Diet-NutritionOmega-3 Fatty AcidsOmega-6 Fatty Acids

Tilapia: low in omega-3, high in omega-6 fatty acids

Farm-raised tilapia, one of the most highly consumed fish in America, has very low levels of beneficial omega-3 fatty acids and, perhaps worse, very high levels of omega-6 fatty acids, according to research from Wake Forest University School of Medicine.

Catfish rate poorly too.

First, the details.

  • 30 commonly consumed farmed and wild fish were collected from supermarkets and wholesalers in the US.
  • Fatty acid composition was determined using gas chromatography.

And, the results.

  • Farmed tilapia contained modest amounts of omega-3 fatty acids — less than a half-gram per 100 grams of fish, similar to catfish, flounder, and swordfish.
  • Farmed Atlantic salmon and trout, by contrast, had nearly 3 and 4 grams, respectively.
  • Tilapia had much higher amounts of omega-6 acids generally and arachidonic acid (AA) compared to salmon and trout.

The bottom line?
Since Susan Allport isn’t in the room, I’ll try to make sense of all this without getting too hung up on fatty acid ratios.

First, Western diets provide too little omega-3 compared to omega-6 fatty acids. Accordingly, the ratio of fatty acids in our diet is off. This problem can be addressed by making dietary choices that emphasize foods with more omega-3.

Simple enough, but as concluded by the authors, “These data reveal that marked changes in the fishing industry during the past decade have produced widely eaten fish that have fatty acid characteristics that are generally accepted to be inflammatory [unhealthy] by the healthcare community.”

What to do?

My experience is that when 4 people come together in a restaurant and tilapia is on the menu, at least one person will order tilapia. Nobody in my neighborhood will order catfish. But that’s just a function of geography.

Anyway, this presents an opportunity. Next time you dine out with at least 3 other people, order the salmon (or trout), and then share your knowledge of their fatty acid benefits compared to the deficiencies of tilapia and catfish as you glance across to the tilapia person.

7/9/08 19:38 JR

Hi, I’m JR

John Russo, Jr., PharmD, is president of The MedCom Resource, Inc. Previously, he was senior vice president of medical communications at, a complementary and alternative medicine website.