Health Articles

An Open Letter regarding recent reports that low-fat fish like tilapia are unhealthy. (July 16, 2008)

Eating fish, especially oily fish, at least twice per week is recommended for heart disease prevention. Fish is low in total and saturated fats, high in protein and essential trace minerals, and contains long-chain omega-3 fatty acids (EPA and DHA). Oily fish rich in these healthy omega-3s include salmon, trout, albacore tuna, sardines, anchovies, mackerel and herring. Our omega-3 needs can also be met by eating less-oily (lower-fat) fish more often.

Tilapia and catfish are examples of lower-fat fish that have fewer omega-3s than the oily fish listed above, but still provide more of these heart-healthy nutrients than hamburger, steak, chicken, pork or turkey. Actually, a 3 ounce serving of these fish provides over 100 mg of the long chain omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA. Considering that this is about the current daily intake of these fatty acids in the US, even these fish should be considered better choices than most other meat alternatives. Since they are also relatively low in total and saturated fats and high in protein, they clearly can be part of a healthy diet.

US Department of Agriculture statistics indicate that farmed tilapia and catfish contain somewhat more omega-6 fatty acids than omega-3. Most health experts (including organizations such as the American Heart Association and the American Dietetic Association) agree that omega-6 fatty acids are, like omega-3s, heart-healthy nutrients which should be a part of everyone's diet. Omega-6 fatty acids are found primarily in vegetable oils (corn, soybean, safflower, etc) but also in salad dressings, nuts, whole-wheat bread, and chicken.

Replacing tilapia or catfish with "bacon, hamburgers or doughnuts" is absolutely not recommended.


William S. Harris, PhD, FAHA
Sr. Scientist and Director
Metabolism and Nutrition Research Center
Sanford Research/USD
Sioux Falls, SD
(605) 328-1304


Thomas Barringer, MD, FAHA
Medical Director, Center for Cardiovascular Health
Carolinas Medical Center
Charlotte, NC
(704) 446-1823

Philip Calder, PhD
Professor of Nutritional Immunology
University of Southampton, UK

Marguerite M. Engler, RN, PhD, FAHA
Dept. of Physiological Nursing
UC San Francisco, CA

Mary B. Engler, PhD, RN, MS, FAHA
Professor and Director
Cardiovascular and Genomics Graduate Program
Dept. of Physiological Nursing
UC San Francisco, CA

Bruce Holub, PhD
Professor Emeritus
Dept of Human Biology and Nutritional Sciences
University of Guelph, Ontario, Canada

Peter Howe, PhD
Professor and Director
Nutritional Physiology Research Centre
University of South Australia, Adelaide

Penny Kris-Etherton, PhD, RD, FAHA
Distinguished Professor of Nutrition
Penn State University
University Park, PA
(814) 863-2923

Dariush Mozaffarian, MD, DrPH, DSc
Assistant Professor
Harvard School of Public Health
Boston MA

Joyce A. Nettleton, DSc
Editor, PUFA and Fats of Life Newsletters
Denver, CO

Yongsoon Park, PhD
Chair and Assistant professor
Department of Food and Nutrition
Hanyang University
Seoul, Korea


Eric Rimm ScD, FAHA
Associate Professor
Harvard Schools of Medicine and of Public Health
Boston MA

Larry Rudel, PhD, FAHA
Professor of Biochemistry
Wake Forest University
Winston-Salem, NC
(336) 716-2821

Frank Sacks, MD, FAHA
Professor of Cardiovascular Disease Prevention
Harvard School of Public Health
Boston, MA
(617) 432-1420

Andy Sinclair, PhD
Chair in Human Nutrition
School of Exercise and Nutrition Sciences
Deakin University
Burwood, Australia

Clemens von Schacky, MD
Ludwig Maximilians-Universität München
Munich, Germany


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