Is it really better to eat a hamburger than have a piece of tilapia?
There has been a lot of confusion lately due to a recent study
Wake Forest University School of Medicine concluding that "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." The researchers concluded that this combination could be very damaging for patients with arthritis, heart disease, and other auto-immune diseases that are vulnerable to exaggerated inflammatory responses. According to the study, if individuals are consuming tilapia as a method to control inflammatory diseases then they would be better off having hamburgers and pork bacon (keep in mind however that these are high fat meats full of artery clogging saturated fats.) The study also showed that tilapia has an average of 11:1 ratio of detrimental omega 6 to omega 3 versus the 1:1 ratio in salmon or trout which is more desirable.
Now let me try to breakdown the details.
There are two types of fat, omega-3 and omega-6, and both are essential for human health in a ratio of 2:1. However, the typical American consumes far too many omega-6 fats in their diet while consuming very low levels of omega 3 fats with a ratio of 20:1. Omega 6 fats can be found in
corn oil, safflower oil, cottonseed oil, peanut oil, and soybean oil. Omega 3 fats can be found in seafood, whole grains, beans, flaxseed oil, and walnut oil. The reason for this change is because our diet now includes huge amounts of vegetable oils used for cooking and in prepared foods.
The highest levels of omega 3's can be found in fish.
Omega 3 in fish is high in two fatty acids crucial to human health, DHA (DocosaHexaenoic Acid) and EPA (EicosaPentaenoic Acid). These two fatty acids are pivotal in preventing heart disease, cancer, and many other diseases. While studies show that
eating too much omega-6's and too little omega-3's causes blood clots and constricts arteries, increasing your risk for heart attacks and worsening arthritis, I would not recommend staying away from a very lean fish such as tilapia.
Studies have shown that excess calories lead to weight gain and an increased chance for morbidity. Therefore, replacing tilapia with a high saturated fat beef will only cause more harm. Beef and high fat meats such as pork, bacon, and processed meats are full of artery clogging saturated fat and have 100 calories and 8 grams of fat per ounce. When was the last time you ate only one ounce of meat? I can bet you that your hamburger at last Sunday's BBQ was at least 5 ounces (which puts you at 500 calories and 45 grams of fat.) And I'm sure that wasn't the only thing you ate. However, if you had tilapia for dinner, at 35 calories an ounce and 0.1 gram of fat, a 5 oz piece of fish would only put you at 175 calories and around 3 grams of fat.
Therefore, why not enjoy your tilapia dinner and still aim to increase your ratio of omega 6s to omega 3s back to a more healthful 2:1 ratio by incorporating more seafood, whole grains, beans and other seeds, and reducing your intake of foods made with or cooked in vegetable oils.