1011 Virginia Drive, Suite 104, Orlando, FL 32803


Is Tilapia Healthy?


Ten years ago, no one had even heard of tilapia. Now it’s one of the top selling fish in stores due to its low price and mild taste. But have you ever caught a tilapia? Have you ever heard of anyone catching a tilapia? I definitely hadn’t, so I started to wonder if this was some kind of genetically modified farm-raised mutant fish or something we had just “caught” on to.

I found out that a majority of the tilapia consumed in the US (475 million lbs in 2010) is harvested from pens or cages in Latin America and China. Tilapia is cheap because it’s easy to farm. It’s been called the “perfect factory fish.” It thrives on a corn and soy-based diet, unlike other farmed fish that require more expensive meat-based feed. It grows rapidly, reaching it’s sales weight in about 9 months of intensive feeding and can survive in over-crowded pens and polluted waters of foreign fish farms. Tilapia’s survivability also means it can easily invade natural habitats and threaten native fish populations in places where open systems are used.

Tilapia does exist in the wild and is native to North Africa, but out of the 2.3 million metric tons of tilapia produced annually, 73 percent is farmed.

As far as low-fat, low-calorie, animal-based protein sources go, tilapia is a good choice. But as far as heart and brain-healthy omega-3s go, tilapia comes up short. Salmon has 10 times the healthy fat as tilapia. Other sustainable rich sources of omega 3s are herring, albacore tuna, mackerel and sardines.

According to Seafood Watch, most tilapia farms in the United States use closed inland systems that guard against escapes and pollution. However, less than 10% of the tilapia consumed in the US is farmed here. Most of it comes from China and Taiwan, where pollution and escapes are much more common. Here’s a thought: if you wouldn’t drink the water there, why would you eat the fish from there?

This doesn’t mean you need to stop eating tilapia. The bottom line is, pay attention to where your fish is coming from. Look at the packaging if you’re buying frozen, ask your server at a restaurant, and ask the fish monger at the market or grocery. Tilapia farm-raised in the US is your best choice, followed by tilapia from Central and South America. Avoid tilapia from China and Taiwan.

Read more:

Aquaculture Stewardship Council: Tilapia
The ASC’s mission is to transform aquaculture towards environmental sustainability and social responsibility using efficient market mechanisms that create value across the chain.

Seafood Watch: Tilapia
The Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch program helps consumers and businesses make smart choices for healthy oceans.

  • Thanks :)

  • marci ware

    Great info on tilapia to bad my freezer is full of farm raised from china BOOOOOO

    • Thanks. It’s amazing how much people don’t know about the foods they are eating every day!

  • Pingback: Fresh Fish Friday: Chile-Lime Bass with Spicy Corn Saute | Nutrition Awareness()

  • Anonymous

    What an illogical statement, “ If you wouldn’t drink the water there, why would you eat fish from there” We avoid water in underdeveloped countries primarily because of bacteria, not toxins. I am not sure the toxicities in water are any worse in China than the US. While it is good to point out that other fish have more Omega 3s, other animal meats have none. How about a site/blog actually analyzing some tilapia samples instead of rhetoric about the source countries or how the fish are farmed. Huma waste contains many healthy compounds, the idea that exposure of fish to human waste makes the fish toxic is absurd. Do you know how much fish dung is in the oceans, lakes, and rivers? One last point. Choloesterol and obesity are a major source of morbidity and death in our country. This is an affordable, much healthier choice that 90% of what obese people put in their bodies. Let’s celebrate this. Who says you can’t AFFORD to eat healthy.

    • That tilapia or any other fish is a healthier choice than other meat or other foods is not the point of this post. I could also say that eating kale is much better for you than eating French fries, but again, that’s common sense and also not the point. The purpose is to encourage consumers to question where their food is coming from, what conditions it was raised in and what your food itself was eating.

      Would you drink the water that chicken or pig feces was poured into? Because that’s what roughly 50% of Chinese tilapia are fed by, which makes them highly susceptible to bacterial infections like salmonella and E.Coli. But not to worry, they pump the waters full of antibiotics to rid them of the bacteria. Or maybe we should worry, since there are now multiple strains of antibiotic resistant salmonella emerging from overuse of antibiotics.

      Bottom line, if you want to eat fish raised in overcrowded farms feeding primarily off pig shit, that’s your choice. I, on the other hand, will be checking labels and asking where my fish was raised.

  • Pingback: Moroccan Fish over Whole Grain Couscous + Winner of 27, the E-cookbook! | Nutrition Awareness()

  • Don ridall

    I live in San Antonio and a lot of the tilapia around here are caught with cast nets in our power plant lakes. I don’t think they will take a baited hook.

  • Pingback: How to cook tilapia fish | Quik Answer()

  • Pingback: Moroccan Fish over Whole Grain Couscous()

  • Pingback: Baked Halibut with Garlicky Kale & Toasted Cashews()

  • Pingback: Fish Tacos with Mango Salsa - Orlando Dietitian Nutritionist()

Do you want to:

-Feel better, look better, or have more energy?
-Improve your health?
-Lose weight?
-Fuel your body for muscle gain?
-Lower your blood pressure or cholesterol?
-Stop the yo-yo cycle of dieting?

We are a team of registered dietitian nutritionists specializing in weight loss and performance. Instead of providing a generic plan you can follow for a few weeks until you’re tired of drinking the shakes or eating the pre-packaged meals, we will guide you on the path of making small weekly changes to your routine that bring big results, for life!

Our goal is for our clients to never need another diet or nutrition plan again!