Tilapia for a Low-Cholesterol Diet

A Heart-Healthy Change of Pace

Think salmon and tuna are the only heart-healthy fish on the block? Think again. Tilapia, which is high in protein, is another delicious, cholesterol-friendly fish that can make a great addition to your diet. Tilapia are native to Africa, where they were first farmed—possibly as far back as the ancient Egyptians. Today, most tilapia is farmed in Latin America, China, Indonesia, and the U.S. South, making it readily available at most American grocers.

A woman preparing tilapia on a cutting board
Leela Cyd / Photolibrary / Getty Images

Tilapia Nutrition Information

Although not as high in omega-3 fat as salmon or tuna, tilapia is still considered heart-healthy. It is low in saturated fat and has only 30 calories per ounce.

Per 3-ounce baked serving of tilapia: 121 calories, 2.1 grams (g) total fat, 0.8 g saturated fat, 0.5 g polyunsaturated fat, 0.8 g monounsaturated fat, 46 mg cholesterol, 48 mg sodium, 323 mg potassium, 0 g carbohydrates, 0 g dietary fiber, 0 g sugars, 25.3 g protein, 1% calcium, 3% iron.

Tilapia Preparation Tips

Tilapia is a great choice for those who don't like the taste of fish, as it is very lean, very white, and has a mild flavor. Tilapia easily takes on the flavor of the ingredients it is prepared with. Try tilapia with citrus (lemon, lime, oranges), savory (tarragon, dill) or spicy (chili peppers, chili sauce) toppings, or Asian flavors.

Tilapia is delicate, so it's best baked, broiled, or steamed. Do not eat it raw, and do not grill it. You can cook it without oil for a low cholesterol preparation. And if you want to add oil, a few drops should be sufficient.

You can prepare tilapia whole or as a fillet. And you can use chunks of the cooked fish in different recipes, including pasta, soups, tacos, salads, and more. Consider adding heart-healthy, low cholesterol vegetables that you like to round out the nutrients in your meal.

What to Look for When Buying Fresh Fillets

When purchasing fresh tilapia:

  • Look for vibrant-colored flesh. 
  • Smell it. The fillets should have no pungent aromas.
  • If there is liquid on the flesh, it should be clear, not milky. Milky liquid on a fillet is the first stage of rot.
  • If possible, press the fish flesh with your finger. It should be resilient enough so your indentation disappears. If your fingerprint remains, move on.

Is Tilapia a Low-Mercury Fish?

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration and Environmental Protection Agency test and monitor mercury levels in fish that's sold commercially in the U.S. According to those agencies, tilapia has one of the lowest mercury levels.

The other 14 fish lowest in mercury are:

  1. Anchovies
  2. Atlantic Mackerel
  3. Catfish
  4. Clams
  5. Crab
  6. Crawfish
  7. Freshwater Trout
  8. Haddock
  9. Herring
  10. Oysters
  11. Pollock
  12. Salmon
  13. Scallops
  14. Shrimp
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  1. U.S. Department of Agriculture FoodData Central: Tilapia, steamed/poached. Updated April 1, 2019.

  2. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Advice about eating fish. Updated July 2, 2019.