Tilapia and chicken breast are two excellent protein sources to include in your diet. But as a Registered Dietitian, I’m often asked what the differences are between the two and if one is better than the other.
So what are the differences between tilapia and chicken breast? The main differences between tilapia and chicken breast are that tilapia has fewer calories (-24 kcal), less saturated fat, and a higher micronutrient profile per 100g. However, chicken breast is higher in protein than tilapia.
In this article, I will explore the differences between tilapia and chicken breast and practical recommendations on how to include them in your diet. I will also discuss scenarios where you may want to consume one over the other.
Tilapia vs. Chicken Breast: Nutritional Information
|Saturated fats (g)||0.8||2.7|
|Monounsaturated fats (g)||0.7||3.8|
|Polyunsaturated fats (g)||0.5||2|
Tilapia has 24 fewer calories than chicken breast.
Even though this doesn’t sound like a significant amount, those calories can add up for someone who is on a weight loss journey.
Chicken breast has 2.4 g more protein than tilapia per 100 g.
As a Registered Dietitian, one of the most common problems I see my clients make is not reaching their daily protein requirements. The protein intake can be challenging for some. If this is the case for you, that 2.4-gram difference between chicken and tilapia can be crucial, especially if you plan to eat several servings throughout the day.
Now, this doesn’t mean that you cannot consume tilapia if you prefer it. You just need to have a slightly larger intake to compensate for the lower protein content.
Chicken breast has 0.9 grams more fat than tilapia.
However, this is not a very significant difference. They are both considered lean protein options since, in 100 grams, each food has less than 3 grams of fat.
Even though chicken breast has more saturated fat content than tilapia (+1.9), it is still considered a low saturated fat food, making it an ideal option for people with heart disease.
A high intake of saturated fats has been shown to increase your risk of heart disease. Thus, consuming more unsaturated fats (avocado, nuts, seeds, or olive oil) is healthier for your heart.
The micronutrient profile (the percentages of vitamins and minerals) is one of the biggest differences between tilapia and chicken breast. Tilapia has a better micronutrient profile than chicken.
You can find the micronutrient breakdown for each protein in the following table.
|Nutrient||Tilapia - Daily Recommended Value in 100g portion||Chicken Breast - Daily Recommended Value in 100g portion|
Here are the top nutrients tilapia has and their benefits:
- Magnesium. One of the benefits of magnesium is that it helps relax the muscles, leading to better sleep quality. Research shows that consuming 300-700 mg of magnesium can increase your average sleep duration by 17 minutes.
- Selenium. Selenium is a powerful antioxidant that helps reduce inflammation in your body. Additionally, research shows that a 50% increase of selenium in your blood levels can reduce heart disease by 24%.
Here are the top nutrients chicken breast has and their benefits:
- Niacin. Niacin is a B vitamin. Along with the other vitamins from the B complex, it helps convert the food you eat into usable energy in the body. Also, an observational study done on more than 12,000 people showed that for every additional milligram of niacin they took, there was a 2% reduction in their blood pressure.
- Vitamin B6. For women, vitamin B6 helps decrease PMS symptoms. In a study done on women, they took 50 mg of vitamin B6 per day for three months. At the end of the study, they experienced a 69% reduction in their PMS symptoms.
Tilapia vs. Chicken Breast: 6 Differences
1. Taste and Texture
Tilapia and chicken breast have very different textures and flavors. Tilapia has a flaky texture and a somewhat sweet flavor. On the other hand, chicken breast has a tender texture and a stronger flavor than tilapia.
Even though they have very different textures and flavors, they both have the advantage that you can use any herb or spice to add some flavor.
Winner: Chicken breast
This comes down to personal taste. In my case, tilapia is not my favorite protein (I find it too bland). Thus, chicken breast wins for me.
2. Cooking Methods
Tilapia is quicker to cook than chicken breast. Typically, you can cook tilapia in 10-15 minutes (depending on the cooking method).
On the other hand, chicken might take longer since it is more tender. It can take approximately 20-30 minutes to cook chicken breast.
In both cases, you can use different cooking methods like baking, air frying, or pan-frying.
It takes less time to cook, saving you time in the kitchen.
There is a significant difference in costs between tilapia and chicken breast. For the most part, prices for tilapia are similar at various stores. But there is a significant price difference per pound between tilapia and chicken at some of the most popular food stores.
