It's easy to get answers about health and nutrition! Just send your question by email to firstname.lastname@example.org and Dr. Harlan will respond to selected questions of general interest. Answers will be posted in the Ask Dr. Gourmet newsletter (sign up now!) and archived in the Ask Dr. Gourmet section of the website.
Do you have any information on the health benefits/non-benefits of the fish called tilapia? I've seen conflicting reports.
There are no recipes for tilapia on the Dr. Gourmet website. Part of this is because I am not all that fond of the flavor and texture of this fish. I find tilapia pretty bland and dry.
The other reason is because the research that we have about the health effects of eating fish has been done mostly with fatty fish such as tuna, halibut and salmon. Leaner fish like tilapia and catfish have much less Omega 3. But... is that a problem?
It appears that it might be. In a study published last summer in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association researchers found that there is not very much Omega-3 fat in tilapia (we knew that). The issue is that there are high levels of Omega-6 fats and this might actually be dangerous. There is controversy about the importance of the ratio of Omega-3 to Omega-6 fats in foods. Some feel that having a high ratio of Omega-6 to Omega-3 can actually create an inflammatory state that could worsen issues such as heart disease. There is enough evidence to be concerned, however. (The authors of the study also note that farm raised catfish have similar ratios.)
So it might be best to not make tilapia the center of your diet.
One key that I do try and get across is that too much of any food is a problem. There's a balance in eating a wide variety of seafood including salmon, halibut, drum, tilapia, tuna, shrimp, mussels, cod, flounder and on and on. That's the best way to make sure that you are not only eating healthy but also enjoying what you eat to the fullest.
Thanks for writing,
Timothy S. Harlan, M.D.