Tilapia and salmon are both great sources of protein to include in your diet.
But, I often get asked as a Registered Dietician what the differences are between them and whether one is better to consume.
Depending on your nutritional goals and taste preference, they offer different qualities.
What’s the difference between tilapia vs salmon? The main difference between tilapia and salmon is their omega-3 content. Salmon has 10 times more omega-3 than tilapia. Omega-3 is a fatty acid that is good for your heart and helps reduce inflammation in the body. Also, salmon is higher in magnesium, phosphorus, and niacin, compared with tilapia.
However, even if salmon is a better option because of its higher micronutrient content when compared head-to-head, tilapia still offers several benefits that make it a great choice for certain cases, which I’ll discuss below.
Tilapia vs. Salmon: Nutritional Information
Tilapia and salmon have different nutritional values that we need to consider.
|Saturated fats (g)||0.8||3.1|
|Monounsaturated fats (g)||0.7||4.4|
|Polyunsaturated fats (g)||0.5||2.8|
|Phosphorus (% DRV)||17||29|
|Magnesium (% DRV)||7||24|
|Folate (% DRV)||6||8|
|Niacin (% DRV)||20||42|
|Vitamin B12 (% DRV)||26||22|
One of the most significant differences between salmon and tilapia comes from the caloric content.
Tilapia has a lower calorie content (96 kcal) than salmon (179 kcal).
This provides benefits whether you are trying to lose or gain weight. However, we will discuss that in further detail later.
The protein content is very similar between salmon and tilapia.
While tilapia has a little bit more protein than salmon it’s only 0.2 grams of difference over salmon (salmon has 19.9g of protein while tilapia has 20.1 grams of protein per 100-gram portion. Thus, it cannot be considered a significant difference in protein.
Therefore, if you base your choice on which one to choose for protein, it is a tie. They are both great protein options.
The reason tilapia is lower in calories compared with salmon is even though they have the same protein content, there is a significant difference in the fat content.
Salmon has six times more fat than tilapia. Salmon has 10.4 grams of fat while tilapia has 1.7 grams of fat per 100-gram portion.
Tilapia is a leaner source of protein than salmon. However, monounsaturated fats, which are found in large quantities in salmon, are a very beneficial type of fat. They can reduce inflammation in the body, improve your blood cholesterol, and is considered healthy for your heart.
Research shows that people who replace saturated fats with unsaturated fats (like monounsaturated fats) have greater health benefits like improved heart health, a reduced likelihood of developing diabetes, and a decreased risk of high blood pressure.
In the micronutrient profile, we can find different nutrient compositions between salmon and tilapia.
Both foods are low in sodium (unless you buy them canned), making them an excellent option for those who require a low sodium diet.
When it comes to the micronutrient profile, salmon has a higher micronutrient intake compared to tilapia.
Here is a thorough comparison of the micronutrient differences between salmon vs tilapia:
|Nutrient||Salmon - Daily Recommended Value in 100g portion||Tilapia - Daily Recommended Value in 100g portion|
Here Are the Top Nutrients Salmon Has and Its Benefits
- Niacin. Studies have shown that a high intake of niacin can help reduce the risk of heart disease. It also plays a vital role in energy production, meaning that it gives you the necessary energy for you to move around.
- Phosphorus. Phosphorus plays an important role in bone health.
- Magnesium. Magnesium has a role in converting food into energy and plays an essential role in muscle function.
Here Are the Top Nutrients Tilapia Has and Its Benefits
- Selenium. It is a powerful antioxidant that helps reduce inflammation in the body. Also, it seems to increase your immune system, which means that you are less likely to get sick.
- Vitamin B12. It plays an important role in red blood cell formation, which is essential to carry oxygen and nutrients to your organs.
Tilapia vs. Salmon: 5 Differences
1. Tilapia vs. Salmon: Taste
Tilapia has a very bland taste. The taste depends on the spices or condiments that you use to cook it. The lack of flavor is a popular choice for those people that often don’t like eating fish because it tastes ‘fishy’ or if you want a specific sauce to stand out.
Salmon, on the other hand, while also having a somewhat mild taste, when compared with tilapia, it has a more intense flavor. It also has an oily taste because of the higher fat content, which goes well with any condiment or citrus that you want to add.
While taste is highly individual, for me, the winner is salmon. Tilapia tastes ‘flaky’ while salmon is tender and juicy.
