The content of favorable and unfavorable polyunsaturated fatty acids found in commonly eaten fish

J Am Diet Assoc. 2008 Jul;108(7):1178-85. doi: 10.1016/j.jada.2008.04.023.


Changes in diet during the past century have caused a marked increase in consumption of saturated fatty acids and n-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) with a concomitant decrease in the intake of n-3 PUFAs. Increased fish consumption has been shown to be the only realistic way to increase dietary quantities of beneficial long-chain n-3 PUFAs such as eicosapentaenoic acid and docosahexaenoic acid and re-establish more balanced n-6:n-3 ratios in the diets of human beings. Our objective in this research was to characterize some of the relevant fatty acid chemistry of commonly consumed fish, with a particular focus on the four most commonly consumed farmed fish. To do this, 30 commonly consumed farmed and wild fish were collected from supermarkets and wholesalers throughout the United States. Fatty acid composition of samples from these fish was determined using gas chromatography. The 30 samples studied contained n-3 PUFAs ranging from fish having almost undetectable levels to fish having nearly 4.0 g n-3 PUFA per 100 g fish. The four most commonly farmed fish, Atlantic salmon, trout, tilapia, and catfish, were more closely examined. This analysis revealed that trout and Atlantic salmon contained relatively high concentrations of n-3 PUFA, low n-6:n-3 ratios, and favorable saturated fatty acid plus monounsaturated fatty acid to PUFA ratios. In contrast, tilapia (the fastest growing and most widely farmed fish) and catfish have much lower concentrations of n-3 PUFA, very high ratios of long chain n-6 to long chain n-3 PUFAs, and high saturated fatty acid plus monounsaturated fatty acid to PUFA ratios. Taken together, these data reveal that marked changes in the fishing industry during the past decade have produced widely eaten fish that have fatty acid characteristics that are generally accepted to be inflammatory by the health care community.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Aquaculture*
  • Catfishes / metabolism
  • Chromatography, Gas
  • Fatty Acids, Omega-3 / administration & dosage
  • Fatty Acids, Omega-3 / analysis*
  • Fatty Acids, Omega-6 / administration & dosage
  • Fatty Acids, Omega-6 / adverse effects
  • Fatty Acids, Omega-6 / analysis*
  • Fishes
  • Food Analysis
  • Humans
  • Salmon / metabolism
  • Seafood / analysis*
  • Species Specificity
  • Tilapia / metabolism
  • Trout / metabolism


  • Fatty Acids, Omega-3
  • Fatty Acids, Omega-6