January 2017 Issue

Culinary Corner: Tender Tilapia
By Jessica Fishman Levinson, MS, RDN, CDN
Today's Dietitian
Vol. 19, No. 1, P. 66

This mild-flavored fish can be a motivator to eat more seafood.

January is a time your clients are likely refocusing on goals for the new year, including what to eat. One goal nearly everyone needs to improve on is increasing seafood consumption. According to the 2015–2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, average intake of seafood is low overall for both sexes in all age groups, with current recommendations for all Americans to consume at least 8 oz of seafood per week.1,2 Based on recent research, many people don't eat the recommended amount of seafood because they aren't aware of the recommendation, think they already consume the right amount, or are concerned about the cost and safety of fish.3

There are numerous reasons seafood is an important part of the diet—it's packed with protein, B vitamins, and omega-3s, and some types of fish are also good sources of vitamin D. Consumption of about 8 oz of seafood per week is associated with reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, Alzheimer's disease, and even obesity.1 And fish is especially important for pregnant women; new research has found that moms-to-be who eat two seafood meals per week (8 to 12 oz total) can provide their child with an additional 3.3 IQ points by age 9.3

Some clients may be concerned about the safety of eating fish, in particular its mercury levels. However, recent research shows that, other than the fish highest in mercury, one would need to eat more than 40 oz of fish per week to reach an adverse effect from fish consumption.3 RDs can guide their clients to purchase seafood that's lower in mercury, such as salmon, trout, sardines, cod, and hake. The fish that should be limited are Gulf tilefish, swordfish, shark, and king mackerel.

A good way to increase clients' seafood consumption is by helping them feel comfortable cooking it in the kitchen. Canned fish and pouches are easy ways to start, and they can be used for sandwiches and salad toppings, whereas fresh fish is quick to cook and can be made in a variety of ways, such as baking, sautéing, grilling, and roasting. The Baked Tilapia With Fennel and Dried Plums recipe here is an easy and flavorful dish and a good start to incorporating more fish in our diets.

— Jessica Fishman Levinson, MS, RDN, CDN, is a New York-based nutrition consultant, writer, and recipe developer, and the founder of Nutritioulicious (www.nutritioulicious.com).


1. US Department of Health & Human Services. Shifts needed to align with healthy dietary patterns. Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2015–2020: 8th ed. https://health.gov/dietaryguidelines/2015/guidelines/chapter-2/a-closer-look-at-current-intakes-and-recommended-shifts/. Published January 7, 2016. Accessed November 2, 2016.

2. US Department of Health & Human Services. A closer look inside healthy eating patterns. Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2015–2020: 8th ed. https://health.gov/dietaryguidelines/2015/guidelines/chapter-1/a-closer-look-inside-healthy-eating-patterns/. Published January 7, 2016. Accessed November 2, 2016.

3. Mcguire J, Kaplan J, Lapolla J, Kleiner R. The 2014 FDA assessment of commercial fish: practical considerations for improved dietary guidance. Nutr J. 2016;15(1):66.



Baked Tilapia With Fennel and Dried Plums

Mild-flavored tilapia is coated in an herb and spice rub and baked over a bed of fennel, onions, and dried plums for a quick and easy weeknight dinner—a nutritious and delicious way to add seafood to the diet.

Serves 4


  • Cooking spray
  • 3 T olive oil, divided
  • 1 T chopped fresh rosemary (or 1 tsp dried)
  • 1 tsp dried marjoram
  • 1 tsp chili powder
  • 11/2 lbs tilapia fillet
  • 1 lb fennel bulb, quartered, cored, and sliced crosswise into thin pieces (about 3 cups)
  • 2 medium onions, peeled, halved, and sliced crosswise into thin pieces (about 21/2 cups)
  • 1 cup chopped dried plums (prunes)
  • 1 T lemon juice
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced (about 2 tsp)
  • 1/4 tsp kosher salt
  • Freshly ground pepper, to taste


  1. Preheat oven to 400° F. Coat a large baking dish with cooking spray.
  2. In a small bowl, whisk 2 T olive oil with rosemary, marjoram, and chili powder to form a paste. Spread on tilapia fillets and set aside.
  3. In prepared baking dish, toss fennel and onions with remaining tablespoon olive oil. Bake in the oven for 30 minutes, stirring halfway through.
  4. Stir chopped dried plums into fennel and onion mixture and place tilapia fillets on top. Drizzle with lemon juice and sprinkle with minced garlic, salt, and pepper, to taste.
  5. Cover baking dish with foil and return to oven. Bake 15 minutes, until fish is cooked through. To check whether fish is done, cut into it in the middle with a fork. If it's still tough, cover and return to the oven for 2 to 5 more minutes.
  6. To serve, make a bed of fennel, onion, and dried plum mixture on a plate and top with fish fillet.
Nutrient Analysis per serving
Calories: 430; Total fat: 14 g; Sat fat: 2.5 g; Trans fat: 0 g; Cholesterol: 85 mg; Sodium: 290 mg; Total carbohydrate: 44 g; Dietary fiber: 8 g; Sugars: 15 g; Protein: 38 g