Here's Why You Should Avoid Eating Tilefish

As delicious as seafood is, not all fish are created equally, and there are a few you should definitely steer clear of if you see them at the supermarket. Tilefish is one of them — according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, you should avoid eating tilefish because it can have high levels of mercury. Almost all fish have some mercury, but the largest fish, including tilefish, swordfish, and shark, usually have the highest levels of mercury because they live longer than smaller fish and have more time to accumulate it.

According to SeafoodSource, tilefish can grow up to 4 feet long and weigh 80 pounds, though the filets you'll see at the grocery store usually come from much smaller fish. Typically, they're found in the Atlantic Ocean from Nova Scotia down to Florida. It's also sometimes called the rainbow tilefish or the clown of the sea due to its bright blue, green, yellow, and light red colors, though its brightness fades once it's out of the water.

Why tilefish's mercury levels can be dangerous

According to SeafoodSource, tilefish has a firm, flaky texture and tastes like lobster or crab, but don't let that tempt you. Healthline reports that tilefish caught in the Gulf of Mexico usually have higher mercury levels, and the Environmental Defense Fund's Seafood Selector notes that tilefish from the Gulf of Mexico and the mid-Atlantic region both have elevated mercury levels.

Web MD recommends that pregnant women, young children, and nursing mothers avoid tilefish completely because the elevated mercury levels can harm a young child or unborn baby's developing nervous system. The EDF's Seafood Selector notes that a safe amount of tilefish from either the mid-Atlantic or Gulf of Mexico region is just one serving per month for an adult man, and that's provided you don't eat any other contaminated fish or fish with high mercury levels during the month. According to Healthline, eating foods with mercury can cause the heavy metal to build up in your body over time, and high levels of mercury have been linked to high blood pressure, higher levels of bad cholesterol, and increased risk of heart attacks.

So overall, it's best to just not risk it and avoid tilefish completely. SeafoodSource recommends monkfish, snapper, and grouper as substitutions if you want similar flavors that are healthier for you. These fish usually have lower levels of mercury, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, so you can serve them for dinner without worrying.