Is Tilapia a Good or Bad Fish to Eat?

  • Medical Reviewer: Dany Paul Baby, MD
Medically Reviewed on 10/11/2022
Tilapia is a mild-tasting fish that's low in calories. However, there are some concerns that it may not be as healthy as other types of fish because of how it's raised.
Tilapia is a mild-tasting fish that's low in calories. However, there are some concerns that it may not be as healthy as other types of fish because of how it's raised.

Fish and other seafood can be an essential part of a healthy diet. Fish are high in important vitamins and nutrients and low in saturated fat. The American Heart Association recommends eating fish twice a week. 

Tilapia is a mild-tasting fish that's low in calories. However, there are some concerns that it may not be as healthy as other types of fish because of how it's raised.

What is tilapia?

Tilapia is the most widely grown fish on earth. Although tilapia is native to Africa, the species has been introduced in fresh and brackish (a combination of salt and freshwater) water worldwide. Wild tilapia can be found in lakes and rivers, but most of the tilapia consumed in the US is farmed in China. 

Talapia is ideal for farming because it consumes a cheap diet and can be grown quickly in crowded conditions. Because it's cheap to grow in various conditions, it's grown in over 135 countries.

How nutritious is tilapia?

Tilapia contains important vitamins and minerals, protein, and omega-3 fatty acids that can provide important health benefits. It's a great source of niacin, vitamin B12, phosphorus, selenium, and potassium. Swapping red meat for fish and other seafood can lower your risk of disease and premature death. 

One 3.5-ounce serving of tilapia contains: 

  • 128 calories
  • 0 carbohydrates
  • 26 grams of protein
  • 3 grams of fat
  • 24% of the recommended dietary intake (RDI) of niacin 
  • 31% of the RDI of Vitamin B12
  • 20% of the RDI of phosphorus 
  • 78% of the RDI of selenium
  • 20% of the RDI of potassium
  • 240 mg of omega-3 fatty acids
  • 300 mg of omega-6 fatty acids

Health benefits of tilapia

There are many health benefits associated with eating fish, including: 

Protecting bones. Eating fish may help protect your bones from osteoporosis. In a study of 623 adults over 75, those who consumed three or more servings of fish weekly had less bone loss than those who didn't eat fish. While researchers don't know exactly how eating fish protects your bones, it's possible that the beneficial omega-3 fatty acids in fish help transport calcium to your bones and reduce the amount of calcium excreted in your urine. 

Heart health. The unsaturated fats found in fish are omega-3 fatty acids, which have a beneficial effect on your heart and reduce your risk of dying from heart disease. Omega-3 fatty acids reduce inflammation throughout your body. Inflammation in your body can cause damage to your blood vessels and lead to strokes and heart disease. Omega-3s may help: 

Brain benefits. Eating fish may help slow degeneration in your brain. Again, omega-3 fatty acids in fish are correlated with this beneficial effect. The gray matter in your brain decreases as you get older. Gray matter is responsible for processing memories. The omega-3 fatty acids in fish are associated with larger amounts of gray matter in your brain, though it's not entirely clear if the difference is caused by reduced cell loss or by some level of regeneration. 

The omega-3 in fish may also help with brain development in your baby's brain during pregnancy. However, you should avoid fish high in mercury and other pollutants during pregnancy. Fish you should avoid in pregnancy include shark, swordfish, king mackerel, or tilefish.

Lower mercury content. One big problem with fish is its mercury content. Eating a large amount of fish has been linked to an increased risk of developing malignant melanoma. Researchers believe this is because of the high mercury content in some fish. 

Mercury is a naturally occurring heavy metal that fish pick up as they eat. Mercury is the most dangerous toxin to pregnant women and their unborn babies. Mercury in fish can cause higher mercury levels in pregnant women, who can then pass the mercury to their unborn baby via the placenta.

Because tilapia only eat vegetation, they're lower in mercury than many other types of fish. Mercury is concentrated in foods higher on the food chain, so fish that eat other fish contain higher levels of mercury. 


According to the USDA, there is no difference between a “portion” and a “serving.” See Answer

Problems with tilapia

Although tilapia has omega-3s, it's not as high in omega-3 as some other fish. For instance, wild-caught salmon contains 2586 mg of omega-3, over ten times as much as tilapia. Tilapia also contains more omega-6 fatty acid than salmon.

Most people get far more omega-6 fatty acid than omega-3. While omega-6 fatty acids are also beneficial, and you shouldn't stop eating them, you should focus on increasing omega-3 fatty acids. 

Another concern with tilapia is how it's grown. Most tilapia is farmed in China. In the wild, tilapia feeds on algae. On farms, they're usually fed corn or soybean meal. However, some farms in Asia feed their tilapia manure from poultry, sheep, or hogs. Although this doesn't mean eating tilapia from those farms is the same as consuming feces, it does increase the risk of bacterial contamination. 

While it's not clear how widespread this practice is in Asia, it doesn't occur in North America, where the water tilapia is grown in has to be monitored. If you want to avoid eating tilapia that have been fed feces, you can buy tilapia grown in North America.

Medically Reviewed on 10/11/2022
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Brown University: 'Higher fish consumption associated with increased melanoma risk, study suggests.'

Cleveland Clinic: 'The Best Foods To Eat for Better Memory and Brain Health.'

Food and Agriculture Organizations of the United Nations: 'The State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture.'

Harvard Health Publishing: 'No need to avoid healthy omega-6 fats.'

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McGill University: 'Tilapia and the 'Poop Connection'

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