What Is Tilapia?
Tilapia is a type of fish that is native to only the Middle East and Africa. It is now farm-raised in over 80 countries worldwide. The three main tilapia species are:
- Nile (or Black) Tilapia
- Mozambique (or Red) Tilapia
- Blue Tilapia
Tilapia is known for its sweet, mild taste and flaky texture. The taste of tilapia fluctuates greatly depending on the water quality and feed.
Tilapia is a popular food source due to its affordability and numerous health benefits.
Health Benefits of Tilapia
Fish is one of the healthiest sources of protein, and tilapia is no exception.
Tilapia is packed with vitamins and minerals like choline, niacin, vitamin B12, vitamin D, selenium, and phosphorus. It is also a good source of omega-3 fatty acids, which are healthy fats that your body needs to function.
Due to its high nutrient content, eating tilapia can provide the following health benefits:
Selenium is a mineral that plays a role in the prevention of cancer, heart disease, cognitive decline, and thyroid disease. Although you only need a small amount of selenium, it is essential for various bodily functions. Tilapia is an excellent source of this mineral, as a single tilapia fillet covers 88% of your daily value of selenium.
Many of the health benefits of eating fish are due to their high omega-3 fatty acid content. These unsaturated fats benefit heart health in a variety of ways, including:
- Reducing blood clotting
- Lowering blood pressure
- Decreasing your risk of strokes and heart failure
- Reducing irregular heartbeats (arrhythmia)
A study of wild and farmed fish made headlines when it reported that tilapia doesn't have as many heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids as other fish, like salmon.
While that's true, tilapia still packs more omega-3 fats than beef, pork, chicken, or turkey. Omega-3s support the membranes around every cell in your body and play important roles in your heart, blood vessels, lungs, and immune system—your body's defense against germs.
Tilapia is also high in omega-6 fats, thanks to the corn it eats. Omega-6s are another essential fatty acids your body can't make on its own. These fats help keep your cholesterol under control. They also prepare your muscle cells to respond to insulin—the hormone that helps turn sugar into energy. That's a great benefit, especially if you have diabetes.
Tilapia has many of the nutrients your body uses to make and maintain bones, such as:
- Vitamin D
Eating tilapia is a great way to keep your bones healthy.
Tilapia Nutrition Facts
Tilapia is high in vitamin B12, which helps your body make DNA, maintain its nervous system, and produce red blood cells. It's also low in fat, saturated fat, omega-3 fatty acids, calories, carbohydrates, and sodium, making it a healthy addition to any meal.
Tilapia is also rich in:
- Vitamin B12
One fillet (116 grams) of tilapia contains:
- Protein: 23 grams
- Vitamin D: 3.51 micrograms
- Potassium: 338 milligrams
- Vitamin B12: 1.59 micrograms
- Calcium: 11.7 milligrams
- Phosphorous: 191 milligrams
- Selenium: 46.7 micrograms
Tilapia's nearly 23 grams of protein per serving fills you up and helps you feel full longer.
Your body uses protein to:
- Build bones and muscle
- Heal tissue
- Move oxygen through your body
- Digest food
- Balance hormones
Low in mercury
Because tilapia is farm-raised fish—usually in closed-tank systems—they have less contact with pollution than other fish. This means they have the least mercury possible.
Tilapia gets the official thumbs up for children and for women who are breastfeeding or pregnant. But if you are pregnant or breastfeeding, you should limit consumption to 8-12 ounces of the fish per week.
To make sure you get all the health benefits of tilapia, buy filets that are moist and uniform in color, especially around the edges. Keep it in the fridge or freezer until you're ready to cook.
Tilapia health risks
Although eating tilapia offers many health benefits, it also carries some risk. In some cases, it can cause bleeding problems and increase your risk of developing certain diseases.
Fish oil acts as a natural anticoagulant, which means that it can thin your blood. High doses (more than 3 grams a day) of omega-3 fatty acids may cause bleeding problems if taken together with tilapia.
Eating large amounts of tilapia and other fish could expose you to certain cancer-causing chemicals. This is especially true in countries where many fisheries are near industrial parks that pollute the water with various heavy metals.
Tilapia is sometimes referred to as "the chicken of the sea" because of its bland flavor. Therefore, it is usually paired with a flavorful sauce or heavily seasoned. This versatile fish can be grilled, baked, broiled, sauteed, pan-fried, or steamed. If possible, you should buy fresh, whole tilapia. Fillets that are frozen lose their texture and taste.
Here are some easy ways to cook tilapia:
- Batter and fry the tilapia for fish tacos.
- Season tilapia with garlic, butter, and lemon juice before baking it in your oven.
- Panfry tilapia with chili powder, several herbs, and pepper.
- Bake tilapia and cover it with a cilantro cream sauce.
- Stuff tilapia with breadcrumbs, sage, and celery.