Tilapia has experienced a significant increase in popularity. It can be found in almost any retail grocery store and is often a featured item on many restaurant menus. But have you ever wondered what you are really eating? I did. Having grown up around both fresh and salt water fisheries, no one ever talked about tilapia. The reason is that this is not a native fish to the United States. This should create your first suspicion about this species of fish.
Where Does Tilapia Really Come From?
As tilapia is not native to the United States, we have to ask, were does tilapia come from. Tilapia is a tropical fish that originated out of Africa with a relatively short growth time. They live in fresh water environments and are not found in saltwater. So at this point, the questions should begin to stir in your mind as to what is the tilapia that is so often found in the grocery store and being served.
Most of the tilapia in the United States actually comes from China and Indonesia. This fish is farmed and then shipped to the United States. At this point, I feel that it is important to understand what farmed fish means. In a nutshell, you are rapidly growing fish in an artificial environment by feeding them “food stuff” that they would not have exposure to in the wild. These environments to not lend themselves to a vast amount of space to swim in, but rather the fish are densely packed in the man-made environment and routinely exposed to high amounts of ammonia and waste.
One big concern with the source of these fish is that according to a report from the USDA in 2009, China fails miserably with food safety standards, including those that are exported to the US. It appears from the findings of this study that many of the fisheries are located next to heavily polluted areas. Such toxins include environmental pollutants, agricultural residues, feces and veterinarian drug residues. It should be no surprise that if the fish are exposed to these toxins, then those that consume the fish are also going to be ingesting these toxins. What is also interesting is that tilapia fisheries exist in the United States but do not meet the demand, thus encouraging import from foreign markets.
Tilapia Nutrition is Questionable
One of the reasons that many individuals turn to fish in their diet is the consumption of omega 3’s. Omega 3’s have been shown to be effective at supporting conditions including cardiovascular disease, arthritis, autoimmune conditions and cancer just to name a few chronic conditions. However, farmed tilapia is higher in omega 6’s, which are inflammatory and have the opposite effect on our health. The unnatural diet that the fish are fed creates a low omega 3 content and a high omega 6, whereas the fish in its natural environment has just the opposite profile. (Int J Food Sci Nutr. 2009;60 Suppl 5:203-11.) From this we can see that the food provided to these fish makes a significant difference in their nutritional value, leaving us to ask what else we should question regarding tilapia nutrition.
Well, since you asked, the fatty acid ratio is not the only problem with tilapia nutrition. The concern of genetic modification rears its ugly head again. In this case it is not referred to as genetic modification, but rather transgenic. Transgenic tilapia has had genes added to their DNA for a desired outcome. In this case, it resulted in “successful production of transgenic tilapia by injection of transgenes (mouse metallothionein promoter/rat growth hormone gene). (Aquaculture. Volume 105, Issues 3–4, 1 August 1992, Pages 219–232) So rat genes to enhance growth hormone production were added to tilapia DNA. No doubt this is to enhance the rate at which the fish can produce. The bigger concern is that by eating genetically modified, or transgenic, tilapia, you are consuming something that is not in natural state and thus has the potential to increase the activity of the immune system in a negative manner. As we have seen with other GMO (genetically modified organism) debacles, this usually comes at a price.
What You Can Do
If you have been eating tilapia, starting off with a good detox would be recommended. Since these fish are mostly coming from polluted foreign sources, you have likely accumulated some of these toxins. You can begin the detox process by eliminating all of the refined, non-organic sources of food from your diet. You will want to transition to foods that are colorful and nutrient dense along with consuming adequate amounts of protein to support your inherent detoxification pathways.
If you are consuming fish to increase the amount of omega 3 fatty acids in your diet, a safer option than eating farmed raised tilapia is taking omega 3 rich supplements. You could eat the fish itself, but this is not an option in the United States, leaving supplementation as preferred source. The other option that you have is to consume wild caught fish. Wild fish such as salmon, cod and halibut are better options and do not come with the same risks of altered fatty acid composition as farmed fish. Therefore, the nutrition of any of these fish is going to exceed tilapia nutrition.
Just the name, the standard American diet, sounds monotonous and boring. Think about it. The word standard used in this context implies uniformity. It suggests that everything is consistent and there is lack of variation. The underlying tone is that individuals are eating the same thing throughout the population. In this case, that is detrimental for the population. Let’s just talk bluntly for a moment. The standard American diet lacks a lot regarding supporting health. It is in need of a significant overhaul. The consistent way that the population is eating is putting us on a fast track to a society of chronic disease ridden individuals.
The Standard American diet is the Wrong Path
On the surface you might not consider the standard American diet inherently problematic to our health. This was likely the case 100 years ago. However, over the last century, we have come to consume food in a much different way than our ancestors did. They enjoyed a more primal diet that some today call the Paleo Diet or caveman diet. The difference between this pattern of eating and the style of food we consume today is drastically different. We no longer eat like our ancestors and we are paying the price for it. Instead, we eat foods that are adulterated and a combination of food-like products that should leave you wondering exactly what you are putting in your mouth.
