July 28/Scripps Howard News Service and Life Science Weekly -- About three weeks ago, Floyd Chilton and the Wake Forest University School of Medicine released a report advising people with inflammatory issues to reduce or eliminate their consumption of tilapia.

Chilton said last week that he is been stunned by the aggressive "sound-bite criticism" from the National Fisheries Institute, an industry trade group. Other critics include a colleague at the medical school.

"I've published 110 medical articles, and I am incredibly surprised by the tone of the response by one or two organizations to a study in a very reputable, peer-reviewed journal," Chilton said.

The study appeared in this month's issue of Journal of the American Dietetic Association, which also featured a report that offered a mixed review of the Wake findings. Chilton will have the opportunity to respond to the critical report in a coming issue of the journal.

Dr. William Applegate, the dean of Wake Forest University School of Medicine, said that criticism, including from colleagues, is an inherent, and sometimes helpful, part of the advancement of science.

"The higher the financial stake involved in a study, the greater the level of industry criticism tends to be generated," Applegate said.

The fisheries institute is targeting the Wake study because of its potential for affecting sales of tilapia, institute officials said. In response to confusing reports, an international coalition of more than a dozen doctors spoke to clarify that fish like tilapia are low in total and saturated fat, high in protein and clearly part of a healthy diet.

A report from Wake Forest University in the July issue of the Journal of the American Dietetic Association about the types of fats in popular seafood has led to reports that bacon, hamburgers and doughnuts are a better choice than certain fish.

The 16 dietary fats experts, led by Dr. William Harris of the Sanford School of Medicine, write, "Replacing tilapia or catfish with 'bacon, hamburgers or doughnuts' is absolutely not recommended."

In explaining the specifics of the omega-3 versus omega-6 debate, the researchers note that omega-6s are not only found in fish like tilapia, but vegetable oils, nuts, whole-wheat bread and chicken. They go on to highlight the fact that the American Heart Association and the American Dietetic Association agree that, "omega-6 fatty acids are, like omega-3s, heart-healthy nutrients which should be part of everyone's diet."

The coalition, including one expert from Wake Forest University, says unequivocally that while they are not rich in omega-3 fatty acids, fish like catfish and tilapia, "should be considered better choices than most other meat alternatives."

"In this letter, we see doctors from schools in England, Germany, Korea and Australia teaming up with researchers from U.S. institutions including Sanford School of Medicine, Penn State and Harvard school of Public Health to say, 'Wait a minute, what you are reading in the press is misleading,'" said Jennifer Wilmes, registered dietitian with the National Fisheries Institute. "It's heartening to see careless, sound-bite-science being challenged."

In its criticism of the Wake study, the institute particularly emphasized this statement in a July 17 press release about the study: "The types of fats in popular seafood have led to reports that bacon, hamburgers and doughnuts are a better choice than certain fish."

The trouble with the institute's position is that the Wake study does not make that claim. What the Wake study does say is that "Tilapia has higher levels of potentially detrimental long-chain omega-6 fatty acids than 80%-lean hamburger, doughnuts and even pork bacon."

"All other nutritional content aside, the inflammatory potential of hamburger and pork bacon is lower than the average serving of farmed tilapia."

The study found that farm-raised tilapia -- the fifth most popular fish consumed in the U.S. -- has very low levels of beneficial omega-3 fatty acids, primarily because the fish eat inexpensive corn-based feed.

"Perhaps worse, it contains very high levels of omega-6 fatty acids," researchers said.

The combination "could be a potentially dangerous food source for some patients with heart disease, arthritis, asthma and other allergic and auto-immune diseases that are particularly vulnerable to an 'exaggerated inflammatory response.'"

"They have sound-bited the study, taking things out of context to take the study in a different direction than the science," Chilton said. "There is a vulnerable population not enhancing the quality of their health with the best source of omega-3 fatty acids, and they deserve the knowledge."

Chilton said that consumers should still eat at least two servings of fish a week but focus more on salmon, mackerel, albacore tuna and shrimp for better omega-3 benefits. He also recommended taking fish-oil supplements.

From the August 4, 2008, Prepared Foods e-Flash