Tilapia is cheap and abundant — but disease, contaminants and environmental damage make it far from healthy to eat. This is why you should never eat tilapia.
“Tilapia” refers to several species of small freshwater and farmed fish. Wild varieties of tilapia are typically fished from bodies of water in East Asian countries, including China, Taiwan and the Phillippines. Evidence of tilapia fishing goes back thousands of years, possibly making it the oldest farmed fish in the world. However, there are some crucial reasons why you should never eat tilapia.
Tilapia is incredibly popular in the US, which accounts for around 70% of the worldwide market. In fact, we import an estimated 4.3 million pounds of fresh tilapia fillets — around 12.6 million dollars worth — every month.
Generally speaking, tilapia is inexpensive and readily available. Considering the rising cost of groceries across the country, it’s a good thing when any food costs less. That said, though fish is usually a good source of nutrition, eating tilapia puts your health — and that of the planet — on the line.
As with other heavily farmed fish, tilapia provokes numerous health problems and sustainability concerns. For information on another problematic fish, read Swai Fish: Why You Really Shouldn’t Eat Pangasius.
Here are the biggest reasons why you should never eat tilapia.
#1: Genetic Engineering
It’s widely accepted that wild tilapia originated in Egypt’s Nile River before spreading out through the Middle East and Africa. Today, they are mass-produced in industrial fish farms. They undergo substantial genetic engineering to breed bigger specimens and are often fed growth hormones.
Unfortunately, this practice isn’t isolated to tilapia. Many fish are genetically modified to be larger and more disease-resistant, largely to increase profits. Other commonly altered species include trout and salmon. According to the Center for Food Safety, the engineered genes are sourced from organisms including bacteria, coral, other fish, mice and even humans. With that in mind, maybe you’ll want to pass on this particular dish.
#2: Disease, Antibiotics and Pesticides
This point is a major reason why you should never eat tilapia. Farmed tilapia are raised in crowded pens, making them more prone to disease. This type of aquaculture frequently leads to outbreaks of bacterial pathogens and diseases like stretococcus iniae and columnaris disease.
Farmed fish, when diseased, are usually given antibiotics. They’re also treated with pesticides to prevent infestations of sea lice, a common parasite found in farmed fish.
These antibiotics and pesticides don’t magically evaporate between the water and your plate. Not only are they bad for your health, but they add to environmental pollution and greatly damage the environment.
#3: Contaminants — Why You Should Never Eat Tilapia
Tilapia feed on algae, microbes and bacteria from the surfaces of rocks and plants. That’s a problem when they ingest unhealthy and unnatural material, especially if they live in polluted rivers. Moreover, fish kept in overcrowded tanks tend to bottom feed, consuming any waste and contaminants in the water. This passes into your system when you eat them.
In 2016, a Washington woman contracted Vibrio vulnificus — a rare, flesh-eating bacteria — after eating fresh tilapia purchased from a local store. According to county healthy officials, the woman came into contact with the bacteria when preparing the fish. Infections like Vibrio vulnificus cause symptoms like stomach pain, vomiting and diarrhea, among other less pleasant side effects.
#4: You Should Never Eat Tilapia Because It’s an Invasive Species
As a farmed fish with considerable commercial value, tilapia farming can take up a lot of space, displacing other organisms and disrupting ecological equilibrium. That means they share common ground with some of the worst invasive species.
For example, India introduced the Mozambique and Nile varieties of tilapia into several water bodies to boost food security. The species has found its way into far more of the country’s waterways than originally intended and has moved into biodiversity hotspots as well.
To learn more about biodiversity and why it’s so important, check out these quick and informative reads:
- The 3 Types of Biodiversity Explained
- 5 Threats to Biodiversity and What You Can Do
- The Importance of Ecosystem Diversity
#5: Tilapia Has Too Much Omega 6
Getting enough Omega 3 is key to a balanced diet. However, one 2008 study reports that tilapia contains more Omega 6 than Omega 3, at a ratio of 11:1. High levels of Omega 6 can increase the risk of asthma, arthritis and other inflammatory conditions in humans.
Excessive levels of Omega 6 can also have detrimental effects on the heart, possibly resulting in high blood pressure and blood clots — both contributing factors to heart attack and stroke. That is definitely a reason why you should never eat tilapia.
There are many other tasty, healthy ways to get all your protein, vitamins and minerals — options that don’t harm your health and pollute the planet. For these reasons and many others, including disastrous overfishing, a better option may be to cut out farmed fish altogether.
- 6-Ingredient Vegan Fish Sauce With Mushroom Base
- 7 Best and Worst Pond Fish: What to Look Out For
- What is a Pescatarian Diet? Health Benefits & Impact on the Environment
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