Tilapia has been an important food source in North Africa and the Middle East for thousands of years, but has only recently been gaining ground in the United States. Over the past 50 years, worldwide consumption of this fish has skyrocketed, and for good reason: tilapia is fast-growing, lean, low in mercury, and can thrive on an algae or vegetarian diet.
While wild-caught fish is always preferred, farmed tilapia has an extremely low toxin profile and minimal environmental impact when raised in the right conditions. Tilapia is one of the most sustainable and inexpensive farmed fish; by comparison, it takes over 3 pounds of wild fish to produce only 1 pound of farmed salmon. In a world of decreasing wild fish options, I think it’s prudent to find the next best thing. Seek out tilapia farmed in the United States, as they are better observed than in many other countries, especially fish farms in China and Southeast Asia.
Farmed tilapia does not have the same Omega-3 to Omega-6 ratio as other, wild-caught fish, but it is still an excellent protein source – it just shouldn’t be treated like an Omega-3 rich meal. Instead, we like to think of it as the nutritional equivalent of chicken breast; not a robust source of vitamins and nutrients, but still great to have from time to time.