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Aug 3, 2008 08:11 PM

Tilapia (farm-raised) now bad to eat?

I recently read that a university study (don't recall which university) did a study on farm raised Tilapia, a fish I had grown to really enjoy, and found that it was not that healthy to eat, given its higher omega 6 fatty acid concentration over the more desired omega 3. It was determined to have a higher saturated fat content than hamburger and had a higher cholesterol amount. It seemed that this finding was based on the fish being fed a corn based grain diet. This finding seemed incredulous to me!

I'd guess that occassional eating of farm raised Tilapia is ok in light of this report, but I'd love to hear someone refute this finding and report that it just ain't so!!

I understand that a higher amount of Omega 6's to 3's is more likely to lead to inflammation in the arteries than our beloved Omega 3 concentrated foods, so if farm raised Tilapia is going to be one of those "unhealthy" foods, I'd like to know what farm raised Tilapia is fed a different kind of diet to not result in this Omega 6/3 concentration. Tilapia I've seen in stores is generally labeled as farm raised. Now that it is known that a heavily corn based diet can lead to a higher saturated fat and high Omega 6 concentration even in fish, knowing the food source of an animal is even more important.

In my ignorance, I thought "fish means healthy to eat." One more favorite food banished from my life of foods to enjoy eating. I look forward to the next study overturning the last one.
I read that Perch is a good substitute for Tilapia in that it, too, is mild, and I think, is still wild caught. Any other similar mild fish? (Other fish that come to mind include flounder, and catfish, which can be problemsome, because it, too is generally farm-raised, and for those for whom this matters, is not considered kosher.)

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  1. Do you have a citation? I searched through Google Scholar and didn't come up with anything using the terms you used.

    1 Reply
    1. re: PorkButt

      I can no longer access the original article that I read in July about this but the one below cites the same Wake Forest report...

    2. Felafel,

      Check this link:

      This is a commentary on the paper by researcher appearing in the same issue of the Journal of the American Dietetic Association in which the tilapia study appeared (BTW, the original study was performed by researchers at Wake Forest Univ.).

      The commentator does not refute the *findings* regarding the relative amounts of n-3 and n-6 PUFAs, as they are what they are. He also agrees with the original authors that the public needs to be better educated about what constitutes "heart healthy" fish. Heart healthy, being defined as those with a relatively higher amount of n-3 PUFAs, are "oily" fish. While many popular fish do not fall into this category (e.g. shrimp, cod, mahi-mahi) they are still excellent sources of lean protein.

      What the commentator does dispute is the authors' assertions regarding arachidonic acid (the most common n-6 PUFA) and the use of the n-6/n-3 ratio as a valid marker of the inflamatory potential of any particular food source; he contends that these are still not a settled issues. He cites a number of studies which appear to contradict the conclusion that arachidonic acid is proinflamatory. Further, he points out that the original authors fail to make a distinction between a high n-6/n-3 ratio because the food product is naturally high in n-6 PUFAs or because it is low in n-3. In the latter case one could certainly include an alternative source of n-3 fatty acid (e.g. nut oils) in the meal (or at least that day) to bring your overall dietary ratio back to the preferred range.

      The original (scientific) article is here:

      I myself would continue to enjoy my tilapia without hesitation but make sure to add other sources of n-3 fatty acids such as oily fish or nut oils.

      2 Replies
      1. re: kmcarr

        kmcarr - Yes, the Wake Forest report is the one that I had read in a summary of their findings. Your links look like they provide much more detailed and objective information. Good to read a learned commentary (yours) on such an issue. Once you become aware of something, it's hard to repeat the experience without the cautionary thought sifting through one's brain ("sure, this Tilapia tastes good, but I really should eat in more moderation ... ").

        I wonder if just thoughts of inflammation could lead to a cascade of inflammatory processes in one's body?!! Your suggestion is a good one - eat the tilapia, but ensure you eat foods with n-3's to balance out th 6's. It is said about 6's in general, that so many foods contain oils rich in 6's, that the 6/3 ratio is much greater than what it should be, or was in the past.

        I guess the ideal is to eat a large variety of types of food, of colors, spices, herbs, etc. just to cover all ground. Most of us, myself included, due to convenience, lack of cooking knowledge, stick to a limited variety of foods.

