Thursday, July 24, 2008

Tilapia deadly than bacon? You gotta be kidding me!

(Steamed Tilapia with lemon-butter sauce, a few spurts of mayo and pickled relish)

Two nights ago, I was in the company of great and wonderful friends composed of couples involved in different ministries in our church. As usual, the women talked about the daily grind of motherhood, wife to our husbands, other than attending to our careers. Our favorite topic is food, of course, and seems that recipes are always and forever exchanged, trying out new formulas and acquiring newfangled tastes.

I was surprised, however, when one of our men mentioned that Tilapia (sometimes referred to as sunshine snapper, cherry snapper, Nile Snapper and St. Peter's fish since it is thought to be the fish St. Peter caught in the Sea of Galilee, tilapia has been farmed in Israel for about 2,500 years) is more deadly, more fattening, and more dangerous to eat than bacon! You gotta be kidding me! My favorite protein-rich fish is deadly? I was fumed by this thought! How is that possible? I have been eating Tilapia all my life and I’m hearing this?

I was dedicated to find out more about this shocking news for this has really saddened me. Eliminate this favorite of mine from my diet and you'll find me marching down the street along with other freedom fighters! This is outrageously insane!

Tilapia is a freshwater fish that is abundantly cultured in the Philippines. They are also now being introduced in the southern regions of the United States and other tropical areas such as Hawaii. They are sold live, fresh and frozen — whole and fillets. The fine-tasting meat typically is white, although the meat of red skinned tilapia may have a reddish tint. A most agreeable fish, tilapia is great on the grill, broiled, baked, pan-fried or stir fried. In addition to its versatility, pleasant flavor and low calorie count, the retail price of tilapia remains reasonable in comparison to other seafood, thanks to the efficiencies of modern aquaculture. Tilapia also is known for taking on many of the flavors of the ingredients it’s cooked with. For example, cooking in a stir-fry with soy sauce and veggies gives it an Asian flair. Many cooks even combine it with "fruity" flavors such as cherries or lemons.

I have to wonder if researchers at Wake Forest University are second-thinking the wisdom of their statement that "the inflammatory potential of hamburger or pork bacon is lower than the average serving of farmed tilapia."
On the one hand, it certainly got the attention of the press. Hundreds of blogs and news outlets immediately ran with the obvious headline: Tilapia worse than bacon! Then, all the health experts had to go on record, saying how ridiculous it was to suggest that bacon is a better choice than tilapia.

In a nutshell, the researchers were simply pointing out that all fish are not nutritionally equivalent and that the American Heart Association's blanket recommendation to eat more fish in order to reduce risk of heart disease may be overly general.

We hear a lot about fish being a good source of omega-3 fats, which are anti-inflammatory and are thought to be a hedge against heart disease. But we usually don't hear much about the omega-6 content of fish. Omega-6 fats are pro-inflammatory and are generally thought of as "bad."

For one thing, some fish, such as salmon, are very rich in omega-3, where are others, such as tuna, grouper, and snapper, contain much less. More importantly, though, certain fish, especially farmed catfish, tilapia, and salmon have very high levels of omega-6 fatty acids, including a particularly inflammatory omega-6 called arachidonic acid. (This is likely due to the vegetable-oil enriched diet fed to farmed fish.)

Three of the most commonly eaten fish (tuna, farmed tilapia, and farmed catfish) actually contain more omega-6 than omega-3 fatty acids. And (drumroll, please) some of the tilapia sampled for this particular study contained more arachidonic acid (and less omega-3) than bacon or hamburger. Which is how they ended up with the statement, "the inflammatory potential of hamburger or pork bacon is lower than the average serving of farmed tilapia."

In fact, I would agree with that statement. However, I think I'd stop short of promoting bacon as a healthier choice. Although it may be lower in arachidonic acid, it's a whole lot higher in fat and calories. Excess calories can easily lead to fat storage which leads directly to inflammation.

So let's keep this all in perspective here, shall we?

1. Bacon, while perhaps not directly inflammatory, is high in fat and calories (not to mention sodium) and should probably be enjoyed in moderation.
2. Fish is a great source of high quality protein and can be a good source of beneficial omega-3 fats-- good for the heart!
3. If you're eating a lot of farmed tilapia and catfish (especially if you're doing so in an attempt to reduce your risk of heart disease) there are other fish that are probably better choices, such as wild salmon, sardines, and others.

So, my verdict? I’ll eat my Tilapia, steamed, and enjoy the benefits it gives to my body… only in moderation!


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