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Is Tilapia Unhealthy?

Dr. Weil recommends fish as part of his Anti-Inflammatory Diet, but farm-raised tilapia isn’t one of his top choices. Find out why – and what fish is a healthier option.

Farm-raised tilapia is one of the most commonly consumed fish in America, yet it has very low levels of beneficial omega-3 fats compared to its content of omega-6 fatty acids. Omega-6's are essential, but the American diet typically includes far too much of this kind of fat. An overabundance of dietary omega-6 is pro-inflammatory, and inflammation is a key contributor to many chronic health conditions. 

In addition, farmed fish (tilapia or not) are raised in crowded conditions that are unnatural - and to help prevent infection they are given antibiotics. This means the fish are likely to contain residues of antibiotics and other synthetic compounds used to control diseases that occur when fish are crowded in pens. They may also have lower levels of protein - as much as 20 percent less - compared to wild fish, and higher concentrations of cancer-causing chemicals such as PCBs and dioxin. They represent environmental negatives as well – they are resource- and energy-intensive (it takes several pounds of feed fish to produce one pound of farmed fish) and do not protect dwindling wild stock.

Tilapia is not necessarily unhealthy, but I recommend reaching for the best fish of all - wild-caught Alaskan salmon. It has an impressive omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acid ratio and is a species associated with fewer concerns about environmental toxins. While it is more expensive than tilapia, it is a worthy investment in your health that can reap dividends for the future. If you prefer white fish, look for wild-caught halibut or black cod as a healthy alternative.