After listening to a podcast a few days ago on the subject of seafood, I’ve been thinking about how different types of seafood compare, as well as the health benefits of farmed seafood in general. In this post, we’ll compare the merits of salmon vs tilapia for nutrition and health.
Tilapia vs Salmon
By now, everyone knows about the potential health benefits of eating seafood, with salmon near the top of the list. U.S. consumers eat an average of 1.8 pounds each year, making salmon number 3 on the list of total fish consumed in the U.S. But the fish you’re probably eating, and may not even know it, is tilapia. Ranked at number 5 for overall consumption in the U.S., Americans eat an average of 1.2 pounds of tilapia each year.
Salmon are, of course, native to the U.S. Long treasured by consumers for its mild flavor, Atlantic salmon have been heavily overfished, and this pressure, combined with pollution, and the construction of dams have led to this predatory fish being placed on the endangered species list. A coldwater fish, salmon are renowned for their health benefits. While wild Pacific salmon run still exist, and conservation efforts are rebuilding the populations, Atlantic salmon are considered commercially extinct.
By contrast, tilapia are a member of the cichilid family, and are native to Africa and the Middle East. Tilapia are a fast growing warm water fish that subsists mainly on a diet of plants, and can live in either freshwater or brackish water. Being non-native to the U.S., tilapia are considered by many to be an invasive fish species in areas where they can overwinter. Fortunately, for native U.S. species, tilapia struggle to survive in waters cooler than 60-degrees. Being a fast-growing, non-predatory species, tilapia are less likely to accumulate mercury than longer-lived predatory fish, like salmon. The combination of their mild flavor and fast growing cycle have led to an explosion in their popularity as an inexpensive replacement to many saltwater fish.
A comparison of the nutritional benefits of tilapia vs salmon are given in the following table. Values are for a 3-ounce serving of farmed fish, broiled.
It’s worth noting that tilapia have come under scrutiny by many health experts, for two primary reasons. The first is for the higher concentration of omega-6 fatty acids. Researchers at Wake Forest have suggested the distribution of arachadonic acid (omega-6) in tilapia may have a negative influence on heart health. The other centers on the use of methyltestosterone, which farming utilize to convert tilapia to a “pseudo-male” gender, which assures they grow to a larger, uniform size before they are harvested. Both of these claims are somewhat questionable though.