The Truth About Tilapia

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Tamar Genger MA, RD
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Pan Seared Tilapia

Passover is approaching and we are getting ready for protein overload.  Without rice, pasta, corn, beans and tofu, meat seems to make an appearance at most every meal.  Since I try and limit our meat consumption all year, on Passover I recommend swimming with the fishes.  It is easy to find kosher for Passover canned tuna and canned salmon and there are so many ways to enjoy those two other than just spread on a matzo.  Use matzo meal instead of bread crumbs in most any salmon cake recipe and you will have a yummy appetizer or main any time.  Fresh salmon is also easy to come by and is very popular.  And then there’s tilapia.

The USDA reports that Americans ate 475 million pounds of tilapia last year, four times the amount a decade ago, making this once obscure African native the most popular farmed fish in the United States.   It is an inexpensive and mild flavored fish that many people love.  Fish is a low-fat, high quality protein.   The American Heart Association's recommendation to eat fish twice a week is because fish is an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids, which helps to keep our heart and brain health.  But tilapia may not be the best source.

The debate over tilapia centers around its omega-6 fatty acid content.  Omega-6 fatty acids are polyunsaturated fats essential in our diet, but they are already prevalent in nuts, seeds and vegetable oils.  In other words, we get plenty of Omega-6 fatty acids, but we need more Omega-3s.   Farm-raised tilapia has a relatively high Omega-6 fatty acid concentration, compared to Omega-3 rich fishes like salmon. Others disagree.

Alice H. Lichtenstein, a professor of nutrition science and policy at Tufts University says “Tilapia happens to be lower in fat than some other fish, so it has less of all types of fatty acids. Tilapia is, however, more affordable than most other fish in the market today. Splitting hairs over whether one fish has less omega-3 fatty acids per serving than other types of fish when the total fat content is low seems to miss the point.”

Especially on Passover, when brisket and meatballs seem to be on every menu, any fish variety is an excellent substitute for red meat and other foods high in saturated fat.  As always, the key is moderation and variety.  So, try some tilapia, take on tuna and slip in some more salmon this holiday.

Here are some Passover friendly tilapia recipes to try.

Chili Rubbed Tilapia with Asparagus Lemon

Mock Ceviche

Parmesan and SunDried Tomato Crusted Tilapia

Garden Style Fish with Onions and Bell Peppers

Main Image - Pan Seared Tilapia