2. Tilapia vs. Salmon: Cooking Methods
Tilapia is a very easy fish to cook. It normally takes 5-8 minutes to completely cook. For busy people who don’t want a complicated or time-consuming recipe, it is a great option to have. All you need is your favorite spice blend and you can cook it in an oven, pan, or air fryer.
Salmon has a similar cooking process to tilapia. However, it might take a little longer to cook (10-15 minutes), which compared with other types of animal protein is still a short cooking process. You can use the same cooking methods with salmon (oven, pan, or air fryer).
One drawback of cooking salmon compared with tilapia, however, is that it’s harder (at least for me) to tell if the salmon is cooked. I usually have to flake the salmon with a fork to see if the center of the salmon is cooked through. While you can eat salmon raw, I prefer mine cooked.
Because of the slightly longer cooking time tilapia has an easier cooking process than salmon.
3. Tilapia vs. Salmon: Costs
One of the biggest differences between tilapia and salmon is their costs. Tilapia is often a popular protein because it is cheaper than salmon.
The prices might vary according to your store or whether it is farmed-raised (or not). One pound of tilapia might cost $6.58 (Walmart), while salmon costs $11.42. That difference of $4.84 might affect someone’s budget, especially if you’re eating fish multiple times per week and cooking for a family.
With that said, if you have a lower caloric requirement (like myself), the difference between salmon and tilapia might not be a lot. However, for someone with a higher caloric requirement (like a bodybuilder), constantly consuming salmon might be very expensive.
If you’re on a strict food budget, tilapia is a better choice than salmon.
4. Tilapia vs. Salmon: Omega-3 and Omega-6
Omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids are essential fats our body needs. Omega-6 has been shown to have inflammatory properties, while omega-3 has anti-inflammatory properties.
Having a lot of inflammation in the body could lead to pain, poor muscle recovery, or exacerbate gastrointestinal issues (like bloating).
As such, the ideal ratio of omega-6 vs. omega-3 should be 2:1. However, in the typical US diet, the ratio is more 16:1, meaning you get way more omega-6 in your diet, which is why most people have high levels of inflammation.
Thus, it is important to include more foods high in omega-3 to help balance out the ratio.
Tilapia, while it has some omega-3 it is not as high as salmon. Tilapia only has 220 mg of omega-3 compared with 2,342 mg in salmon (per 100 g of food), meaning salmon has more than ten times the omega-3 than tilapia.
As well, one of the drawbacks of tilapia is that it has a higher content of omega-6. Therefore, by eating tilapia, you’re making the omega-6 to omega-3 ratio worse, not better.
Don’t let this scare you away from eating tilapia though.
While eating tilapia once in a while is not a bad option, it just means you also have to check what other foods you’re eating that may be high in omega-6 (corn, vegetable oils, walnuts, peanuts, sunflower seeds). Remember, that we need to analyze our entire eating day and not only just one food.
Salmon helps increase your omega-3 intake to a greater extent compared with tilapia.
5. Tilapia vs. Salmon: Mercury
Mercury poisoning is one of the most common concerns when talking about fish. Mercury is a toxic component found in certain foods and the environment.
The most common form of increasing your mercury exposure is consuming fish and seafood. Due to industrialization, mercury levels have risen at sea, where fish ingest it, accumulate it, and then we get it through them.
A large intake of mercury could lead to neurological problems, headaches, depression, irritability, anxiety, memory problems, and tremors.
However, not all fish are high in mercury. How do salmon and tilapia compare?
According to the FDA both tilapia and salmon are great options low in mercury for constant consumption. However, they might still contain traces of this toxic component, so they recommend eating it 2-3 times per week.
If mercury is a concern for you, both tilapia and salmon are safe.
Tilapia vs. Salmon: Which Is Better For Weight Loss?
Tilapia is a better option than salmon for those that are trying to lose weight. It is lower in calories and slightly higher in protein, which increases your satiety levels since protein takes longer to digest. Finally, its low-fat content makes it the perfect option for having a protein source that doesn’t contain additional calories from fat.
This doesn’t mean that you cannot have salmon if you are looking to lose weight. Salmon is still an excellent choice based on its higher omega 3 contents, but you need to consider that it will be higher in calories because it contains more fat. Therefore, if you’re on a restricted caloric intake, you will need to track salmon’s calories toward your overall daily calories.
