Tilapia is considered a low-mercury fish.

Buying Healthy Tilapia

by Michelle Kerns

To boost your family's nutrition, fish should be on the menu. The American Heart Association says that by eating two 3.5-ounce servings of fish a week, you can lower your risk of heart disease, high blood cholesterol and hypertension. Tilapia, a native African fish, is a popular white fish choice in the United States, with Americans eating over 400 million pounds annually. As long as you're including other types of fish and shellfish in your diet, eating tilapia is a healthy dietary choice.

1. Best Choices

The Monterey Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch advises that you should try to buy tilapia that was farmed in ponds, tank systems or closed recirculating systems. This is especially true when the tilapia was farmed in the United States, Ecuador or Canada. Tilapia harvested from these locales is largely disease-free and low in contaminants like mercury and polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs. They are also raised in an environmentally friendly manner. You can buy tilapia that's been farmed in fresh or salt water.

2. Good Alternatives

If you can't locate the healthiest choices, choose tilapia that was farmed in ponds in China or Taiwan, recommends the Monterey Bay Aquarium. These tilapia are considered your second-best choice because they may have been treated with antibiotics or chemicals banned in the United States, such as nitrofurans, malachite green and gentian violet. Since the concentration of these compounds in tilapia is small, however, it isn't considered a health risk.

3. Buying Tips

To ensure that you're buying the freshest, highest quality tilapia possible, "New York Times" food writer and cookbook author Mark Bittman says you should choose a fish market or supermarket fish counter that is clean, free of any unpleasant "fishy" smell and that displays the fish on clean ice. When you're buying fresh tilapia fillets, the flesh should have a bright white surface without any pink or brown spots. Whole tilapia should have firm flesh, clear eyes and red gills. If you're buying frozen tilapia, ask for fish that's been frozen at sea for the best quality. Look for frozen fish that is completely hard and that doesn't have any ice crystals or frost in the package.

4. Health Concerns

Eating more fish and less red or processed meats may lower your risk of heart disease and cancer, reported a 2012 study conducted by the Harvard School of Public Health. However, tilapia doesn't contain as much of the heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids as most other types of fish, including salmon or cod. Mayo Clinic nutritionists Jennifer Nelson and Katherine Zeratsky say that tilapia is also high in omega-6 fatty acids that may make you more likely to develop blood clots, inflammatory bowel disease and arthritis. You don't need to quit eating tilapia, but you should make sure that your family eats tilapia along with a wide variety of other healthy seafood.

About the Author

Michelle Kerns writes for a variety of print and online publications and specializes in literature and science topics. She has served as a book columnist since 2008 and is a member of the National Book Critics Circle. Kerns studied English literature and neurology at UC Davis.

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