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Fish can either be helpful or harmful to your health, depending on where it’s sourced. Tilapia, in particular, has become extremely popular in aquaculture and aquaponics across Asia, Mexico, Central America and the U.S. because it’s highly affordable, grows quickly and adapts well to new environments.
But although fish is often praised for its powerful health benefits, certain types of tilapia have been associated with some serious side effects, including concerns about bacterial contamination, antibiotic resistance and unsustainable farming practices.
So is tilapia a real fish? And is tilapia healthy? Here’s what you need to know about this popular type of seafood.
Related:17 Fish You Should Never Eat, Plus Safer Seafood Options
What Is Tilapia?
Tilapia is the common name for nearly 100 species of white fish in the cichlid family. Mainly a freshwater fish, tilapia live in shallow streams, ponds, rivers and lakes.
Like other types of fish such as swai fish, tilapia adapt well to being farmed and are very inexpensive. They are farmed around the globe, but are especially common in many parts of Asia and the U.S. The largest tilapia producers in the world are China, followed by Egypt. In the U.S., it is the fourth most consumed fish.
Tilapia is favored for its mild taste and firm, flaky texture, making it a good option for those who don’t typically like seafood. It’s also very versatile and can be baked, broiled, grilled, fried or sautéed as a simple weeknight staple.
Today, the three most commonly fished and eaten species of tilapia are Nile, Blue and Mozambique.
Oreochromis niloticus, or Nile tilapia, is the oldest variety and is native to northern Africa and Israel. Nile is one of the most adaptable fish, as it can be raised in various ways and is considered one of the most sustainable farmed fish.
Meanwhile, Blue tilapia is found in Florida’s lakes, rivers and streams. Unlike other varieties, it can live both in saltwater and freshwater. However, because it doesn’t grow as quickly as Nile varieties, it’s not as commonly farmed.
Finally, Mozambique tilapia was introduced into the U.S. for sport fishing and as a means of aquatic plant control. It is now found in tropical and subtropical habitats worldwide and is popular among fish farmers because it is easy to grow and readily adaptable.
Tilapia is low in calories and fat but loaded with protein. It’s also a good source of several vitamins and minerals, including selenium, vitamin B12, niacin and phosphorus.
A 3.5-ounce serving of cooked tilapia contains the following nutrients:
- 128 calories
- 0 grams carbohydrate
- 26 grams protein
- 2.5 grams fat
- 54.4 micrograms selenium (78 percent DV)
- 1.9 micrograms vitamin B12 (31 percent DV)
- 4.7 milligrams niacin (24 percent DV)
- 204 milligrams phosphorus (20 percent DV)
- 380 milligrams potassium (11 percent DV)
- 34 milligrams magnesium (8 percent DV)
- 0.7 milligrams panothenic acid (7 percent DV)
- 0.1 milligrams vitamin B6 (6 percent DV)
- 0.1 milligrams thiamine (6 percent DV)
Each serving also contains a small amount of vitamin E, riboflavin, iron, zinc and copper.
Safe to Eat?
There are several serious concerns associated with tilapia, regarding both its nutritional profile and the way that it’s raised and produced.
Tilapia fish farming practices in China, in particular, have drawn a good amount of controversy in recent years. According to one report published by the USDA, it is common for fish farmed in China to be fed feces from livestock in an effort to cut costs. However, this can also increase the risk of contamination and foodborne illnesses such as Salmonella, which can be serious if left untreated.
There is also concern regarding the risk of contamination and the use of harmful chemicals in many fish farmed in China. Some of the chemicals used in tilapia production are also illegal, which has caused multiple tilapia imports from China to be rejected within the past few years. A report conducted by Seafood Watch also noted that antibiotic resistance in certain strains of bacteria has been linked to tilapia farming regions in China as well.
Selecting wild-caught tilapia or farm-raised varieties sourced from countries like the U.S., Peru or Ecuador can be a good alternative to help minimize exposure to harmful antibiotics, chemicals and pesticides while also supporting more sustainable farming practices.
In terms of nutrition, tilapia is also low in omega-3 fatty acids yet high in omega-6 fats compared to other types of fish. Although omega-6 fatty acids are an important component of a healthy diet, the typical western diet contains a higher ratio of omega-6 fatty acids to omega-3s.
Not only can this poor omega imbalance drive up inflammation in the body, but it may also contribute to the development of chronic conditions like heart disease, Alzheimer’s disease and rheumatoid arthritis.
Despite concerns about this controversial ingredient, there are a few potential tilapia fish benefits to consider as well.
For starters, it’s a good source of several nutrients, including selenium, vitamin B12, niacin and phosphorus. The tilapia nutrition profile also boasts a whopping 26 grams of protein per serving, putting it right on par with other high-protein foods like poultry and meat.