Should we even call it food?
Take a walk through the grocery store. Walk down each aisle and look at what the standard American diet has become. It is a buffet of boxed and canned items that look drastically different from what they did prior to being refined and damaged by manufacturing. They have lost their inherent qualities that make them a food we should consume. It is hard to believe that we even call some of the things in the grocery stores food any more. The standard American diet, a different far different than the Paleo diet lends, is made up of foods that have only vague characteristics of the food that we should be consuming.
The Problem with the Standard American Diet
To understand what is wrong with the standard American diet, we need to compare it to the Paleo diet. This primal diet has some unique characteristics that are no longer seen with what is commonly consumed today. Let us start by looking at a few of the most pronounced differences.
The standard American diet is heavy in grains. Grains are high in carbohydrates and lack the balance and nutrients compared to other food groups. Add to this that most grains are among the highest dietary allergens and are linked to numerous ailments and you quickly realize they have some inherent problems. Moreover, if you are consuming grains, you are likely consuming a genetically modified food. I can say with confidence that none of our ancestor eating a Paleo diet with all of its primal characteristics was consuming genetically modified foods.
Our bodies need fat, but the right kind. Fats found in the standard American diet promote inflammation, a trait of almost every chronic disease. You actually have to seek out non-inflammatory fats in the grocery store and even when you do, you are not likely to find those that are most beneficial to suppressing inflammation in significant quantities.
There are many other problems with the standard American diet that I will detail in subsequent articles, but for now, knowing that this dietary pattern can destroy your health is the most important thing that you can take away. It is crucial for us to recognize that our ancestors had it right without even knowing it. They ate a Paleo diet that gave them the nutrition they needed.
The Cancer Scare
Cancer is on the rise. Most all of us know someone that has had cancer. It can be the most dreadful thing to hear from a doctor. “You have cancer.” Those three words invoke more fear than almost anything else. The very thought of the reality of those words sends chills up your spine. And if it is you that hears it, all you can think about are all the precious aspects of your life that you may no longer be able to experience or may soon lose. Cancer is without question a scary situation, regardless the type and stage.
Why Are we not Winning the War on Cancer
Cancer is becoming a mainstay word in our society. It comes up more frequently in the healthcare arena than it should. There has long been a war on cancer. In fact, Richard Nixon even signed the National Cancer Act of 1971 to more or less document the initiation of this initiative. In the 40 plus years since that time, little has been done to decrease the incidence of cancer. We are seeing new improvements and better management of the condition. Yet with such advancement, we are failing to address the underlying causes of cancer. This is no different than most other conditions. Traditional medicine ignores the dysfunction that leads to the disease. Why do we wait when we can be proactive? We know the risks, so why not act on them?
The Statistical Paradox
Add to this conundrum the paradox that some say we are winning the battle on cancer. To understand this comment, one must understand the definition of success. Success is defined in some circles as reducing the death rate associated with cancer. This is a noteworthy achievement and one that is appreciated by nearly all that have been diagnosed. However, what we do not see in these number is the case of newly diagnosed cancer. According to the National Cancer Institute Cancer Trends Progress Report – 2011/2012 Update, there were roughly 474 new cases of cancer per 100,000 individuals. In a population of almost 314 million people, that equates to 1,488,360 newly diagnosed cases of cancer in one year. I ask you. Are we winning?
Can Anything Be Done?
With such daunting numbers, it may seem like almost nothing can be done. However, the advantage of having medical science on our side is that researchers have been able to define many contributing factors. This means that we do not have to proceed blindly, but rather can use the information of numerous creditable studies to know where to best support and protect ourselves. One of the least controversial and most well accepted risk reduction techniques is omega 3 fatty acids.
Omega 3’s Provide Hope
The American Journal of Epidemiology states, “These results suggest that intake of long-chain omega-3 fatty acids may reduce risk of total and cancer-specific mortality.” (Am J Epidemiol. 2014 Feb 3). This furthers the point that risk of death associated with cancer can be reduced. Moreover, there is equal evidence stating that there may be a protective role associated with the consumption of omega 3’s with various types of cancer.
How Omega 3’s Benefit
Omegas 3’s have clearly established themselves as having a role in protection against cancer as well as other aspects of this life-threatening condition. Even in light of the occasional controversial media piece, omega 3’s are one of the most well accepted intervention strategies to protect not only against the ailments of cancer, but multiple other conditions as well. With their well-known role as an anti-inflammatory and immune system modulator, and their difficulty in obtaining adequate levels in most individuals diets, you will be hard pressed to find a better start to your cancer prevention strategy than the incorporation of omega 3’s.