For a Healthy Meal, Tilapia Is Your Friend (and Food)

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Tilapia is a deeply misunderstood fish and one whose reputation is often at the mercy of misinformation, especially on the internet. While tilapia fish doesn't contain the high concentrations of omega-3 fatty acids found in fish like salmon, it's also leaner and therefore lower in calories. When added to a fresh, plant-based diet, tilapia benefits far outweigh any nonsensical claims about its origins.


Tilapia is a very healthy fish, especially when prepared with olive oil, which adds the omega-3 essential fatty acids that fattier fish like salmon are so prized for.

Basic Facts About Tilapia

Tilapia is the fourth most popular fish in the U.S., ranking behind tuna, salmon and Alaskan pollock. Mild in flavor with a firm and flaky texture, tilapia is available all year, usually as skinless fillets. This has prompted some fears among the less well-informed that tilapia is somehow not a real fish, but is created in this skinless, boneless state. On the contrary, tilapia is the oldest known farmed fish, and according to the University of California at Berkeley, it's often called "St. Peter's fish" because it's believed that tilapia was used by Jesus to feed the masses at the Sea of Galilee.

Biblical legends aside, tilapia is extremely adaptable and can be farmed almost anywhere. Tilapia fish thrive in warm water and consume mostly algae and other plants in the wild. Farmed tilapia are more likely to be fed a diet based on corn and soy. Being lower on the food chain means that tilapia fillets are less likely to contain high concentrations of dioxin, which is a known carcinogen.

Nutrition in Tilapia

Tilapia is highly recommended for pregnant and nursing women and children older than 2 years because it contains so little mercury, dioxin and other contaminants. Tilapia protein is very low in fat. A 3.5-ounce fillet contains 26 grams of protein and only 130 calories. Because farmed tilapia does not consume an algae-based diet, it's lower in omega-3 fatty acids, containing only 0.2 grams per portion rather than the 1.5 grams found in both farmed and wild salmon. According to the National Fisheries Institute, tilapia nutrition, like that of all fish, includes B vitamins, iron, vitamin D and selenium.

How to Choose Tilapia Fish

As with all fresh fish, choose tilapia that's firm and smells fresh. The safest tilapia comes from the U.S., Canada and Ecuador, but all major retailers in the U.S. sell tilapia that's certified by Best Aquaculture Practices (BAP), Global Aquaculture Alliance (GAA) or the Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC), according to the experts at the National Fisheries Institute.

Best Tilapia Recipe Tips

Tilapia is relatively low in fat and will dry out and get tough if overcooked, so a good rule of thumb is to cook it for not more than five minutes for every 1/2 inch of thickness. Its mild flavor makes it versatile and also more appealing to young children and others who don't like a strong fishy flavor or who dislike the smell of fish cooking. Tilapia can be pan-seared, grilled, broiled or baked, which are the healthiest ways to prepare it because they require very little added fat. A thin brush of olive oil adds flavor as well as unsaturated fat, which can help lower blood cholesterol, according to the American Heart Association. <ahref="http:"" heartorg="" conditions="" cholesterol="" know-your-fats_ucm_305628_article.jsp#.w9cma9dkgdw"=""> </ahref="http:>Tilapia can also be breaded and fried, making it ideal for fish 'n' chips or fish tacos.