Omega-6 & Sushi - you choose

Patient Expert

FOOD - good, bad, how do we keep track?

There was some news this week that has made me wonder about the food we're told to eat, then told could be bad for us. I'm talking about the fish, Tilapia. The news is that the farm-raised fish we've all be snarfing down these past years is, apparently, very high in Omega-6 essential fatty acids (EFAs). Why does this matter? Well, because while we all need Omega-6 as well as Omega-3 EFAs in order to keep our brains functioning happily and our bodies growing and developing properly, too much Omega-6 can cause adverse effects like inflammation in our body.

"Inflammation? What the heck?" I thought when I heard the news about a fish I tend to eat at least twice a week. I don't need to promote inflammation, I'm taking medication to decrease the inflammation I have in my gut Now one of the fish I eat, 'cause it's easy on my stomach and doesn't cause me any GI upset, could be adding to it. Sheesh!

As I did a little (and I mean only a little) research on Omega-6 EFAs, I found that the reason the high levels of Omega-6 in Tilapia could be reason for concern is the simple fact that the typical Western diet provides anywhere from 10 to 30 times more Omega-6 than Omega-3 - which is a super good EFA. However, the Mediterranean diet, filled with olive oil, lots of fruits and veggies, olives, whole foods not processed is generally nicely balanced between the various EFAs as so doesn't pose quite the 'risk.'

Well, all that said, I trend very much toward the Mediterranean diet, first because I lived in Italy for a period of time and came to like their way of eating, and second because when my IBD symptoms kicked in I simply found I couldn't eat foods made with preservatives, or certain oils like safflower and sunflower, and the simpler, whole food way of eating makes my gut much, much happier.

So, I'm glad to have heard the news about Tilapia because it makes me a more aware and knowledgeable consumer. But, knowing the kind of foods I eat and that I'm probably not ingesting a huge amount of Omega-6 EFAs I personally don't plan to worry too much about eating a Tilapia filet each week.

Now, on the flip side I do have an opinion about Sushi that I'd like to share. I cruise around IBD and IBS chat rooms pretty much every week and for some reason this week I've seen quite a few posts from people with IBD who are advocating eating sushi to get your Omega-3 EFAs. I've been simply astounded - first, to read that IBDers are eating sushi, and second, on one site a medical student researching living with UC told IBDers that they should eat sushi to get their Omega-3s.

I have to say, over the years I've been told by three different gastro docs who I like and respect not to eat sushi. Having IBD, they've told me, eating sushi is simply far too risky. You're assuming that the handlers are properly preparing their fish without really being able to verify that. Eating any kind of raw fish, meat, or poultry has its risks of exposing you to certain pathogens that are viral, bacterial, parasitic, as well as microscopic.

Knowing what I've gone through to get my gut to a "happy place" where I can live a relatively normal life within certain parameters, I'm simply not going to risk getting Anisakiasis, an illness caused by ingesting roundworms from improperly prepared sushi. I don't need anymore diarrhea, cramps, or vomiting than what I can have on any given day from and IBD flare.

So, there, that's my two cents on Omega-6 and sushi. These are my opinions and preferences for me but I wanted to make you aware so you, too, can make an informed decision about what you're eating.

Read more about IBD diet and foods that can irritate or help your IBD symptoms:

Diet & Nutrition in IBD

What to Eat with IBD