Protein is important for many aspects of health and plays a key role in tissue repair, muscle growth, energy levels and immune function. Increasing your intake of this essential macronutrient can also help keep your waistline in check. Studies show that protein can reduce levels of ghrelin, which is the hormone that stimulates feelings of hunger, and may even decrease appetite and calorie consumption to support weight loss.
Furthermore, because tilapia fish is a lean protein and contains less than 3 grams of fat per serving, it is also lower in calories than other types fish. Salmon, for example, contains 206 calories per serving whereas sardines provide 208 calories. For this reason, it can easily be incorporated into a low-calorie diet for those looking to lose weight.
Compared to other types of seafood, tilapia is also widely available and relatively inexpensive. It also has a very mild flavor, making it a good option to start including more seafood in the diet for those who might not regularly eat fish.
If you do decide to include tilapia in your diet, it’s best to steer clear of any fish farmed in China. While wild-caught varieties are always best, they can be relatively hard to find and may be more expensive.
If opting for farmed tilapia, Seafood Watch recommends looking for fish raised in Peru or Ecuador instead. Fish farmed in the U.S., Taiwan, Colombia, Mexico, Honduras and Indonesia are also considered good alternatives as well.
Here are a few other healthy fish that you can include in your diet instead:
- Mahi mahi
- Tilapia is the common name for about 100 different species within the cichlid family.
- There are several different types, including Mozambique, Blue and Nile, which is also known by the tilapia scientific name, Oreochromis niloticus.
- Is tilapia fish good for you? There are some serious concerns with tilapia farmed in China, including a higher risk of contamination with harmful bacteria, chemicals, pesticides and antibiotics.
- Tilapia also contains a higher amount of omega-6 fatty acids than other fish. Consuming a high ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids could contribute to inflammation and chronic disease.
- However, despite the many tilapia warnings, drawbacks and side effects, tilapia is cheap, low in calories and high in protein. It also has a mild flavor and is more widely available and affordable than other types of fish.
- When purchasing seafood, it’s important to pay close attention to the tilapia origin. Opt for wild-caught varieties whenever possible or choose farm-raised fish from either Ecuador or Peru.
The Nutrition in Tilapia
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.
Tilapia contains much less omega-3 than other fish like salmon. Its omega-6 to omega-3 ratio is higher than other fish and may contribute to inflammation in the body.Why do they say not to eat tilapia? ›
A: Farm-raised tilapia, basa, and swai may contain high levels of contaminants, including PCBs, dioxins, and mercury, which can have negative health effects over time. Additionally, the use of antibiotics in the production of these fish can contribute to the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria.What are the negative health effects of tilapia? ›
Although eating tilapia offers many health benefits, it also carries some risk. In some cases, it can cause bleeding problems and increase your risk of developing certain diseases. Fish oil acts as a natural anticoagulant, which means that it can thin your blood.Is tilapia high in bad cholesterol? ›
Tilapia, which is high in protein, is another delicious, cholesterol-friendly fish that can make a great addition to your diet.Is tilapia healthier than red meat? ›
Nevertheless, tilapia offers more omega-3 fats than other animal foods, such as red meat and poultry. This white fish is also lower in mercury and offers many vital nutrients, making it one of the best and safest fish sources for pregnant women and children, according to the Food and Drug Administration.Why don t chefs like tilapia? ›
Tilapia. While many seafood restaurants have it on the menu, many chefs don't like the fish, says Chef K.C. Gulbro of FoxFire and Copper Fox. "The Tilapia, simply because many chefs consider this type of fish 'junk fish,' and because it takes on the flavor of everything you cook.Can you eat tilapia according to the Bible? ›
The Hebrews did not eat fish without scales, such as catfish, as they were considered unclean by the terms of the Levitical laws, but they did eat perch, carp, barbel, tilapia and other cyprinids.Is tilapia raised in sewage? ›
In many parts of the world, tilapia destined for fish feed, animal feed, or even human consumption are cultured in sewage ponds and tanks.Why do I feel sick after eating tilapia? ›
Histamine poisoning, commonly referred to as “scombroid fish poisoning”, results from the consumption of certain foods, typically fish and cheeses, that contain unusually high levels of histamine.
Again, Tilapia is a great help because of its high protein count—according to the popular bodybuilding website Simply Shredded, you'll maximize your muscle gains if you have two servings of this nutritious, low-fat fish an hour after your workout.What is one major effect of eating tilapia? ›
Leads to Arsenic Consumption. In some countries, arsenic contamination in water becomes a major concern as many fish species including tilapia has the potency to accumulate arsenic in their muscle tissues. Eating fish farmed in an arsenic-rich environment augments the risk of cancer development in the consumer.What is the healthiest fish to eat for inflammation? ›
The best sources of marine omega-3s are fatty fish, such as salmon, tuna, sardines and mackerel. Eating a 3- to 6-ounce serving of these fish two to four times a week is recommended for lowering inflammation and protecting the heart.What are the worst foods for inflammation in the body? ›
- Red meat and processed meats, including bacon, hot dogs, lunch meats and cured meats.
