Q. Are All Fish Good for Your Heart?
Healthy Fish Recipes
A. "I thought all fish was good for your heart, but recently heard tilapia isn’t. Is that true?"
—Andy Horton, Newport, RI
You must be referring to a recent study published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association. Researchers from Wake Forest University School of Medicine tested 30 varieties of fish—some wild, some farmed—from all over the world and found that farm-raised tilapia has relatively high levels of omega-6s and lower levels of heart-healthy omega-3s, a ratio of almost 11:1. (Catfish and flounder have a similarly disappointing profile.) Tilapia, a farmed, fresh-water herbivore, was never touted as being naturally high in omega-3s, but this surprisingly high omega-6 profile may be the result of fish feeds containing too many omega-6-rich vegetable oils (e.g., cottonseed, soybean or safflower) and not enough omega-3-rich oils, such as anchovy oil.
Historically, humans had a healthy diet that contained as many omega-3s as omega-6s—a 1:1 ratio. These days, because we eat so many foods rich in omega-6 fats (they’re often added to processed foods), the ratio is greater than 10 to 1 and studies suggest that a diet with a high ratio may promote inflammatory conditions, such as heart disease. That’s why the American Heart Association recommends eating omega-3-rich fish to help reduce your risk of heart disease.
Bottom Line: If you’re loading up on fish to boost the omega-3 content of your diet—and lower your risk of heart disease—you’re better off choosing salmon, claims Floyd Chilton, Ph.D., professor of physiology and pharmacology at Wake Forest University and lead researcher of the study. (Trout and tuna are also good sources of omega-3s.) But don’t ban tilapia from your dinner table just yet. Nutrition experts agree that substituting tilapia, a lean source of protein, for fatty meats, which are typically high in saturated fat, is a healthful strategy.