Is Tilapia Really Worse Than Bacon?
I love red meat. I can’t imagine being a vegetarian. Still, I know full well that red meat is not always good for me. So, in recent months I’ve worked hard at buying more fish to cook at home. Imagine my horror when I read the above headline on a recent blog! What???
The post was by Dr. Axe at draxe.com who cited a report by Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center that showed farm-raised tilapia, one of the most highly consumed fish in America, has very low levels of beneficial Omega 3 fatty acid and, perhaps worse, very high levels of Omega 6 fatty acids. Many of us don’t think twice about eating fish and tilapia tastes reasonably good and is relatively inexpensive. If it sounds too good to be true, is it?
Yes and no. It all revolves around where the fish you eat came from. There is a world of difference between fish caught in the wild and farm-raised fish, and it’s worth your while to know just what those differences are. Turns out, all fish are not created equal.
Most nutritionists believe farm-raised fish can actually sometimes be bad for you. They may be healthier than some red meats, but they are not always “health food.” Farm-raised fish may have at least 10 times the cancer causing pollutants as those bred in the wild. The crowded conditions of fish farms cause the fish to be more susceptible to disease so farm owners give them antibiotics, which can be dangerous to humans. They are also often treated with harmful pesticides to combat sea lice.
“For individuals who are eating fish as a method to control inflammatory diseases such as heart disease, it is clear that tilapia is not a good choice,” Dr. Floyd Chilton, a professor of physiology and pharmacology and the director of the WakeForestCenter for Botanical Lipids said. “All other nutritional content aside, the inflammatory potential of hamburger and pork bacon is lower than the average serving of farmed tilapia.”
In fact, the study concluded that eating farm-raised tilapia may worsen inflammation, which can lead to heart disease, arthritis, asthma, and other health conditions, and could be a potentially dangerous food source for those patients.
It’s not all bad news though, and facts need to be personally tailored to an individual’s health plan.
“Tilapia is not necessarily worse just because it contains less Omega-3 than salmon and more Omega-6 than bacon,” said Dr. Eliza Mei Perez Francisco, a nutrition support physician at St. Luke’s Medical Center. “It still has many nutritional benefits, and cannot be judged solely on its potential to cause inflammation.”
And unlike other fish, tilapia has very low levels of mercury because it is a fast growing- and short-lived fish that mostly eats a vegetarian diet. It has been around since Biblical times and is even sometimes called “Saint Peter’s fish” because that was the fish the apostle caught that reportedly carried a coin in its mouth.
Originally, tilapia was only raised in Africa, but because of its introduction into fresh water lakes, it is not only a growing food source, but a growing industry. Today Asia accounts for 63 percent of worldwide tilapia production, with China, Indonesia, Thailand, and the Philippines producing the most. Dr. Kevin Fitzsimmons, president of the World Aquaculture Society, calls it the “food fish of the 21st century” and is also referred to as “aquatic chicken” because both Americans and Europeans consider it a low cholesterol “white meat.”
Besides Tilapia, the most common types of farm-raised fish are:
If you’re looking for a healthy daily does of omega-3-fatty-acids, stick to wild caught fish like wild sockeye salmon. Taking a high quality fish oil that contains astaxanthin is also recommended for many. As for buying fish to eat, check local health food stores and make sure you’re buying real wild caught fish.
Sources: Agriculture Business Week 4/16/09, Brad Sylvester/Yahoo, draxe.com.