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Tilapia - A Healthy Food Choice by Priyanka ,  Feb 12, 2013

Tilapia are robust, fast growing, warm-water fish that happen to be a favorite option for aquaculture. Tilapia are members of the Cichlid family which are indigenous to freshwater in Africa and the Middle East. Tilapia production is thriving world-wide, having increased from 1.6 metric tons in 1999 to 3.5 metric tons in 2008. China, Bangladesh, Indonesia, the Philippines, and Thailand are now the top five worldwide growers of tilapia.

A decade ago, tilapia were practically unknown in the United States, but they're becoming more popular. Traditionally marketed to Asian and African ethnic populations, tilapia are now getting widely accessible to the general population in seafood markets and supermarkets.

Because of their mild flavored, white-fleshed fillets, tilapia makes a perfect component for many dishes. Tilapia are a good way to obtain protein and a 3.5 oz. serving contains 28 grams of proteins. Tilapia is low in saturated fat, calories, carbohydrates and sodium. Tilapia also has beneficial quantities of other essential nutrients, including selenium, vitamin B12, niacin, phosphorous, and potassium.

Researchers at the Wake Forest School of Medicine in Winston-Salem have reported that farm-raised tilapia contains low levels of beneficial omega-3 fatty acids and high levels of dangerous omega-6 fatty acids.

That combination could be dangerous for some patients with heart disease, arthritis, asthma, and other allergic and autoimmune diseases, according to the report published in the current issue of the American Dietetic Association Journal.

Tilapia is a white fish which is easy to cook and exceptionally nutritious. It is full of protein, vitamins and minerals and is low in fat and calories. Tilapia is a good fish to eat because according to the United States Food and Drug Administration, it has one of the lowest levels of mercury of all fish. Tilapia can be baked, steamed, grilled or fried.

Calories

A 3.5-oz., or 100g serving of cooked tilapia has just 128 calories, provided it is cooked in dry heat, without any butter, oil or other additives. This makes tilapia a low-calorie fish and a good choice for people who want to lose weight. Tilapia is also a good choice for non-dieters as well; they can simply eat more of it. In fact, two servings of tilapia still have fewer calories than the average serving of steak.

Where tilapia is being grown and harvested is a source of concern. In Latin America, the fish grow in overcrowded pens under conditions that would not be allowed in the U.S. According to the Times, “Seafood Watch lists tilapia raised in the United States as a ‘best choice,’ tilapia from Latin America as a ‘good alternative’ and tilapia from China as ‘to be avoided.’” Fish farming in China is considered poorly regulated, although Chinese-raised frozen fish can be bought in the U.S. very cheaply.

Despite these problems, white fish such as tilapia is high in protein and low in fat—both good reasons to include it in your diet. Take care to know where your fish is coming from and make an informed shopping decision. Considering the issues with tilapia, rotate your fish selections so that you get a good dose of omega-3s. But in the end, tilapia once a week is still a healthier choice than a cheeseburger and fries.

The Chemicals

Once upon a time, tilapia was breed in a way where most of the fish would be male (which allows the fish to grow larger to a marketable size). However, they soon discovered a nifty little trick. If they put testosterone in their feed for the first few months, they would all turn male. Now, I haven’t read of any adverse health effects from people eating testosterone feed fish. But I find the practice a little disturbing and unnatural.  Not all fisheries use this practice, but it is very common.  Secondly, some fish farms use growth hormones.  We avoid growth hormones carefully in our meat, so why would we consume fish that contains it?

Their Food

While some fisheries may still use their natural food ( like duckweed), many, if not most fisheries feed them corn. Tilapia are easy to grow because, like pigs, they will eat anything, including “poop”. So it’s quite easy to grow them on corn. First, the corn is probably genetically modified. That has it’s own problems. Secondly, this high in corn diet leads to fish that’s high in Omega 6′s.

Wait, a minute! High in Omega 6 Fatty Acids?

High in Omega 6 Fatty Acids

One of the biggest health benefits of eating fish is getting Omega 3′s. You aren’t going to find that in Tilapia. In fact, you may be doing harm instead of good by eating it!

All things considered, I just don’t think that tilapia is a good choice in seafood.. Sure it’s cheap, but I can buy grassfed beef for the same price or cheaper per pound, and that will contain a much better ratio of omega 3 to 6 fatty acids. Tilapia may be sustainable, but that’s doesn’t mean it’s good for you.

My only disclaimer is that there could be fisheries who follow better practices. If you are going to eat tilapia, try to find a good source for it and ask about specific practices.

Avoid eating fried tilapia, because fried fish contains higher concentrations of fat and more calories than tilapia served grilled or baked. If adding breading to tilapia, use fresh, homemade breadcrumbs to avoid the high sodium content in many processed, boxed bread crumbs. Serve the steamed, grilled or baked tilapia with healthy side dishes such as steamed vegetables, whole-grain bread, brown rice or a large, green salad.
Your "Best Choice" is tilapia grown in the U.S. in environmentally friendly systems. "Avoid" farmed tilapia from China and Taiwan, where pollution and weak management are widespread problems.

U.S. farmed tilapia is the "Best Choice," with tilapia from Central and South America as a "Good Alternative" to other imported product.
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