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Tilapia & Bad Cholesterol

By Michelle Kerns

Consuming 3.5 ounces of fish or shellfish at least twice weekly can help lower your blood cholesterol and decrease your risk of stroke and heart disease, says the American Heart Association. Tilapia, a native African fish with thin white flesh and a mild flavor, is a versatile and affordable way to increase your seafood intake. While some critics say tilapia isn't as nutritious a choice as other types of seafood, experts like registered dietitian Diane Welland say it can have a place in a balanced diet.

Cholesterol Content

The National Institutes of Health says that controlling the amount of cholesterol in your diet can help you keep your overall blood cholesterol level low. Healthy adults are advised to consume no more than 300 milligrams of cholesterol per day, while people with high cholesterol or a history of heart disease should limit themselves to 200 milligrams daily. An 87-gram serving of cooked tilapia -- approximately 3 ounces -- contains 50 milligrams of cholesterol. This amount is less cholesterol per serving than you'd obtain from lean beef, pork or skinless poultry.

Saturated Fat Content

Your cholesterol level -- particularly your low-density lipoprotein, or "bad" cholesterol -- is affected by the saturated fat in your diet even more than your dietary cholesterol. Tilapia is low in saturated fat, with 0.8 gram in every 3-ounce serving. Less than 7 percent of your total daily calories should come from saturated fat, and if you're on a 2,000-calorie diet, a serving of tilapia would fulfill 5 percent of that limitation. By contrast, lean cuts of beef and pork contain 1.1 to 3.5 grams of saturated fat in a serving.

Omega-3 and Omega-6 Fatty Acids

Fish and shellfish contain eicosapentaenoic acid and docosahexaenoic acid, two omega-3 fatty acids linked to lower blood cholesterol. Tilapia has less of these beneficial fats than most types of seafood, however. A 3-ounce serving has about 0.12 gram, while salmon contains as much as 1.9 grams per serving. In addition, a study published in 2008 in the "Journal of the American Dietetic Association" reported tilapia is rich in omega-6 fatty acids. The ratio of low omega-3 to high omega-6 fatty acids in tilapia might make the fish not as good a choice as other fish for people concerned about heart health.

Expert Recommendations

In "Today's Dietitian," Welland assures that seafood -- including tilapia -- should be included in a diet designed to keep your bad cholesterol level under control. The key is to consume a variety of fish and shellfish prepared with a low-fat method like broiling, roasting or steaming throughout the week. For instance, if you have tilapia at dinner one night, have a fish like trout that is high in omega-3 fatty acids another night.

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