An Open Letter Regarding Recent Reports That Low-Fat Fish Like Tilapia Are Unhealthy (July 16, 2008)

By William S. Harris, Ph.D., FAHA of Sanford Research/USD
July 18, 2008

An Open Letter Regarding Recent Reports That Low-Fat Fish Like Tilapia Are Unhealthy (July 16, 2008)

William S. Harris, Ph.D., FAHA of Sanford Research/USD, sent the following letter, dated July 16:

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 U.S., 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.

U.S. 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, Ph.D., 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, Ph.D.
  Professor of Nutritional Immunology
  University of Southampton, UK

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

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

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

  Peter Howe, Ph.D.
  Professor and Director
  Nutritional Physiology Research Centre
  University of South Australia, Adelaide

  Penny Kris-Etherton, Ph.D., 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, Ph.D.
  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, Ph.D., 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, Ph.D.
  Chair in Human Nutrition
  School of Exercise and Nutrition Sciences
  Deakin University
  Burwood, Australia

  Clemens von Schacky, MD
  Ludwig Maximilians-Universitat Munchen
  Munich, Germany