Tilapia is a light, flaky, inexpensive fish found in restaurants and grocery stores. Unfortunately, tilapia is not the healthy alternative to a hamburger many believe. In fact, it may be worse for you, based on the amount and types of fats it contains. If you're serving tilapia, choose sides low in fat and cholesterol to balance the properties of the fish you're serving.
Tilapia and Fat
Some fish, such as tuna and salmon, are considered healthy because of their high levels of omega-3 fatty acids. Tilapia, on the other hand, contains low levels of omega-3 and potentially unhealthy levels of omega-6 fatty acids, according to Wake Forest University School of Medicine researchers. This combination of fats could be unhealthy for people with arthritis, heart disease, asthma, allergies and those vulnerable to inflammation. When serving tilapia, counter these bad fats with healthy cooking techniques and side dishes. Grill or broil tilapia on a rack to allow excess fat drip away.
Stay away from corn when serving tilapia, since farm-raised tilapia often consumes corn as part of its diet. Look for dark, leafy greens to provide a fat-free source of nutrition. You can serve Southern greens, slow cooked in water or a vegetable stock and seasonings, or fresh greens as a side salad. If you cook greens, don't add bacon or pork, and use more pepper than salt for seasoning. Dark, leafy greens are a good source of calcium and iron. Steam a combination of colorful vegetables, such as zucchini, squash, carrots, broccoli or cauliflower and season lightly with salt, pepper and a butter substitute with no saturated or trans fats. Avocados are a good source of monounsaturated fats. Create a healthy mash instead of a fatty guacamole by skipping the sour cream and adding diced red onions, tomatoes, lime juice and cilantro. Sugar snap peas and green beans taste great by themselves or with just a bit of seasoning. Or, toss green beans with slivered almonds, garlic and olive oil.
Beans are an excellent source of dietary fiber, helping remove cholesterol while it's in your colon. Try black beans for a good source of iron. Mix them with canned tomatoes, lime juice, cilantro, garlic and chili powder for a Tex-Mex treat. Add some skip milk and run through a food processor to serve as a soup. Tofu, made from soy beans, is another good choice for a healthy side dish. Cut it in cubes and lightly fry it in a monounsaturated fat, such as olive oil. Remove when it's crispy and serve top with a fat-free salsa.
Nuts are another good source of fiber and complement fish, putting some crunch on your plate. Sliver almonds and sprinkle them on the fish as you cook it. Roughly grind almonds, walnuts or cashews and mix with spinach to stuff your tilapia. Instead of breading your fish, finely grind nuts and coat the fish with them before cooking.
Instead of a baked potato loaded with butter, sour cream, bacon and cheese, serve a sweet potato souffle on the side with your tilapia. After cooking the potato, mash it with skim milk and cinnamon and add raisins or chopped walnuts. Skip the butter and brown sugar. Try brown rice instead of the white rice with salt and butter. Flavor the brown rice with diced green peppers, onions or tomatoes.