- Refined grains, including white bread, white rice, pasta and breakfast cereals.
- Snack foods, including chips, cookies, crackers and pastries.
- Sodas and other sweetened drinks.
- Fried foods.
These source regions raise their fish in pristine, deep-water lakes without the use of antibiotics, hormones and preservatives. Grocers such as Costco, Kroger and Walmart all carry responsibly farmed Tilapia from producers such as Regal Springs.What is the most unhealthy fish to eat? ›
Worst: Orange Roughy
These fish, also known as slimeheads, can live up to 150 years. But that means they've been around unhealthy elements, like mercury, for a long time. So they're not the best option for a healthy diet.
People with high cholesterol should avoid any fish high in saturated fat and calories. Shrimps, trout, mackerel, tuna, and swordfish are some fishes you should avoid eating.What is the best fish for bad cholesterol? ›
The best in terms of lowering cholesterol are tuna, salmon, and swordfish. Sardines and halibut are good options, too. Dr. Curry says, if you don't like to eat fish, consider taking omega-3 supplements.Which is healthier chicken or tilapia? ›
100 grams of chicken packs more protein than both Tilapia and salmon. While Tilapia has the least amount of calories out of the three, it also contains a healthy amount of Omega-3's. Salmon on the other hand, is not as lean as Tilapia or chicken, but it has more healthy fats than the both of them.How often can I eat tilapia? ›
Fish and shellfish in this category, such as salmon, catfish, tilapia, lobster and scallops, are safe to eat two to three times a week, or 8 to 12 ounces per week, according to the FDA.
Fatty fish, including tilapia, are also rich in the heart healthy omega-3 fatty acids shown to help lower blood pressure.Is tilapia a junk fish? ›
Tilapia are not garbage fish. They are delicious and very eco friendly in how they are raised. They may be considered “garbage” fish because of what they eat. Usually they are farm raised with other fish.What is the best fish to eat instead of tilapia? ›
- Catfish. Catfish has firm texture and mild flavor — just like tilapia. ...
- Striped Bass. Both farmed and wild striped bass are sustainable choices. ...
- Red Snapper. ...
- Rainbow Trout. ...
Tilapia from Indonesia are the first farmed fish to meet the Aquaculture Stewardship Council certification standard. This means the fish are responsibly farmed, no bad diets are antibiotics and enviornmental impacts are minimized. The Costco tilapia loins are lake grown and raised without the use of antibiotics.Why is tilapia the Jesus fish? ›
Tilapia is rumored to be the fish that was caught by St. Peter in the Sea of Galilee and fed to the masses of Tabgha, an ancient town on the north-west coast of the sea, by Jesus. This is one of the reasons why the fish is also known as “St. Peter's fish” and is separated from meat according to Lenten standards.Was Jesus a pescatarian? ›
There is no direct statement on the subject by Jesus in the New Testament. The story of Jesus feeding fish to people would support the view that Jesus may have been a pescatarian. Paul seems to have been more open to meat eating, but even Paul was open to vegetarianism.What kind of fish did Peter and Jesus catch? ›
According to legend, the fish Peter caught was a kind of tilapia, which is now happily exploited by restaurants all around the lake. The shores of the Galilee are dotted with restaurants offering St. Peter's Fish, usually to tourists hitting the area's Christian sites.Does tilapia carry parasites? ›
Tilapias host a rich fauna of parasites, many of which have been translocated with their hosts. This review summarises >2500 host–parasite records from 73+ countries and >820 recorded tilapia translocations (provided in the supplementary materials).What diseases do tilapia carry? ›
Common bacterial pathogens and diseases of tilapia include Aeromonas hydrophila1, Streptococcus iniae2 and Streptococcus agalactieae3, columnaris disease (caused by Flavobacterium columnaris4) and Francisellosis5. A new orthomyxovirus-like virus, tilapia lake virus (TiLV), has recently emerged in S.Are tilapia poop eaters? ›
More tilapia twists. Myth: Tilapia eat poop. Fact: Tilapia are plant eaters; they do not eat poop unless they are being starved. Truth: The rumor that tilapia prefer poop stems from an episode of Dirty Jobs on the Discovery Channel in which the host, Mike Rowe, visited a fish farm that raised hybrid striped bass.
