News & tips on health, fitness and nutrition

Friday, June 1, 2012

Tilapia not recommended for those with heart problems

If you haven't caught up on the news about tilapia, here's a recap: a study from researchers at Wake Forest University School of Medicine found that farm-raised tilapia, a very popular fish in the United States today, has very low levels of omega-3s and very high levels of omega-6 fatty acids (also found in seeds and nuts, and the oils extracted from them, such as cottonseed and soy oil). 

We get much more of these fats than we need – they're found in most snack foods, cookies, crackers, and sweets. The body constructs hormones from omega-6s that tend to increase inflammation (an important component of the immune response), blood clotting, and cell proliferation. Omega-3 fatty acids are anti-inflammatory.

The Wake Forest researchers said that the combination of fatty acids in tilapia could pose a danger for some patients with heart disease, arthritis, asthma and other allergic and auto-immune diseases, all of which are linked to chronic inflammation. In fact, the investigators said that the fatty acid profile of tilapia is worse than that of 80-percent-lean hamburger, doughnuts and even bacon.


  • A 3-ounce portion of tilapia contains 134 milligrams of  unfavorable omega-6 fat; the same amount of 80 percent lean hamburger contains 34 milligrams, and bacon 191 milligrams.
“Cardiologists are telling their patients to go home and eat fish, and if the patients are poor, they’re eating tilapia. And that could translate into a dangerous situation,” said the researchers from the The university study showed that farm-raised tilapia, one of the most highly consumed fish in America, has very low levels of beneficial Omega-3 fatty acid and, perhaps worse, very high levels of Omega-6 fatty acids, researchers claimed.

They said the combination could be a potentially dangerous food source for some patients with heart disease, arthritis, asthma and other allergic and auto-immune diseases that are particularly vulnerable to an “exaggerated inflammatory response.” Inflammation is known to cause damage to blood vessels, the heart, lung and joint tissues, skin, and the digestive tract.


In an article which appeared in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association, the researchers claimed that tilapia has higher levels of potentially detrimental long-chain Omega-6 fatty acids than 80-percent-lean hamburger, doughnuts and even pork bacon.

Eating tilapia is worse than bacon? That was Dr. Floyd Chilton, a professor of physiology and pharmacology and the director of the Wake Forest Center for Botanical Lipids, told the American media.

“For individuals who are eating fish as a method to control inflammatory diseases such as heart disease, it is clear from these numbers that tilapia is not a good choice,” Dr. Chilton said, “All other nutritional content aside, the inflammatory potential of hamburger and pork bacon is lower than the average serving of farmed tilapia.”

Howver, let’s take a closer look at the comparison. Tilapia has 26 grams of protein while bacon has a measly 0.07 gram. Tilapia’s fat content is three grams compared to 100.76 grams for bacon. In addition, tilapia is an excellent source of phosphorus, niacin, selenium, vitamin B12, and a good source of potassium. Bacon, on the other hand, contains 1,000 milligrams of sodium, 166 milligrams of cholesterol, and enough possible carcinogenic nitrites to make pregnant women think twice.

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