        1. re: kmcarr

          While I don't refute your post. I will say that although the commentator posted studies showing increased AA does not increase inflammatory makers, there are many more studies that show that an increase in omega-6 or decrease in omega-3 increases inflammation within the body. There is always a skeptic though.

        2. What I really recommend you doing is reading The Omninivore's Dilemma... even just the beginning of it... even just skim it to get an idea about why farm-raised fish has all these Omega 6's. Since you understand the ratio thing I'm curious if you have read anything else by Michael Pollan or if you just know a little nutrition science?

          Anyway, the problem that appears to me, is that farm-raised fish are often fed corn... so as you know about the heavily corn based diet being high in saturated fat, well, if you're food (i.e. the tilapia) is on a high saturated fat diet, the meat itself is going to be high in saturated fat. You are what you eat... the phrase isn't just true for people. So no need to stop eating tilapia as far as I can tell... it's the farm raised fish (fed on corn) that's the problem. Other fish that's farmed would have the same problem),

          Ok, so I'm re-reading your post now and it seems like you're more asking if the study is true/accurate about the corn diet. I think it's accurate and here's why: I read similar things elsewhere months ago. And also, to me, it just makes a lot of sense. How is food that people have eaten for years and years and years suddenly bad for you? Is it something they're eating? Just like how are humans more overweight than ever before? What are they eating, I say.

          1. I can think of a much simpler reason to avoid eating tilapia (long promoted as an environmentally friendly farm raised fish).

            Tilapia - even when swimming moments before being eaten and then perfectly cooked - by any method - has no taste.

            5 Replies
            1. re: embee

              I think you must be cooking it wrong. Lovely tasting fish, IMHO.

              1. re: HarryK

                That would mean that I and every restaurant where I have eaten it, and it was fresh, must be cooking it "wrong"!

                Sole and flounder and turbot have mild flavours. To me, tilapia has none. Palates differ. It seems to be fish for people who don't really like fish.

                Of course, over the hill tilapia has flavour, but I won't go there.

                1. re: embee

                  "It seems to be fish for people who don't really like fish."<--bingo!

                  1. re: TBird

                    Very true, however, with just a little simple seasoning Or I try to use some fresh salsas or a simple fresh tomato and spinach and roll them, they are the perfect tool. On their own ... BORING, but they can be made pretty good.

              2. re: embee

                I smoke whole tilapia. I brine them for about 1 - 2 hours then smoke them using a mix of apple and pecan woods. I use my commmercial cookshack smoker. I have smoked about every kind of fish you can find in Florida and the Tilapia has a great taste. It took a while getting the brine solution spices and wood and time correct, but is well worth it. My customers love it.

              3. AFAIK, all farm raised fish, including all that Salmon you see in the store and at the restaurant, are very bad n their Omega-6/Omega-3 ratio. If I remember correctly, they have about a 20-1 ratio, which is almost identical to Grain-Fed Beef.

                In other words, when animals eat an "unnatural" diet, they suffer.

                Embee, I hear you on Tilapia having, basically, no taste. It was a mild fish to begin with that was then farm-raised which reduces the flavor even more. Just think of Wild Salmon versus the farmed comparison. The judges on Iron Chef America agree as well.

                But, I know at least one guy that can't get enough of it, so, as always, Taste is in the Mouth of the Beholder.

                2 Replies
                1. re: DougRisk

                  That's a bit of a stretch as to "farmed" salmon. Yes, it has a higher Omega 6 to Omega 3 ratio, but that's due to the type of salmon being farmed, not external factors. As you can see from the linked data, farmed salmon is essentially the same as its coho/chinook bretheren:


                  "Wild" Sockeye is dramatically different because it's a fattier (and more flavorful) fish. Fatty = high Omega 3.

                  1. re: ferret

                    I am absolutely shocked to see the ratio of Omega-6/Omega-3 reported in that paper. Just doing a quick Google of "Farmed Salmon Omega-6" brought a bunch of links talking about or citing the fact that Farmed Salmon has a high amount of Omega-6 relative to Omega-3.

                    Actually, the only reference I could find that stated otherwise was that paper referenced here. Interesting.