Sushi is even more popular outside of Japan than in Japan, and it’s pretty popular there too. Traditional sushi is stuffed with fresh fish and vegetables, ingredients usually praised for their health profiles.
“Sushi has this halo of being healthy,” says Katherine Zeratsky, a professor of nutrition at Mayo Clinic, to Time. However, she explains how this may not always be the case.
The biggest problem with eating sushi is portion control. A single sushi roll cut into six to nine pieces can contain 500 calories and according to the USDA, eating a spicy shrimp roll with condiments is around 550 calories.
“Our eyes will tell us something, and it may or may not match with what’s happening nutritionally,” states Zeratsky — and that’s before thinking about appetizers, additional rolls, or a cup of sake. “It can add up.”
Sushi rice: the calorie culprit
The sticky white rice that holds sushi together is typically prepared by mixing it with vinegar and sugar. The outcome is certainly delicious, but this makes for even more calories than just plain old, steamed rice.
The cooking and assembly process condenses and flattens the rice, giving it a deceiving portion size. You may be surprised to know in just one roll you consume between half a cup to a whole cup of rice. As it’s so easy to pop one after the other into your mouth, this can result in a higher portion of carbs in one meal than recommended.
How do I make my sushi order healthier?
Despite these health warnings, sushi can still be part of a healthy balanced diet. “It just depends on how you do it,” Zeratsky notes. Here are some tips to consider.
Considering the ingredients in your rolls is important for choosing a healthier option. Fish is usually low in calories though high in protein and packed with nutrients such as omega-3s. Fresh and steamed vegetables – such as avocados and cucumber -are great for adding fiber and heart-healthy fats into your diet. Mayonnaise-based sauces and battered vegetables are best avoided to push your sushi on the healthier side.
Although delicious, dips and sauces can easily increase the fat and sodium levels in your meal. To still enjoy the flavor, Zeratsky recommends adding “just a touch to your tongue” rather than dunking your roll directly. To reduce your salt intake, opt for low-sodium soy sauces and choose healthier condiments, such as ginger and daikon radish, amazing sources of nutrients carrying anti-inflammatory properties.
Ordering sashimi or cucumber wrapped rolls instead of rice rolls is also a way to decrease the number of starchy carbs in the meal, while increasing the amount of filling protein.