Acute toxicity tests showed that the As concentration that caused toxicity to tilapia ranged from 69 060 microg As L(-1), in the 24-h toxicity test, to 28 680 microg As L(-1), in the 96-h toxicity test.Is tilapia easy to digest? ›
Is Tilapia Healthy? What About the Mercury in Tilapia? Fish is considered a healthy source of protein because it's lean, easy to digest, and filled with healthy omega-3 fatty acids and other important minerals.Why do I get diarrhea after eating fish? ›
Scombroid fish poisoning resembles an allergic reaction and occurs within minutes to hours of eating fish contaminated with histamine. The most common symptoms are rash, diarrhea, reddening or flushing of the face and sometimes the neck, arms, and upper part of the body, sweating, headache, and vomiting.Why is cod better than tilapia? ›
Cod is leaner and contains healthier fats than tilapia.
Although both fish are nutritious, low-calorie options with similar protein content, cod contains higher levels of heart-healthy Omega-3 fatty acids and less fat overall than tilapia.
Tuna, salmon, trout, cod, haddock, grouper, tilapia, and bass are those that I recommend as lean protein fish.Why is tilapia better than salmon? ›
With fewer calories than salmon or other popular fish, Tilapia is the perfect addition to a healthy, balanced diet. Other than being rich in protein, it's also high in potassium, contains iron and is naturally gluten-free. Tilapia is a lean source of protein that packs a ton of nutrients into one low-carb serving.What is the healthiest fish to eat? ›
Oily fish – such as salmon, mackerel, anchovies, sardines and herring – contain all-important omega-3 essential fatty acid, which is important for heart and brain health as well as mood regulation.What are the pros and cons of tilapia? ›
The pros: Tilapia is super-convenient, cheap and easy to find. They're lean and high in protein, which helps build muscle and burn fat. Tilapia also contains a small amount of omega-3 fatty acids, which can boost heart health, mood, and metabolism. The cons: It's really not that great for you.What fish is good for high blood pressure? ›
Researchers have found that oily fish, such as mackerel, salmon, sardines or mussels, could help protect our hearts and brains from disease. They are found to be rich in an important type of polyunsaturated fat called omega-3, which has been shown to help lower blood pressure.Is tilapia an unhealthy fish? ›
Tilapia is a nutritious food, and it can be part of a healthy and balanced diet. It is a good source of protein and is relatively low in fat. Tilapia is also lower in sodium, calories, and total fat than bacon and other processed meats. However, unlike salmon, tilapia is not particularly high in omega-3 fatty acids.
The Wake Forest researchers notes: “All other nutritional content aside, the inflammatory potential of hamburger and pork bacon is lower than the average serving of farmed tilapia” because tilapia has more omega-6 fats and fewer omega-3s than red meat.Is tilapia bad for you mercury? ›
The EPA and FDA have identified tilapia as a “Best Choice” fish for pregnant women, breastfeeding mothers, and children. A “Best Choice” rating by the EPA and FDA means that tilapia does not contain unsafe levels of mercury.Is Walmart tilapia safe to eat? ›
Yes, it is safe to eat. All of the tilapia that you're buying at grocery stores is coming from farms that are regulated.What is better than tilapia? ›
- Catfish. Catfish has firm texture and mild flavor — just like tilapia. ...
- Striped Bass. Both farmed and wild striped bass are sustainable choices. ...
- Red Snapper. ...
- Rainbow Trout. ...
Don't eat shark, swordfish, king mackerel, or tilefish (sometimes called golden bass or golden snapper) because they contain high levels of mercury. Eat up to 12 ounces (two average meals) a week of a variety of fish and shellfish that are lower in mercury.What are 3 fish you should never eat? ›
Making the “do not eat” list are King Mackerel, Shark, Swordfish and Tilefish. All fish advisories due to increased mercury levels should be taken seriously. This is especially important for vulnerable populations such as young children, pregnant or breastfeeding women, and older adults.What fish is bad to eat everyday? ›
Halibut, grouper, mahi-mahi, albacore tuna and canned tuna fall under the FDA's “good choices” category and should be eaten no more than once a week. Swordfish, orange roughy and bigeye tuna are best avoided, as they contain the highest levels of mercury.What is the unhealthiest meat? ›
Finally, health experts say to stay away from processed meats, which are generally considered to be unhealthy. These include any meat that has been smoked, salted, cured, dried, or canned. Compared to fresh meat, processed meats are high in sodium and can have double the amount of nitrates.What is the number 1 healthiest meat? ›
Healthiest options: turkey and chicken
When it comes to the healthiest meats that pack the biggest nutritional punch, turkey and chicken should be at the top of your (grocery) list, says Schiff. Both are about equal in terms of nutrition, with turkey tending to be leaner than chicken.
People with high cholesterol should avoid any fish high in saturated fat and calories. Shrimps, trout, mackerel, tuna, and swordfish are some fishes you should avoid eating.