Health Benefits of Tilapia

Tilapia isn't the sexiest filet in the case, but it's the most versatile. This farm-raised fish has mild-tasting, flaky, and firm flesh -- and it's loaded with nutrition, too. You can fry it up for tacos, toss it in a stew, or broil it and serve it on a bun.

Tilapia is native to the Middle East and Africa, but now fisheries in more than 80 countries raise them. The three main species are:

  • Nile (also called Black)
  • Mozambique (also called Red)
  • Blue

Tilapia is more affordable than seafood celebs like shrimp and salmon, and it has a better backstory, too. According to biblical scholars, tilapia is the type of fish that Jesus used to feed the masses at the Sea of Galilee.

Americans eat more than 1 pound of tilapia per person every year. Here's what's in it and how it boosts your health.

Nutrients per Serving

A 3-ounce fillet has:

  • 111 calories
  • 22.8 grams of protein
  • 2.3 grams of fat
  • 0 grams of carbohydrates

Loaded With Fatty Acids

It's a classic case of good fish getting bad press. 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 acid 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.

Protein Powerhouse

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

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Calcium

One tilapia filet gives your body 12 milligrams of calcium it can't make on its own. This mineral makes your bones stronger, helps your blood clot, and tells your muscles to contract and your heart to beat.

Selenium

Tilapia has about 47 micrograms of selenium. The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for this key chemical is 55 micrograms for people ages 18 and older. Your thyroid gland needs selenium to work right. So do your DNA and reproductive and immune systems.

Low in Mercury

Because tilapia is a 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 is so safe, it gets the official thumbs up for children and women who are breastfeeding or pregnant. You can eat up to five servings a 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.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Christine Mikstas, RD, LD on July 07, 2019

Sources

SOURCES:
University of Wisconsin Sea Grant Institute: "Tilapia."
Delaware Sea Grant: "Tilapia."
Harvard Health Publishing: "Flap Over Tilapia Sends Wrong Message," "No Need to Avoid Healthy Omega-6 Fats."
National Institutes of Health: "Omega-3 Fatty Acids," "Selenium."
Mayo Clinic: "Omega-6 Fatty Acids: Can They Cause Heart Disease?"
BreastCancer.org: "Portion size."
U.S. Department of Agriculture: "Fish, tilapia, raw."

Piedmont Healthcare: "Why is protein important in your diet?"
National Osteoporosis Foundation: "Calcium/vitamin D."
Environmental Defense Fund: "Tilapia."
NYC.gov: "Eat Fish, Choose Wisely: Protect Against Mercury."

FDA: "Selecting and Serving Fresh and Frozen Seafood Safely."

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