Tilapia: Fish on Fire

We have heard for years that fish is good for us. And in many ways that’s true.

But there is one fish that is not so good. That fish is tilapia.

You may have seen it in your local store. Often it is advertised as a healthy protein source. But there are three reasons to think about looking elsewhere for your fish choices.

Before we go into those, here are some basic facts about tilapia. It originally came from freshwater ponds in Africa. It is good for fish farming because it creates more protein than it takes to produce it. All tilapia you get in the store is farmed.

It also has a mild flavor. People who do not like a ‘fishy’ taste appreciate this.

So far it sounds pretty good, doesn’t it? But if we look deeper, the problems appear. Here are the three biggest problems with this supposed ideal protein source:

1) Unfavorable Fatty Acid Ratio

This is the biggest problem. A bit of background is in order to understand why.

All walking, flying or swimming protein sources contain a mix of essential fatty acids (EFA). The two most common are Omega-6 and Omega-3. Both of these are called “essential” because our bodies do not make them.

We need both of these. However the ratio between them is crucial. The reason is that Omega-3 is anti-inflammatory, while Omega-6 is pro-inflammatory. In other words, too much Omega-6 tends to create inflammation. And since inflammation is at the root of many modern health problems, it is a good idea to be aware of what you take in.

An ideal ratio of Omega-6 to Omega-3 is around 2 to 1. Sadly, most people eating a modern diet get closer to 20 to 1 or even higher. Grains are high in Omega-6 EFA. So is grain fed (and grain finished) beef. Grass-fed beef has an almost ideal 6-to-3 ratio.

You often hear that fish is good for its healthy fat. Wild salmon, for instance, has a high amount of Omega-3. That means it is good for helping lower inflammation.

Farmed tilapia, on the other hand, has an Omega-6 to Omega-3 ratio that averages around 11 to 1. This is largely because they are fed a grain-based diet. If you catch tilapia in the wild, the ratio will likely be better.

2) Consider the Source

Another problem with farmed tilapia is where it comes from. Only 10% of store-bought tilapia comes from the U.S. The rest comes from South America, China and Taiwan.

The tilapia coming from outside the country is often raised in polluted water. Not exactly what you would consider healthy.

The small amount of tilapia grown in the U.S. is grown is very controlled settings. The likelihood of pollution is much lower. It still has the EFA ratio problem, but at least you are not dealing with added toxins.

3) Environmental Concerns

Foreign grown tilapia often escapes the farm and gets into streams and lakes. Once there it is a threat to native species. It competes for food and will sometimes drive native fish to extinction.

U.S. grown tilapia is raised in closed systems. This means it is less likely to threaten local species.

If you are looking for healthy fish choices, you will find many options. But tilapia may not be your best healthy fish choice. If you do decide to eat it, be sure to look for U.S. grown sources.

All the best to you for your health and happiness,

Dr. Bruce Eichelberger

Dr. Bruce

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