‘Mutant’ Tilapia Fish is Unsafe to Eat, Contains Cancer-Causing Dioxin-Mostly Fiction!
Summary of eRumor:
A meme claiming that tilapia is a “mutant” fish that’s unsafe to eat combines a number of long-running warnings about the fish.
Warnings that tilapia is unsafe to eat have been circulating for years. There are warnings that tilapia is a “mutant” fish that doesn’t have skin or bones. There are warnings that tilapia don’t exist in the wild. There are warnings that eating tilapia is worse than eating bacon or hamburger. And there are warnings that tilapia causes cancer. None of them are true.
There are various sources of these rumors. But they were all consolidated into a meme that first went viral in 2017 and resurfaced in April 2018. Without citing sources, the meme repeated old (and untrue) rumors that tilapia is unsafe to eat.
We’ll take a look at each of these claims. We’ll also provide a little background on tilapia, where it came from, and why it’s grown in popularity over the last 20 years.
Tilapia Are Boneless and Skinless-Fiction!
It’s not clear where rumors that tilapia are boneless, skinless and can’t be overcooked originated. But there’s not truth to them. Just looking a photo of tilapia makes clear that it has skin and scales like other freshwater fish.
And, just like other freshwater fish, tilapia filets have to be cut away from bones inside the fish’s body. There are countless “how to filet tilapia” videos on YouTube that all disprove claims that tilapia are boneless.
Tilapia Are Mutants, Can’t Be Found in the Wild-Fiction!
Tilapia are native to Africa and date at least back to the Egyptian period. In fact, tilapia are even featured in ancient Egyptian art, often portraying a symbol of rebirth. So, again, the idea that tilapia are mutants and can’t be found in the wild are baseless.
These claims are probably based on the widespread introduction of tilapia into aquaculture in the 1980s. After that point, tilapia was widely farmed in cages and open bodies of water. That helped tilapia go from “unknown in the U.S. in the mid-1990s to the fifth most popular seafood we eat,” the Atlantic reports. The rise of tilapia coincided with the fall of Northeast cod fishery in the 1990s.
So, while the tilapia sold in restaurants and grocery stores is most likely the result of aquaculture — claims that tilapia is a “mutant” fish don’t check out.
Eating Tilapia Worse that Eating Bacon or Hamburger-Mostly Fiction!
Claims that eating tilapia is worse that eating bacon or hamburger have persisted for years — but experts counter that there’s no truth to them.
They can be traced back to a 2008 study published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association. The study warns that tilapia isn’t a good food for controlling inflammatory diseases like heart disease. It’s authors continued: “All other nutritional content aside, the inflammatory potential of hamburger and pork bacon is lower than the average serving of farmed tilapia.”
Many websites seized on the claims. The popular diet franchise “Eat This, Not That!” warned that tilapia has a fraction of the beneficial omega-3 fatty acids as salmon and other fish, and has “sky high” levels of unhealthy omega-6 fats. It’s conclusion? Tilapia is worse than bacon or hamburger.
Scientists quickly pushed back. Dr. William Harris, a senior scientist and director of the metabolism and nutrition at the nonprofit Sanford Research Center, noted that “most health experts (including organizations such as the American Heart Association and the American Dietetic Association) agree that omega-5 fatty acids are, in fact, heart healthy:
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 US, 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.
Researchers at Harvard sounded a similar tune, debunking the idea that tilapia is worse than bacon or hamburger.
Tilapia Contains Cancer-Causing Dioxin-Mostly Fiction!
Dioxins are some of the most toxic substances on earth, and they have been linked to cancer. And it’s true that “more than 90 percent of human exposure” to dioxins comes from food. It’s stored in fat tissue and can accumulate throughout the food chain, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) reports.
But tilapia don’t appear to be at a higher risk for containing dioxins than any other fish. In fact, because tilapia are often farmed and not caught in the wild, their dioxin levels could actually be lower than levels in other species of fish. So, again, claims that tilapia contain cancer-causing dioxin are mostly fiction. It’s possible, but there’s no elevated risk.