-3.6In tilapia, the ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 is in favor of the latter.7

Pesticides And Chemicals

Eating tilapia also presents the risk of exposure to heavy metals and pesticide contamination. And while studies, looking into countries like Malaysia8and Brazil,9have found that these substances in farmed fish are within permissible limits, you may not want to be consuming any amount of these contaminants in the first place!

Environmental Concerns

Another concerning aspect of tilapia farming is the impact it has on native fish. Because farmed fish can adapt to different environmental conditions, they can easily dominate their native counterparts. So if a farm is set up in a lake where there is already an existing fish population, over time, the tilapia would compete with these “native” fish for food and resources. Because of the sheer volume as well as hardiness of the tilapia, the native wild species will usually be nudged out of their aquatic habitats. Farmed fish can also upset plant beds and disturb the ecological balance of the places they breed in.10

This type of farming also yields a menace of fish waste, leading to severe pollution of water bodies. Huge numbers of caged fish are often bred in natural lakes, spilling by-products into the surrounding waters. Fortunately, the industry has recently recognized these ecological hazards. Farms that meet certain sustainability norms can include a “responsibly farmed” label, granted by the Aquaculture Stewardship Council. Conscious consumers can enjoy this fish responsibly by keeping an eye out for this label.11

References   [ + ]

1.Jahns, Lisa, Susan K. Raatz, LuAnn K. Johnson, Sibylle Kranz, Jeffrey T. Silverstein, and Matthew J. Picklo. “Intake of seafood in the US varies by age, income, and education level but not by race-ethnicity.” Nutrients 6, no. 12 (2014): 6060-6075.
2.Omega-3 Fatty Acids: An Essential Contribution, Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health.
3, 5.Wake Forest Researchers Say Popular Fish Contains Potentially Dangerous Fatty Acid Combination, Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center.
4, 7.Weaver, Kelly L., Priscilla Ivester, Joshua A. Chilton, Martha D. Wilson, Prativa Pandey, and Floyd H. Chilton. “The content of favorable and unfavorable polyunsaturated fatty acids found in commonly eaten fish.” Journal of the American Dietetic Association 108, no. 7 (2008): 1178-1185.
6.Omega-6 fatty acids, University of Maryland Medical Center.
8.Abu Bakar, Ibrahim, Mohd Khan Ayub, Ayob Muhd Yatim, and Norrakiah Abdullah Sani. “Pesticide and antibiotic residues in freshwater aquaculture fish: chemical risk assessment from farm to table.” Asian Journal of Food and Agro-Industry 3, no. 3 (2010): 328-334.
9.Botaro, Daniele, João Paulo Machado Torres, Olaf Malm, Mauro Freitas Rebelo, Bernhard Henkelmann, and Karl-Werner Schramm. “Organochlorine pesticides residues in feed and muscle of farmed Nile tilapia from Brazilian fish farms.” Food and chemical toxicology 49, no. 9 (2011): 2125-2130.
10.Tilapia, The State of Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries.
11.Another Side of Tilapia, the Perfect Factory Fish, New York Times. 2011.
CureJoy Editorial

The CureJoy Editorial team digs up credible information from multiple sources, both academic and experiential, to stitch a holistic health perspective on topics that pique our readers' interest.

CureJoy Editorial

The CureJoy Editorial team digs up credible information from multiple sources, both academic and experiential, to stitch a holistic health perspective on topics that pique our readers' interest.