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  • Writer's pictureDavid B Townsend

Tilapia, Not on my Table!

I've been eating a lot of fish lately as I age. I feel the need to cut back on my red meat consumption for better digestion and overall health. I know I need a good protein at least once a day, but I do not enjoy cheap cuts of steak. So when I cook red-meat, I do go for a 'choice' cut New York or a Filet. At nearly $18 per pound, I eat a small 6 oz portion and only a couple times a month.

Browsing the fish counter, I was wondering about Tilapia. I've seen it for a decade but never tried it. It has generally been very cheap. However, I have heard a lot of mixed comments on it from the mild taste, to garbage, and tasteless. Therefore, I've never had the desire to try it. I'm old school and stick with Cod, Halibut, Flounder, Tuna, and Salmon for almost all my home-cooked meals with fish as the main ingredient.

I thought of Tilapia as a poor man's whitefish. I associated it to a memory from my youth living near a bridge along a Canal in Detroit. People fishing for Catfish often covered it, another fish I can say I have never knowingly eaten.

So, when I saw Tilapia at two dollars per pound more than a Salmon Steak, I was curious as to what it was. Thus a little research and I have concluded it's not something I will ever put in my body. I now wonder, if in the past, when Talapia was dirt-cheap if some fish n' chip joints were using it as a replacement for Cod or other meaty white fish. Now that it has gotten expensive, I cannot see that happening anymore.

What I found is it rare to find Tilapia in the wild. Its origins are mainly freshwater fish inhabiting shallow streams, ponds, rivers, and lakes and less commonly found living in brackish (saline/fresh mix) water in the Middle East and Africa. Historically, they have been of significant importance in the small family, close to shore fishing streams. Also known as St. Peter's Fish, based on the story of St. Peter, Tilapia is the fourth most consumed fish in the United States dating back to 2002. The popularity of Tilapia came about due to its low price, easy preparation, and its mild taste.

However, as the popularity grew it has primarily become a farm-bred in China and Central America. Unfortunately, the majority of these farms feed the fish GMO corn and soy, which breeds toxic pieces of protein that are harmful to humans and our environment. And they have very high levels of omega-6 fatty acids and negligible omega-3s, thanks to their diets. As a reminder OMEGA-6 include most vegetable oils such as corn oil, safflower oil, soybean oil, as well as poultry and eggs. The typical American diet, however, contains too much omega-6 fatty acids. Health-conscious individuals try to reduce this type of fat in their diet. While OMEGA-3 fats, which have a variety of health benefits related to their anti-inflammatory properties.

" According to some studies farm raised Tilapia is more detrimental to heart health than eating bacon or a hamburger. "

Studies and various articles are now revealing it's not the best diet for good health. Tilapia are herbivorous. According to some studies farm raised Tilapia is more detrimental to heart health than eating bacon or a hamburger. Wake Forest University Researchers have published in the Journal of American Dietetic Association that "Tilapia have higher levels of potentially detrimental, long-chain, omega-6 fatty acids than 80-percent-lean hamburger, doughnuts, and even pork bacon." Plus, with farm-raised the fish are raised in too-tight quarters, resulting in diseased tilapia, even feeding fish feces as a protein supplement which is then pumped full of antibiotics. These farms, often created by clearing forests to make room for on-shore tanks can cause major damage to the surrounding land and water.

Tilapia-farm raised in vats, swimming in their own feces

On the better side, however, Tilapia have very low levels of mercury, as they are fast-growing, lean and short-lived, with a primarily vegetarian diet, so do not accumulate mercury found in prey. Tilapia is low in saturated fat, calories, carbohydrates, and sodium, and are a good protein source. They also contain the micronutrients phosphorus, niacin, selenium, vitamin B12, and potassium.

I tried to find some supportive articles on Tilapia for a human consumption or otherwise and all I came up with is a bizarre use of Tilapia. The skin of this fish is being used for treating severe skin burns, as the skin is filled with moisture and collagen to help promote the healing process. Not sure why Tilapia over other species, but possibly the cost and ease of raising them is a factor. Draw your own conclusions but in my home, there will not be any Tilapia on the grill, nor in the refrigerator- except maybe when on sale and Jamie, my cat, asks for a special holiday meal.

References; Wikipedia (Self Nutrition Data, U.S.Food & Drug Admin), Victor Amenta, Gabe Kennedy, Melaina Juntti-Men's Journal, The Indian Express

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