Sunday, February 5

Catfish:  Omega-3 fatty acids, and vitamin B 12

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By Prof. Raphael Nyarkotey Obu

At the Serekunda Market, in the Gambia, I noticed this particular fish that had been smoked.   I was told it is catfish.  I also found that there are several species of catfish harvested from the Gambian waters. Castro et al.(2013) indicate that up to 8 species are found in saltwater while 6 are identified in estuary/freshwater environments. Investigation at beach landing sites positively identified three species: Arius heudelot (Ngunja or smooth head sea catfish), Arius latiscutatus (black kong or rough head sea catfish), and Arius parkii (white kong)  (Gabis et al., 2012).

Though I found catfish prevalent, I hardly see them in Ghana and on our menus.  How healthy are they? I examine catfish in this recent article.

Nutrition facts

Smoked Catfish in the Gambia

I found that catfish have an enormous nutritional profile. For instance, the US Department of Agriculture explained that a 3.5-ounce (100-gram) serving of fresh catfish provides:

Calories: 105
Fat: 2.9 grams
Protein: 18 grams
Sodium: 50 mg
Vitamin B12: 121% of the Daily Value (DV)
Selenium: 26% of the DV
Phosphorus: 24% of the DV
Thiamine: 15% of the DV
Potassium: 19% of the DV
Cholesterol: 24% of the DV
Omega-3 fatty acids: 237 mg
Omega-6 fatty acids: 337 mg

In addition to being low in calories and sodium, catfish is packed with protein, healthy fats, vitamins, and minerals. From the nutritional profile, you will notice that catfish is loaded with omega 3 and 6 fatty acids.  This tends to benefit the heart.  It is loaded with vitamin B12, which is essential for pregnant women and many others.

Omega-3 fatty acids Loaded

Catfish are loaded with omega-3 fatty acids. On the other hand, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) recommends eating up to 8 ounces of fish or other seafood each week.  This was recommended by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and U.S(2015-2020) because catfish and other seafood can give more omega-3 fatty acids than other foods.  Besides,  Omega-3 fatty acids are known for supporting brain health.

Two studies (National Institute of Health, 2022; Wysoczański et al. 2016) held the view that omega-3 fatty acids could treat neurological and mental conditions, such as memory loss, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and depression.

More studies (Costantini et al. 2017; Jain et al. 2015; Mori, T, 2017; Jeromson et al. 2015) also found that omega-3s support skeletal muscle strength, heart health, and even the gut microbiome — the collection of healthy bacteria in your gut.

Wan et al. (2017) review of 23 studies in more than 1 million people linked fish consumption with a reduced death risk— and a 7% decrease in death rate for every 200 mg of omega-3s consumed daily.  This is so interesting!

Additionally, the body does not make omega-3s on its own, there is the need to obtain them from the diet. The National Institutes of Health found that one 3.5-ounce (100-gram) catfish gives  237 mg or 15–20% of the Adequate Intake (AI) for adults.

Though catfish gives omega-3s, it is a leaner fish that provides fewer fatty acids than fatty fish like salmon.  For instance, The National Institutes of Health further explained that a 3-ounce serving of fatty fish like salmon can produce 1,800 mg of omega-3s compared with a 3-ounce serving of catfish which contains only 200 mg of omega-3s.

Catfish, vitamin B12

The US Department of Agriculture reports that one 3.5-ounce (100-gram) serving of catfish contains  121% of the Daily Value for vitamin B12, which many people are deficient in.   Other fish are high in this vitamin, however, catfish supersedes them.

Also, (Langan and Goodbred, 2017; Chan et al. 2016; Moore et al. 2012; Stabler SP, 2013; Markišić et al. 2017;  Mao et al. 2016; Pawlak R, 2015) found that the more vitamin B12 intake, the more the health benefits, such as support mental health, heart disease, and prevention and treatment of anemia.

Catfish, lean protein

The Institute of Medicine (US) Committee to Review Dietary Reference Intakes for Vitamin D and Calcium et al.(2011) found that one 3.5-ounce (100-gram) serving of catfish provides 32–39% of the daily protein needs in only 105 calories.

Juxtapose this with the same amount of serving of salmon, which also provides around half of the daily protein needs but over 230 calories. Catfish is also good for weight loss programs.

Catfish, warnings

The nutrient content in catfish varies depending on the source. Two studies (Oliva-Teles A, 2012; Santerre et al. 2015) found that farm-raised catfish are often fed a high-protein diet that includes grains like soy, corn, and wheat. Vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, fatty acids, and even probiotics are regularly added to their feed

As compared to catfish raised in the wild that eats foods like algae, aquatic plants, fish eggs, and sometimes other fish. These tend to affect their vitamin and mineral composition.

When you examine the content of catfish from the African perspective, it has been found(Ibhadon et al. 2015) that mature farm-raised fish had the highest levels of amino acids, and fatty acid levels varied. For example, the wild catfish contained more linoleic acid but less eicosanoic acid than the farm-raised fish.

Another second Nigerian scholar, Ukagwu et al.(2017) found a similar breed of African catfish from the wild packed with more protein, fat, fiber, and overall calories than farm-raised catfish.

Finally, in India, Pal et al.(2017) found Indian butter catfish to have higher fat content than farm-raised fish, wild fish contains more contents of  abundance minerals apart from iron,  which was  more farm-raised fish

Another health concern is the content of toxins in fish from the water bodies. Also heavy metal such as mercury is a major concern.

Some studies (Kimáková et al. 2018; Andreoli and  Sprovieri, 2017; Kern et al. 2016; Bjørklund et al. 2019) found that heavy metal contents such as mercury affect neurological conditions, especially in children. These include autism and Alzheimer’s disease.

The US FDA(1990-2012) reports found that fish that are larger and live longer than catfish could have the highest levels of mercury. On average, swordfish may harbor as much as 40 times more mercury than catfish. The interesting thing is that catfish have the lowest mercury content compared to other fishes(FDA, 2022).


Prof. Nyarkotey has strict sourcing guidelines and relies on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations to justify his write-ups.  My articles are for educational purposes and do not serve as Medical advice for Treatment. I aim to educate the public about evidence-based scientific Naturopathic Therapies.

The writer is a Professor of Naturopathic Healthcare, a Medical Journalist, and a science writer. Currently BL Candidate at the Gambia Law School, Banjul, Gambia. E. mail: