Is Tilapia Bad for You?

November 08, 2019 24 Comments

Why You Should Not Eat Tilapia

Why You Should Not Eat Tilapia

Recent years have seen a major rise in the popularity of cheap, imported seafood in the United States. Farmed tilapia, basa, and swai are some of the highest-selling fish in the U.S. While their low prices may make these fish seem like good bargains at first glance, it’s not that simple. Though smoked salmon from Norway is renowned for its top quality, some other types of imported fish such as tilapia, basa, and swai are not as healthy as you may think.

Why You Should Not Eat Tilapia, Basa, and Swai

The biggest problem with tilapia, basa, and swai is how they are produced. Farmed tilapia, basa, and swai are all freshwater fish. Tilapia fish variants can be found in freshwater bodies throughout the world. Basa and swai, on the other hand, are found in the Mekong River in Vietnam.

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Where Do Tilapia Fish Come From?

The wild-caught industries for these fish are very small and used primarily for local markets at their point of origin. As a result, the majority of exported tilapia, basa, and swai come from commercial farming in South East Asia, primarily from nations like China, Vietnam, and the Philippines.   

 

Why Tilapia is Bad for You

  • High level of contaminants

Tilapia, basa, and swai are generally are mass-produced in crowded aquaculture tanks and fed soy-based foods if they are lucky. Being bottom feeders and filter feeders, these fish will consume any waste or contaminants in the water, and I mean anything. I am going to let your imagination take over for that one.

  • Presence of antibiotics

In order to keep the fish alive until harvest and thwart off any disease that can kill the entire stock, they are continuously fed antibiotics.

Of course, there is organic production of wild tilapia in the U.S., but it consists of less than one percent of all tilapia fillets sold in the U.S. It is also nearly impossible to recognize U.S. wild-caught tilapia unless properly labeled as such. 

 

  • Toxic bacteria

On November 10, 2016, a woman living in Bellevue, Washington, contracted Vibrio vulnificus from contact with fresh tilapia that she purchased from her local store.  This bacterium is rare, but it can occur in filter-feeding fish like red tilapia.  You can fall ill if these bacteria come in contact with a wound or through ingestion.  In this particular case, the woman cut her hand while handling raw tilapia.

This is a very serious infection and can cause symptoms such as vomiting, diarrhea, and stomach pain.  But it does not stop there!  Vibrio can cause necrosis of the flesh, giving it the nickname "flesh-eating bacteria.”  Along with necrosis, these bacteria can also cause sepsis.  The combination of the two is very serious and may require removal of the infected tissue or amputation and may even lead to death. 

 

As stated earlier, this infection is very rare, but the question that you should be asking yourself is whether it is worth the risk. Flesh-eating bacteria are most commonly found in freshwater fish like live tilapia and are very rarely found in saltwater fish.  One of the very few exceptions to that rule is stingrays, which can cause this infection with the strike of their barbs.  

There is one bright side to tilapia production though. In order to pass FDA inspection for U.S. imports, all processing plants that eventually fillet and package the fish have to be spotless. I have seen some of the production facilities and their sanitization protocols and been impressed. Not only do they follow each regulation to the letter, but they also take action to sanitize their facility above and beyond FDA demands.

Let’s be honest though. After feeding the fish antibiotics all its life, the cleanliness of the processing facilities only helps to keep the situation from getting any worse and does not make the fish any healthier.

Is it Safe to Eat Tilapia?

Health-wise, seafood can be some of the best foods to add to your diet. It is a well-known fact that eating salmon at least two times a week can reduce your risk of cancer and heart disease. Yet even with that information, there are serious outliers and solid reasons for why you should not eat tilapia.

Let us start with farm-raised tilapia from China. Tilapia dishes are pretty much the complete opposite of salmon or sablefish when it comes to your health.

Tilapia is loaded with omega-6 fatty acids, which we already eat too much of in our modern society. Excess omega-6 can cause and exacerbate inflammation so much that it makes bacon look heart-healthy. Inflammation can lead to heart disease and also exacerbate symptoms for people suffering from asthma and arthritis.

Is Tilapia a Genetically Engineered Fish?

While tilapia used to be originally found in the wild in the Middle East and Africa, most of the tilapia in the market today is mass produced in industrial fish farms. Many corporations genetically engineer the fish to produce faster-growing, disease-resistant, more profitable fish that can be sent to the market in less time.

What Does Spotted Tilapia Eat?

In the wild, spotted tilapia mainly feed on the different types of periphyton (a mixture of algae, cyanobateria, and microbes) found attached to plants and rocks as well as microorganisms and detritus that may be found in that area. Phytoplankton (microscopic plants) is another source of food for spotted tilapia, especially in rich, eutrophic environments.

Red belly tilapia will also eat invertebrates when found on aquatic vegetation and even fish if they are dead or dying. The young fish also feed on crustaceans during the first few months of their life.

Does Tilapia Have Teeth?

Since the tilapia originally fed on algae and aquatic plants in the wild, their teeth are designed for optimum foraging and consumption of these substances. In general, both the teeth of the jaws and the teeth of the throat are very small and you have to look closely to be able to see them.

What about Swai and Basa?

Swai and basa have their own set of problems. Often called pangasius, they are actually iridescent sharks. They are commonly found in smaller sizes and sold as aquarium fish at pet stores. However, that’s just the tip of the iceberg. 

 

  • High level of toxic pollutants

First of all, nearly all of these fish are produced on the Mekong River in aquaculture facilities. The Mekong River is one of the most polluted rivers in the world, and there is no regulation to filter the water used in these facilities. This can cause heightened levels of heavy metals and toxins from the polluted water.

  • Growth hormones and antibiotics

Both fish are not fed anything close to their natural food. They are fed food pellets made from fish remains (often swai and basa remains) mixed with soy and antibiotics. They are also treated with growth hormones to make them profitable much faster.

  • Other contaminants

These fish are also linked to many cases of food poisoning due to contamination from their point of origin. There is no production of such fish in the US or outside South East Asia. 

Why You Should Never Eat Tilapia

The low prices of tilapia, basa, and swai (just $2 per lb.) tempt a lot of people, especially when money is tight, but do not forget that eating these types of fish may damage your health. Saving a couple of dollars today may cost you thousands in medical bills tomorrow.

We usually do not make direct recommendations and ask that you make your own judgments. But we highly recommend that you do not eat these fish. We would rather eat a Big Mac before touching tilapia, swai, or basa. Think of your health before your wallet the next time you are at the store or are eating out. Do not eat tilapia, swai, or basa!

What Are Some Alternatives to Tilapia?

Since the article was first published, we have had many questions from ex-tilapia, basa, and swai consumers who wanted to know what we would suggest as an alternative to these fish. In reality, it is not such an easy question to answer because tastes and preferences vary greatly. So, in this addendum to the main article, we will discuss a few types of fish that can be a healthy alternative to tilapia, basa, and swai. 

All of the fish named below will only be found wild. However, you may find some pre-packed varieties of these fish that were processed in China or elsewhere in South East Asia. Always choose fish that have been caught and processed in Alaska or Canada!

  • Alaskan Pollock

Alaskan Pollock is the most caught fish in the entire world and a great alternative to tilapia. It is estimated that around three to four million tons of Alaskan Pollock is caught in the Pacific Ocean every year. Many people eat Alaskan Pollock regularly and don’t even know about it. Alaskan Pollock is often marketed in cafes and restaurants as “white fish.” It is the main ingredient in many fish sandwiches and also used to make McDonald’s Fillet-O-Fish sandwich.

A large amount of Alaskan Pollock is ground up and used as the fish in surimi, otherwise known as imitation crab. Alaskan Pollock is unarguably the most versatile fish in the world, which is a major reason for its popularity. It has a very light flavor, which allows it to be cooked in any way and using any method. This fish would be absolutely ideal for anyone who does not like fish with an intense flavor. Alaskan Pollock is low in fat, high in protein, and a great source of Vitamin B-12.

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    • Pacific Cod

      The Pacific Cod is another great alternative. This fish is extremely popular throughout the world and is used in many different recipes, including the very popular fish and chips. Pacific Cod is the second largest fishery in the world and brings in around 1.5 million to 2 million tons of fish every year worldwide.

    • The Pacific Cod is known for its white, flaky meat with a light flavor. This fish is also very versatile and can be prepared using a huge assortment of methods and accompaniments. The Pacific Cod is also low in fat, high in protein, and full of Vitamins D, B-12, B6, and Magnesium!Flounder

    • The Flounder is another good alternative to tilapia, basa, and swai. Different types of flounder and sole have their own unique flavors and may be considered too intense for some consumers, especially people who like tilapia for its light flavor.

       

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    Depending on the type of flatfish, the flavor may vary from very light to quite intense. Also, most flounder can be quite bony, and it can be difficult to remove the bones in some types. One major benefit of flatfish is that they are usually quite versatile. Flounder are low in fat, high in protein, a superb source of Vitamin D, and a good source of Vitamin B-12.

      • Rockfish 

    Rockfish is a fantastic alternative to tilapia. While not as versatile as all of the other fish listed above, rockfish are known for their great flavor. 

     

    People who prefer light-flavored fish may not like rockfish because they have a much more intense flavor. Rockfish meat is also much firmer than the other fish but just as flaky as Pacific Cod. Like the other fish, the rockfish is a lean source of protein and a good source of Vitamin D.

    As you can see, there are many fantastic alternatives to frozen tilapia fillets, basa, and swai. Many retailers source these fish from Alaska and Canada, both of which have very high quality standards and do not mess around with additives. We invite you to look through our selection of seafood, which comes from our facility in Kodiak, Alaska. Any reputable grocery store would sell these fish. Just make sure that you buy wild-caught fish that didn’t travel through China in its journey to your table.

    Find A Solid Alternative to Tilapia!

    At Global Seafoods, we pride ourselves on our wide selection of wild-caught and healthy seafood.  If you are looking for a great source of top-notch Alaskan Seafood, then visit our seafood store to find out we can add to your plate.  Buy wild salmon, cod, rockfish and much more at the Global Seafoods Online Store!

     





24 Responses

Anna B Wilson
Anna B Wilson

May 22, 2019

Thank you for the information on Tilapia. I have eaten this fish before. I thought it tasted alright until I started hearing about the health benefits. I’ve started looking for other alternatives. I stopped eating meat about a year ago. Salmon is my choice right now. Reading this article has given me many choices. Red snapper, whiting porgies and croakers are other fish I buy. and I only buy wild caught fish anyway. I will do some research on them also. Maybe you can write a review on these fish also.

Danill
Danill

November 19, 2018

That does not sound appetizing. But then again if you read how they treat cows in the cattle inductry you will see some pretty nasty things too. Best put on your best earmuffs and enjoy your steak before you lose your appetite. Never liked tilapia though, tastes off.

Ivan
Ivan

October 23, 2018

Nice piece of propaganda for American fish! Nowhere else on the internet have I find so much negative information on fish just because it is coming from Asia. Tilapia tonight!

JAMAL KHAWAJA
JAMAL KHAWAJA

October 23, 2018

What a bunch of garbage. You might want to fill your readers in on the lengths the us fishing industry has gone through to use both legislation as well as propaganda campaigns to protect their market dominance. I’m all for buying American but to suggest that these fish are raised in cespools of filth is beyond the pale. Most studies not sponsored by the US fishing industry have found these fish to be safe, healthy, and raised responsibly in conditions comparable to us standards.

Edward Smith Jr.
Edward Smith Jr.

June 18, 2018

I thank my wife for stopping this fish to be allowed on our table.

Altheaebowen
Altheaebowen

May 24, 2018

Be safe buy wild caught only! Red Snapper excellent fish!!

Yolande Jean Baptiste
Yolande Jean Baptiste

May 22, 2018

Thank you for your informative article. Since I was born and raised in the Caribbean,I have never developed a taste for the fishes mentioned in the article. But my passion is fot Red Snappers could you write a bit6 about it or do you supply it?

Elizabeth Collantes Keaton
Elizabeth Collantes Keaton

May 16, 2018

Omg 😲 I’m am so glad that I don’t eat Tilapia fish anymore in years. But my husband he loves Swai fish and I always fixed for him. Now after I read this article there’s is no way that I’m going to fixed this kind of fish 🐟 I feel so guilty bec I am the one buying this fish bec I thought it was an salt water fish or from the ocean. Thank you so much & appreciate for the information…

Angelina Davis
Angelina Davis

May 15, 2018

Telapia is one of my favorite fish but from now on I won’t it that anymore.thank you.

Sparkle
Sparkle

May 10, 2018

My daughter has been telling me for the past 3 to 4 years don’t eat Tilapia fish. But to laugh he is one of the fish that I really never care for anyway. Now that I’ve read these articles today. I will stick to my fresh salmon or in the can. Some of my other freshwater sea foods. Bottom line we all have choices to make for ourselves.

davd
davd

August 29, 2017

This is an interesting article. Most of the information has been circulating around the internet. I am not questioning the accuracy of the information as it seems to be spot on. The problem I have is the ad for the exact three fish we should eat which you can order by clicking a button in the article. I am also wondering how much liquid, such as water, is mechanically injected into the filets to make them weigh more. If you don’ believe me a quick internet search will reveal that fillets can contain up to 20% injected liquids

Marva Duncan
Marva Duncan

July 28, 2017

I have tried to tell the Food Banks about this but they are yet distributing the Tilapia and now the White Fish. I will throw mine away, not give it away, because I don’t want anyone to get a disease because of it. The FDA should be ashamed of itself for permitting the fish to enter the USA. I think they need to be disbanded and another Commission formed to protect it’s citizens. I will make a copy of this report and send it out again to the Food Banks, where they distribute free food to those who need it.
Thanks for your website in telling us the truth!

Kathleen Davis
Kathleen Davis

May 28, 2017

I too googled orangy roughy and will never buy it again for the reason stated in this article http://www.alternet.org/story/150407/4_fish_we_should_never_eat.

Kathleen Davis
Kathleen Davis

May 28, 2017

What about Orange Roughy? It was the popular ‘it’ fish before tilapia. Do you have any information on orange roughy like you have on these other fishes? Thank you.

kara
kara

May 14, 2017

I guess you are an interested party, but I too never liked the muddy taste of tilapia – and I never knew what Swai was – I dont think I will eat swai after these are gone – bottom feeders – as Kosher law understood – can be unhelathy…too bad swai taste good and are cheap – I cant afford fish much anymore and everything seems to have a problem – no more tuna or salmon – the radiation and toxins – no bottom feeders – no shark – redsnapper pompano sea bass – all over $16 /lb that is a lot of chicken!

Nikolay O Nikitenko
Nikolay O Nikitenko

May 04, 2017

Thank you everyone for your great comments! I would like to answer some of your questions here!

Regina made a statement about the price of Tilapia vs wild US seafood. Yes it is true that higher quality products can cost more and may be harder to afford for low income families. But that is simply a choice they have to make. Here in Seattle we have a small difference in price for Tilapia and Wild US caught and processed Cod. That may change depending on where you are in the US, but if you cannot find a good supplier where you live, then you can always order online from companies like ourselves, where the price for high quality cod is equal to or lower than tilapia. But in situations where the price for tilapia or swai is lower, then you have to make a decision on how much you wish to risk your health or the health of your loved ones. As my good friend and nutritionist Brian Johnson always says, “If you skimp on your health today, you will splurge on your illness tomorrow”.

As for your question on where to find US made seafood; that really depends on your location in the country. I know for a fact that some grocery stores in the mid-west will only carry Chinese processed seafood and tilapia simply because it is cheaper and has better profit margins for them. If you live in those areas of the country, then your only bet is to buy online and have it shipped. But when you do go to the grocery store, you should check all the labels to see where the fish was processed and any added ingredients. If it is stated as “value added” and it is your basic run of the mill looking fish fillet with nothing else, then I guarantee that it may have something added to it over seas. Be vigilant, read labels, and ask the clerks at your store for information and details.

Next is Harryo who believes our article is baseless and false. First of all we are not the only ones raising this red flag. Just try to google the statement “Tilapia is healthy”. If a subject was polarized then you would get an abundance of articles proclaiming tilapia to be good for you, but you don’t. For that direct search term you will get nothing but articles warning you about the possible negative impact on your health. Read up on the nutritional make up of tilapia. You will see the high concentration of Omega 6, and then ask your doctor about how a high Omega 6 diet will affect your health. It is simple scientific and dietary fact. As for Swai and its dangers to your health, the fact is that Swai is only farmed on the Mekong River in South East Asia. Just look up the Mekong River’s pollution problem and you will find countless scientific studies on Vietnam’s pollution crisis with the river. Swimming in it is considered potentially harmful to your health. Imagine what eating food from it will do. These are not mere opinions, but solid facts.

Finally we have Verna, asking what Bass is. First of all Bass is not related to Basa. Bass is a general term for many types of Freshwater and Saltwater fish that resemble perch. Many types of bass are very delicious and good for you. Basa is a nickname given to Pangasius catfish, which are found only in SE Asia. Basa is also known as Swai.

We will add more responses to comments and answer more questions as they come! Remember if you have any further questions they can be directed to us! We are more than happy to answer any questions that you all may have! Thank you again for reading!

Cheryl
Cheryl

May 04, 2017

Great article! My son has been warning me about tilapia! Note taken!

Verna Bennett
Verna Bennett

April 28, 2017

All want to no was wat can of fish is bass i eat cod

Harryo
Harryo

March 09, 2017

In all of your investigative reporting, don’t see anyone having taken Talapia or Swai and done a analysis of the fish for harmful ingredients, might be helpful before you condemn. So far all I see something a President might run on Twitter.

Peter Clark
Peter Clark

February 22, 2017

Retiring in the Philippines I tried Tilapia but the “Muddy” flavour I dislike.. Catching a few from a man made lake tasted surprisingly clean and lacked this muddy stuff. Lots of pellets in the shops for breeding these fish but the ones I ate from the Lake I fish were just left to feed themselves and they are fine.

Regina
Regina

November 02, 2016

First, there’s something very important missing from this article. The price of seafood. We may not like how the food is raised, produced or where it comes from but Tilapia and Swai are inexpensive compared to Flounder or Pacific Cod. For those of us trying to eat healthier and on a budget this is important information we should know about.
Second, in nearly every grocery store I go into most of the frozen fish is imported. Where are the US based fish companies? If I can get it and the price is right, I would buy American.

Harry  Davisi
Harry Davisi

September 18, 2016

I have been a fan of swai for the last couple of years,but after reading this article I will not eat it again!
I will research any new good choices prior to indulging in the future.

Iris Johnson
Iris Johnson

September 14, 2016

Thanks for such an informative article. I tried tilapia but eventually stopped eating it because it tasted dirty and I did not like the texture. I researched swai fish and after reading various articles, I decided I was not willing to try it. Trying to eat healthy is good but we need to research foods before we try them.

Nikita
Nikita

September 05, 2016

I stay with Wild Alaskan fish like cod and pollock. I like seafood, not river food

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