There is a difference of $1.50 to $3 between tilapia and chicken breast, with the chicken breast being the cheaper option.
For people who have a very large protein requirement (like bodybuilders) or are on a tight budget, a difference of $1.53 to $3 per pound can be significant.
Also, depending on whether the protein is grass-fed, hormone-free, or wild-caught, the price can significantly go up for each food.
Winner: Chicken breast
It has a lower price compared to tilapia. It costs $1.50 to $3 less.
4. Omega-3 and Omega-6
Omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids are essential to the body since they cannot be produced within, meaning you need to get them through your diet.
Research shows that people consume too much omega-6. The recommended ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 is 2:1, but most people consume a ratio of 16:1. This leads to more inflammation in the body.
Tilapia has 220 mg of omega-3, while chicken has 120 mg. Chicken also has 1740 mg of omega-6. This is more than eight times the amount of omega-6 in tilapia, which has 210 mg.
Nonetheless, if you prefer chicken over tilapia, you can still include it in a healthy diet. You just have to be careful about balancing the rest of the foods you consume. For example, avoid adding foods high in omega-6 like peanuts or vegetable oil, and focus on adding high omega-3 sources like flaxseeds or chia seeds.
It has a higher omega-3 and a lower omega-6 content compared to chicken.
Mercury is on the mind of many people when consuming fish. Mercury poisoning can lead to symptoms like fatigue, tremors, depression, headaches, and memory problems.
Chicken doesn’t have any mercury, so you can rest assured that it won’t cause any symptoms stated above.
As well, the FDA classifies tilapia as a fish that contains a lower amount of mercury. This makes it an optimal choice to add regularly.
While tilapia is low in mercury, consuming more than 2-3 portions per week can increase your chances of mercury poisoning, according to the FDA.
6. Environmental Sustainability
Both chicken and tilapia are widely-sought proteins, which means that in order to supply the demand, there are several tilapia and chicken farms.
However, in most cases, tilapia and chicken farms don’t have the best conditions since the animals are often grouped in very small spaces, creating more stress for them. Also, they are known for providing high levels of antibiotics and hormones to animals.
When buying chicken, make sure to go with grass-fed chicken because it has a better nutritional value. It is higher in iron and omega-3, has more antioxidants, and has a lower omega-6 content.
When buying tilapia, make sure it is responsibly-sourced. This means the tilapia has been raised in farms that are not overcrowded or use hormones or antibiotics to feed their fish.
Make sure to go with grass-fed chicken or responsibly-sourced tilapia.
Tilapia vs. Chicken Breast on Different Diets
Both tilapia and chicken breast can be added to a ketogenic diet. They are carb-free, making them ideal to consume without affecting your carb intake. They can also provide you with the protein you need to maintain muscle mass.
However, they are low in fats, the primary energy source of a ketogenic diet. Add a healthy fat source like avocado, olive oil, chia seeds, or almonds whenever you have either one. You can also cook either one in butter to increase the fat content.
While tilapia and chicken are both great options to choose from on a paleo diet, tilapia is a better option for the higher omega-3 content and lower omega-6 content.
On a paleo diet, you want to reduce inflammation by reducing the intake of omega-6 while increasing omega-3. If you add chicken, you can compensate for the omega-3 content by including foods like chia seeds or flaxseeds, which are both good sources of omega-3 fatty acids.
One of the most common problems people have during intermittent fasting is that they don’t reach their protein requirements. Since tilapia and chicken are high in protein, they can help you hit your protein target.
If you want to prevent your sugar levels from spiking when you consume your first meal, add a protein source like tilapia or chicken whenever you break your fast.
Both tilapia and chicken are naturally low in sodium if you consume them fresh. If you buy frozen tilapia or chicken breast, make sure they don’t have any other ingredients such as seasonings or marinades that can increase your sodium consumption.
As a rule of thumb, if you are following a low-sodium diet, ensure that any processed foods you have contain less than 150 mg of sodium per 100 g.
Neither option is suitable for a vegan or vegetarian. If you want to replace either option, you can opt for soy products, jackfruit, or mushrooms.
Since tilapia and chicken are both carb-free, they don’t contain any FODMAP that can aggravate irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) symptoms.
