The debate over tilapia is growing. Last year, North Americans ate so much tilapia, it became one of our most popular fish. In fact, some food industry experts are now calling it “aquatic chicken,” because tilapia’s so easy to raise and cheap to buy. So what’s the problem? First, most of the tilapia we eat comes from fish farms, which put a huge strain on the environment. That’s because tilapia generally destroy the ponds or lakes they’re added to, by eating all the underwater vegetation, killing off other fish species, and then polluting the water with waste. Doctors also warn that farmed tilapia has fewer nutritional benefits than other fish - and that’s what you’ll find in most grocery stores. Farmed tilapia generally has lower levels of heart and brain-healthy omega-3 fatty acids, and higher levels of unhealthy omega-6s – which have been linked to a higher risk for heart disease. In fact, eating tilapia could be worse for your heart than eating a hamburger! That’s because tilapia has 134 milligrams of the bad fat – which is 100 milligrams MORE than 80% lean hamburger.
That’s why people with heart disease, arthritis, asthma and other allergic or auto-immune diseases should especially avoid this type of fish. Doctors say these folks are particularly vulnerable to an “exaggerated inflammatory response” – something the high levels of omega-6s can cause. The good news is that the tilapia industry is promising tougher regulations and better fishing standards. As an example, a group called Seafood Watch recently started rating fish based on their diet – figuring the better their diet is, the better it’ll be for you! According to Seafood Watch, tilapia raised in North America rates as the “best choice,” while tilapia from China is rated “to be avoided.” So when you’re standing in line at the seafood counter, keep that in mind. If you’re ordering tilapia at a restaurant, ask where it came from.