July 24, 2008

Farm-raised tilapia may not have benefits for heart health

Consumers looking for heart-healthy food may want to eat fish other than farm-raised tilapia.

Researchers at the Wake Forest School of Medicine in Winston-Salem have reported that farm-raised tilapia contains low levels of beneficial omega-3 fatty acids and high levels of dangerous omega-6 fatty acids.

That combination could be trouble for some patients with heart disease, arthritis, asthma, and other allergic and autoimmune diseases, according to the report published in the current issue of the American Dietetic Association Journal.

The American Heart Association recommends eating two servings of fish each week to increase levels of omega-3 fatty acids that can decrease the risk of arrhythmias, triglyceride levels, and plaque growth, and may lower blood pressure.

Fish high in omega-3 fatty acids include bluefish, king and Spanish mackerel, and tuna.

The Wake Forest School of Medicine report found that farm-raised tilapia contained higher levels of omega-6 fatty acids than foods such as doughnuts and bacon.

Excessive levels of omega-6 fatty acids have been linked to a number of diseases, including heart disease, arthritis, osteoporosis, cancer, and depression.

Tilapia is the fifth most popular type of seafood consumed in the U.S., according to the National Marine Fisheries Service.

The mild-flavored, white-fleshed fish, native to Africa, has become popular with Americans looking for inexpensive fish.

Tilapia fillets run around $7.50 per pound in retail markets, considerably lower than offshore species, such as tuna, but higher than species like bluefish and Spanish mackerel.

Fish farms in the U.S., including North Carolina, produce about 20 million pounds of tilapia every year, but most tilapia comes from other countries.

In 2007, tilapia imports, mostly frozen fillets, exceeded 383 million pounds. 

National Marine Fisheries Service doesn’t distinguish between wild-caught and farm-raised imports, but most tilapia comes from Asia or Latin America, fish farming epicenters.

Ecuador, Honduras, and Costa Rica supply the bulk of the 57 million pounds of fresh fillets that come into this country.

China alone supplied U.S. consumers with 193 million pounds of frozen fillets last year.

Although the fish’s rise to popularity with American consumers has taken place relatively recently, tilapia is thought to have been the fish that Jesus multiplied a thousand-fold to feed the masses. 

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