However, if you are buying pre-cooked chicken breast from your grocery store, make sure to read the ingredients list to check for any potential ingredients that might cause a flare-up.
Tilapia vs. Chicken Breast: Which Is Better For Weight Loss?
Both tilapia and chicken breast are low-protein options ideal for weight loss. However, if you need to pick one, tilapia is lower in calories (-24 kcal), making it a better option.
Nonetheless, if you prefer chicken breast over tilapia, a difference of 24 kcal won’t jeopardize your goals. As long as you keep track of your calories using an app, you can compensate by reducing other foods to make room for the extra calories from chicken.
Since chicken breast is slightly higher in protein, it can be beneficial for those on a weight loss journey. Protein helps increase your metabolism (which helps you burn more calories) and increases your fullness levels, preventing you from snacking throughout the day.
Tilapia vs. Chicken Breast: Which Is Better For Muscle Gain?
Chicken breast is better for muscle gain since it is higher in calories (+24 kcal) and has more protein (+2.4 g) per 100 g than tilapia.
To gain muscle, you need proper exercise (resistance training), a good protein intake (between 1.4 to 2.0 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight or 0.7 to 1 gram per pound of body weight), and a caloric surplus (eat an extra 250 kcal per day in addition to what you burn).
However, you would still need to add other high-energy foods (avocado, nuts, seeds, and olive oil) to compensate for the low calories in chicken breast and tilapia compared to other protein sources like chicken thighs or salmon.
Practical Recommendations: Eating Tilapia vs. Chicken Breast
Change Your Foods
While tilapia might be better for you than chicken breast, each protein has benefits. A healthy diet involves having different foods throughout the day and the week to ensure that you get different nutrients.
Even though you might prefer one over the other, make sure to have variety when it comes to the proteins (or any other foods) you consume. For example, instead of eating chicken all the time, have tilapia, cod, salmon, sardines, or flounder.
Choose The One You Like
The most important thing about a healthy diet is eating the foods you like. Even though one food might be better for you than the other, it is not good to force yourself to have it. For example, if you don’t like tilapia, you don’t need to include it.
There are other protein sources (tuna, salmon, eggs, halibut, Greek yogurt, protein shakes, and flounder) that can offer you some variety so you don’t have to rely on either chicken or tilapia.
Tracking your foods can help you reach your goals sooner. No matter which protein option you choose, the key to obtaining the results you want is to measure and track your foods using a calorie counter app like MacroFactor.
This can help you determine how many calories you are consuming and what the macro distribution (protein, carbs, and fats) is for your meals.
Try Different Recipes
To avoid getting tired of consuming either chicken breast or tilapia, try different recipes to have some variety. Adding herbs and spices to your cooking can take a chicken breast or tilapia filet from boring to the best meal you’ve ever had.
Here are some of my favorite recipes.
- Garlic Butter Chicken Bites with Lemon Asparagus
- Broccoli and Cheese Stuffed Chicken Breast
- Skillet Tilapia with Creamy Lemon Sauce
- Parmesan Crusted Tilapia
- You can also season your chicken breast or tilapia with Flavor God seasonings or consume them with low-sodium sauces and dips to add more variety.
Frequently Asked Questions
Does Tilapia Have More Protein Than Chicken?
No, chicken breast has 2.4 grams more protein than tilapia. While this might not be a significant amount. For some people (like bodybuilders) with higher protein requirements, this can be crucial to reach their daily macros. If you are replacing one for the other, you might want to add more tilapia to compensate.
Is Tilapia Better For You Than Chicken?
Tilapia is a better option for you than chicken because it has fewer calories (-24 kcal), less fat (-0.9g), and, a higher micronutrient profile than chicken. However, the difference between them is very small. While tilapia might be better, chicken is a protein to consider regularly adding to your diet.
Is Tilapia Cheaper Than Chicken?
Tilapia is more expensive than chicken, costing $1.50 to $3 more. This price difference might impact the grocery budget for people with higher protein requirements. Thus, if you are on a budget, you might consider choosing chicken over tilapia.
Other Food Comparisons
- Tilapia vs Salmon
- Cod vs Tilapia
- Flounder vs Tilapia
- Tofu vs Chicken
- Chicken Thighs vs Breast
- Chicken vs. Lamb
- Turkey vs. Chicken
- Chicken vs. Salmon
- Shrimp vs. Chicken
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