Tilapia: To Eat or Not To Eat?

Why You  Should Eat Tilapia

Tilapia Ceviche – a healthy, fresh dish

Every year someone circulates reports saying that Tilapia should never be eaten, that it causes severe inflammation or it’s worse for a person than bacon.  It will also cite how farm raised tilapia is grown in sewers.

The fish is a lean fish, a good source of protein, and is grown in a sustainable manner. It’s probably better than most farmed animals in the United States.

Tilapia and Inflammation

There was a 2008 article that showed the omega-3 fatty acid ratio to omega-6 fatty acid ratio of popular fish.  Much like eggs, the ratios of omega-3 fatty acids are dependent upon what the fish is fed. They can be raised or lowered depending up on what they are fed.

The average 4 ounce serving of tilapia has 1 gram of saturated fat, 29 grams of protein, and 200 mg of omega-3. That’s about the same omega-3 content as scallops, wild lobster, wild cod, wild haddock, wild mahi mahi, yellowfin tuna, orange roughy, and shrimp. A 3-ounce serving of wild or farmed salmon has more than 1500 milligrams of omega-3 fatty acids so they are clearly more.  The major health organizations recommend people take in 250 to 500 per day, but they can be taken by two servings of salmon per week.

One egg has 115 grams of omega-3 fatty acid, and eggs raised on high omega 3 diets get up to 225 grams of omega-3 fatty acid.

If tilapia are raised on different foods that amount of omega-3 fatty acid can increase, and some fish farmers are increasing the feed to increase the amount of omega-3 fatty acids. It depends upon the feed of the fish. But tilapia, like eggs, are not a daily source of omega 3 fatty acids.

 Omega 6 Fatty Acid

This is a fatty acid that causes inflammation, and is something your body needs. Inflammation is not always the enemy- if you didn’t have an inflammatory response you would die from septic shock. Inflammation is what heals wounds, kills bacteria, and provides regeneration of tissues. But as with any ratio, there is a balance – if you have too much – it’s bad. But the amount of omega 6 fatty acid to omega 3 fatty acid in tilapia is a 4:3 ratio, wild salmon is 1:4, bacon grease is 10:1, and corned beef is 3:1. Or to put it another way – tilapia generally has less inflammatory potential than bacon, corned beef, and is not as healthy as salmon.

Farm Raised Fish

Sustainability of our fish sources will depend upon farm raised fish. Tilapia is raised in this manner.  Most of our tilapia is imported from China, but it is raised widely throughout the United States. For a good article read Fish Farms: A Solution or a Problem. 

In 2006 Tilapia was given an “avoid” rating by seafood watch because of the poor practices in China. However, China is quite interested in exporting of fish and the standards have raised to where today Seafood watch gives tilapia from China as “Good Alternative.”

Tilapia can be raised anywhere, and probably will be the first fish raised on Mars. For earth consumers, tilapia is raised in almost every southern state, including Arizona, and best choice for tilapia buyers include Ecuador, the US, and Canada.

The best place where fish are sourced includes your local fishmonger, as well as Whole Foods, Walmart, and Costco that all source their fish from good sources.

Chemicals, Antibiotics, and Toxins

Farmed fish are sometimes given antibiotics, but those do not affect antibiotic resistance in humans. The reason – we are so far away from fish in our evolutionary chain that there has never been a fish bacteria that has gone back and forth to humans: unlike with cattle where E coli, salmonella, campylobacter, and other diseases go from domesticated animals to humans.

It’s Quite Healthy

Sustainable and well raised fish are the only hope for feeding a hungry planet. Perhaps explaining why Tilapia is the number 4 consumed fish in the world. My favorite way to have Tilapia is as a ceviche – and here is the recipe.  When it comes to food, having this as a basic staple will provide a nutritious source of food for many years.


J Fish Biol. 2013 Oct;83(4):1067-84. doi: 10.1111/jfb.12187. Epub 2013 Aug 30.
Meeting the food and nutrition needs of the poor: the role of fish and the opportunities and challenges emerging from the rise of aquaculture.
Beveridge MC1, Thilsted SH, Phillips MJ, Metian M, Troell M, Hall SJ.

Int J Food Sci Nutr. 2009;60 Suppl 5:203-11. doi: 10.1080/09637480903140503.
Omega-6 (n-6) and omega-3 (n-3) fatty acids in tilapia and human health: a review.
Young K1.



Dr. Terry Simpson About Dr. Terry Simpson
Dr. Terry Simpson received his undergraduate and graduate degrees from the University of Chicago where he spent several years in the Kovler Viral Oncology laboratories doing genetic engineering. He found he liked people more than petri dishes, and received his MD. Dr. Simpson, a renowned weight loss surgeon, is a leading advocate of culinary medicine. A frequent contributor to media outlets discussing health related topics and advances in medicine, he is also a proud dad, husband, author, cook, and surgeon “in that order.” For media inquiries, please visit www.terrysimpson.com.

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