Tilapia vs. Salmon: Which Is Better For Muscle Gain?
Salmon is a better option compared with tilapia for those looking to gain muscle and bulk up. Since it is higher in calories than tilapia because of the increased fat content, it can easily help you achieve the necessary caloric surplus to gain weight. Because gaining weight requires you to consume more calories than your body needs, finding high-calorie protein sources, like salmon, plays a crucial role.
Nonetheless, if you don’t like salmon and prefer tilapia, this doesn’t mean that you cannot gain muscle by choosing tilapia. It means that you need to focus on adding energy-dense foods like avocado, olive oil, or olives to increase the caloric content of tilapia.
Practical Recommendations: Eating Tilapia vs Salmon
Fresh vs. Farmed
Whenever possible pick fresh over farmed.
Fresh fish eat the natural foods found in the sea and in rivers.
On the other hand, farmed fish tends to be fed a high protein and fat diet, which changes their nutritional composition.
This type of diet not only does it have repercussions on human health but also on the environment.
From a nutritional standpoint, farmed fish tend to have the same protein content but different fat content. They seem to have a greater omega-6, which although essential, in excess can cause inflammation in the body.
From an environmental standpoint, farmed fish are grouped together in small spaces. This makes them prone to disease, which means that they are more likely to be given antibiotics. Not only can we ingest those antibiotics, but they can also pollute the oceans.
Now, if you can only get farmed fish from your local grocery store, salmon and tilapia are still good protein options to include. However, if it’s possible, try to purchase fish that is fresh.
Aim For Diversity
While one might be better than the other in some instances, an essential component in a healthy diet is to have variety.
Since each type of food has different properties, you must get different nutrients throughout the day.
Thus, instead of only focusing on one, make sure that you have different types of protein throughout the day. For example, if have tilapia for lunch, then have salmon for dinner.
Eat The One You Enjoy
If you are eating salmon only for its benefits, but you don’t enjoy eating it, then don’t! Forcing yourself to eat something you don’t like can create food aversions.
If you want only tilapia or only salmon, make sure to stick to the one that you enjoy eating. A healthy diet is supposed to contain only the foods that are good for you, but most importantly, those foods you enjoy eating.
Track Your Portions
Whether you have tilapia or salmon, you need to track the portion size to ensure that you have enough protein according to your goals.
One of the most frequent things I see when coaching people on their diets is that people underestimate their protein intake, meaning they think they are eating the recommended portion, but they usually aren’t. This is more often seen in fish since they come in different sizes.
Thus, to make sure that you are eating enough (or not overeating), make sure that you measure the portion size with a weigh scale and track your food.
If you don’t want to track or measure your food, then make sure that you are eating at least a filet of salmon or tilapia the size of the palm of your hand (which is around 3-4 oz for women and 4-5 oz for men).
Most people don’t include fish in their diet due to its “fishy” taste.
First of all, fresh fish shouldn’t contain that “fishy smell” if it does, it probably isn’t very fresh.
Second, if you want to make the fish more flavourful, you can marinate it to make it tastier. I often leave my fish marinating in lemon, ginger, and garlic for at least 4-8 hours. This makes it absorb all that fresh and juicy taste of the lemon and spices, making it taste better.
If you are searching for other ways of marinating it, here are a couple of my favorite recipes:
- Mouthwatering marinades for every type of seafood
Frequently Asked Questions
Is Tilapia A Good Substitute For Salmon?
Yes, tilapia is a good substitute for salmon. However, it has a lower caloric and fat content. If you want to cut down on calories without noticing, replacing salmon with tilapia is great. But, if you are looking to increase your calories, you need to add other high-calorie foods (avocado, nuts, or seeds) to compensate.
Other Fish Resources
- 3 Reasons Why Tilapia Is Good For Bodybuilding (Plus, 1 Con)
- Is Salmon Good or Bad For Bodybuilding? (Pros & Cons)
Other Fish Comparisons
- Cod vs. Tilapia: 6 Differences & Which Is Better?
- Flounder vs. Tilapia: 6 Differences & Which Is Better?
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- Halibut vs. Salmon: Pros, Cons, Differences, & Which Is Better?
- Cod vs. Flounder: 5 Differences & Which Is Better?
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- Coho vs Sockeye Salmon: What Are The Differences?
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