Nutritional Truths About Sushi

With a vendor on every street corner, sushi is an extremely popular, quick and easy lunch.   Once touted as a number one choice for the health conscious, in recent times the healthiness of this lunchtime favourite has come into question.  Fat-laden fillings, added sugar and high glycaemic index white rice can leave your sushi looking less like the healthy option you might have thought.  Here are a few tips to make sure your sushi really is a healthy lunch option.

Type of Sushi 

Many people don’t realise that sushi comes in many different types with the common ingredient being vinegared rice.  The types include rolled sushi, with or without seaweed, pressed sushi, cone shaped sushi (temaki) and pouched sushi (inari).  Often people will use the terms sushi and sashimi interchangeably, however, sashimi refers only to strips of raw meat, usually seafood, served by itself.

For the health conscious, avoid pouched sushi, this is usually a pouch of fried tofu filled with sushi rice and apart from the protein in the tofu, offers very little nutritional value and can be high in saturated fat.  If you’re trying to keep your calorie and refined carbohydrate intake to a minimum, sashimi is the best option.  It is low in fat, high in protein and can be ordered with sides of edamame, seaweed salad and miso soup to create a complete meal.

Rice 

Although adding vinegar reduces the glycaemic index of rice, white rice is still considered a refined carbohydrate.  You can boost the nutritional and fullness value of your sushi by ordering brown rice sushi.  Some vendors now offer a variety of rice choices including brown ride, wild rice and quinoa.  Each of these are complex carbohydrates which will help you feel fuller and provide longer lasting energy to help you avoid the mid-afternoon trip to the charity chocolate box.

Fillings 

This is where the health of sushi can really come unstuck.  Generally the ‘crispy’ options will be battered and fried adding unnecessary saturated fat.  Avoid crispy chicken, crispy prawn etcetera as these can contain over 300 calories per roll.

Seafood is a great choice, especially oily fish like tuna or salmon.  These are generally low in calories, contain high levels of omega-3 and are a great source of protein.  However, keep in mind the filling to rice ration, often you’ll only get a tiny amount of fish in a roll that’s packed with heaps of rice.

If you’re on a tight calorie budget, vegetarian options are usually a good choice, think cucumber or seaweed.

Condiments 

While adding some wasabi and pickled ginger to your sushi has negligible nutritional impact, Japanese mayonnaise is a completely different story.  It is super tasty but very high in saturated fat and contains up to 600 calories per 100g (that is nearly as much as oil!).  Enjoy in moderation.

Soy sauce is also a trap.  No sushi is complete without the obligatory dousing of soy sauce.  However, even reduced-salt soy sauce is still extremely high in the white stuff so this can send your salt intake through the roof.  Try to keep soy sauce to a minimum.

Make Your Own

To be sure you know exactly what is going into your sushi, try making your own!  All you need is a bamboo mat for rolling and a little time to prepare the ingredients. You can choose whatever fillings you like and pack them full of healthy vegetables and low-fat proteins.

For the adventurous, you can even try making low-carb sushi rolls by leaving the rice out or replacing it with cauliflower.

Tips for healthy sushi:

  • Sashimi is the healthiest option
  • Avoid fried or crispy fillings
  • Boost your omega-3 intake by choosing fillings with oily fish
  • Make your own sushi
  • Watch the condiments – particularly mayonnaise and soy sauce