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Steamed Lemony Tilapia

To keep blood pressure numbers from boiling over, it might be a good idea to tame the flame when preparing meat, chicken and fish, according to research from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

The findings, reported at a 2018 meeting of the American Heart Association, suggest that frequently eating beef, chicken and fish cooked under high temperatures may contribute to rising blood pressure numbers. Among 103,881 subjects who reported eating at least two servings of these foods a week, the risk of developing high blood pressure over a 12- to 16-year period was 17% greater in people who grilled, broiled or roasted them more than 15 times a month, compared with those who used these cooking techniques fewer than four times a month.

Cooking meat, chicken or fish at high temperatures, such as over the flame of a grill, can cause chemicals such as heterocyclic aromatic amines to form—potentially pushing blood pressure higher and raising the risk for heart attack and stroke. The study added that limiting the intake of cooked meat that’s well-done or charred is also a good idea for better heart health.

You can still embrace your carnivorous or pescatarian ways if you employ less harsh cooking techniques more often. May we suggest steaming? With steaming, liquid vaporizes into steam that carries heat to your food, cooking it quickly but delicately. That preserves nutrients, flavors and textures without incurring the risk of developing harmful chemicals. It’s particularly well-suited to boneless poultry and fish, including this lemony version of steamed tilapia. Serves two.

Steamed Lemony Tilapia

1 lemon, thinly sliced

2 shallots, thinly sliced

1 C sliced yellow bell pepper

1 C cherry tomatoes, halved

2 (5- to 6-ounce) tilapia fillets

1 T olive oil

2 t grainy Dijon-style mustard

2 t fresh thyme

2 t lemon zest

1/4 t salt

1/4 t black pepper

1/4 C chopped parsley

Fill a medium-sized pot with at least 1 inch of water and place a steamer tray on top of pot (or use an electric steamer). Line tray with lemon slices and top with shallot, pepper slices and tomatoes. Place tilapia fillets on vegetables. In a small bowl, whisk together olive oil, mustard, thyme, lemon zest, salt and black pepper. Spread mustard mixture on fish and cover steamer basket. Bring water to a boil and steam until tilapia is just barely cooked through in the center, about 8 minutes.

Go Fish!

Tilapia is one of the most consumed fish species in America (National Fisheries Institute 2017), but there are plenty more sustainable and nutritious options worth casting your line for!

Wild-caught U.S. rockfish, for instance, is considered a Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch “Best Choice” (seafoodwatch.org). That lets you feel even better about eating it for an abundance of protein and the potent antioxidant selenium.


Eat These Fish! is an Environmental Defense Fund campaign to sing the praises of less popular but well-managed U.S.-caught species. See eatthesefish.com.

Matthew Kadey, MS, RD

Matthew Kadey, MS, RD, is a James Beard Award–winning food journalist, dietitian and author of the cookbook Rocket Fuel: Power-Packed Food for Sport + Adventure (VeloPress 2016). He has written for dozens of magazines, including Runner’s World, Men’s Health, Shape, Men’s Fitness and Muscle and Fitness.

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