While there is some talk about omega-3 fatty acids versus omega-6 fatty acids, even in tilapia, it is important to understand that both of these fatty acids are essential fatty acids. Our bodies do not make either and we need to derive both from our diets. Omega-3s are important for immune function and blood clotting. Omega-6s, on the other hand, tend to promote inflammation, which is in and of itself critical for appropriate healing. Like most nutrients, there is only a problem with omega-6s when they are consumed in excess. In the American diet, there are omega-6s in a lot of different foods, both healthful and unhealthful foods. We should aim to get our omega-6s primarily from whole, nutrient-rich foods like nuts, seeds and tilapia, instead of from processed foods like fast food and packaged snacks like cookies and chips. It’s true that we need to consume a healthful dose of omega-3s in our diet to bring the omega-3 and omega-6 ratio into balance, which is one reason the Dietary Guidelines recommend eating an array of healthful foods—including a variety of seafood 2-3 times each week. A truly versatile fish, tilapia provides loads of other nutrients, including protein and B vitamins.
Debunking The “Bacon” Myth
Tilapia nutrition is simple: tilapia is a healthy and wholesome food. Suggestions that it is nutritionally akin to bacon or doughnuts are misguided and inaccurate. In fact, the history of this misinformation is well documented. In 2008 the Winston Salem Journal reported on a study that supposedly found tilapia wasn’t nutritionally favorable. The study and the reporting on it began to unravel when an international coalition of more than a dozen doctors spoke out to clarify that tilapia fish are low in total and saturated fat, high in protein and clearly part of a healthy diet.
When the original misinformed headlines began popping up, claiming that tilapia was nutritionally akin to bacon, the world-renowned Mayo Clinic even got involved, explaining to consumers that tilapia was not an unhealthy fish at all. In response to the exaggerated reporting on the study Mayo Clinic dietitians wrote, “Does this mean you should give [tilapia] up? No!”
Reputable mainstream news outlets have examined tilapia’s perception challenges, with the bacon hyperbole in mind, and have reported, “its overall fat profile is much better than many animal sources of protein which come with much higher amounts of saturated fat. Tilapia contains only a half gram of saturated fat per 3 ounce serving, compared with 1 gram in chicken breast meat or 8 grams in steak” concluding, “it’s a very nutritious fish.” And recognizing that real independent research reveals, “there’s absolutely no reason to trash tilapia.”
Additional information on tilapia nutrition can be found on the www.aboutseafood.com website.