We all love our sushi takeout nights, but it’s hard to tell when we’re having a cheat day or staying true to our eating plan.
Because sushi is made from fish and seaweed, we may think we’re ordering a healthy meal. But different rolls have very different caloric makeup.
Still, eating sushi can be beneficial to our bodies. It’s packed with antioxidants and vitamins as well as omega-3 fatty acids. Eating sushi also benefits our health in areas like heart health, hormone regulation, circulation, and even cancer prevention.
Is sushi healthy?
In short, yes… but also no. It’s a complicated question that forces a complicated answer.
Yes, sushi can be extremely healthy to eat, but it all really depends on the type of sushi you decide to order.
When ordering the healthiest sushi rolls, it depends on the type of fish and rice you choose. Essentially, the healthiest components of a sushi roll include rice (brown rice would be nice), fish (preferably not fried), avocado, and some sort of vegetable.
“Sushi itself is not a very caloric meal unless you’re rolling it in one after another roll, but what makes calories add up includes the different types of mayo, dressings, breading, and heavily fried preparations,” says Registered Dietician Nutritionist Bonnie Taub- Dix. “Some people order cucumber rolls and they avoid rice, but that might leave them feeling unsatisfied and running for frozen yogurt afterward on the way home.”
Something to keep in mind is that there are many foods that are healthy, but not necessarily great for weight loss. Foods like avocado, salmon, and brown rice are “healthy,” but also higher in calories. So, as with anything, enjoy it in moderation.
What is the healthiest sushi roll?
The number one choice for a healthy sushi roll would probably be sashimi, which is a high-protein sushi option. It consists of fresh, thinly sliced raw fish like tuna or salmon over a roll of rice.
Another strong contender is the rainbow roll. The rainbow roll, like its name, is very colorful due to the immense amount of vegetables tucked into the roll. It typically consists of cucumber, avocado, crab, and various types of fish.
This specific roll checks all the boxes: high in protein, healthy fats, fiber, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. But again, it all depends on what you put in it.
How often is it okay to eat sushi?
For normal, healthy adults, it’s safe to eat around 2-3 rolls of sushi a week. That ends up being approximately 10-15 pieces. Of course, this guideline changes according to age, pregnancy, and even health issues.
12 Healthiest Sushi Rolls
The healthiest sushi rolls are all about the ingredients. Here’s a small list of a few good go-to rolls for ordering healthy sushi.
- Rainbow Roll
- Vegetable Roll, also known as a Veggie Roll (with brown rice)
- Salmon Avocado Rolls
- Cucumber Roll (with brown rice)
- Avocado Rolls
- Tuna Rolls
- Yellowtail Roll
- Spicy Tuna Roll (with light sauce)
- Naruto Roll
- White Fish Roll
- California Roll
How to Order Healthy Sushi
1. Use light condiments.
That means paying attention to how much mayo or high-sodium sauces, like soy sauce, you’re using. However, there are some additions to your sushi rolls that don’t require as many restrictions: ginger and wasabi, for example.
When it comes to pickled ginger, a palette cleanser, according to Alix Turoff, a registered dietitian, nutrition consultant, and certified personal trainer, “You can have as much as you want, but most people won’t eat huge portions of this anyway , so there’s no reason to put a restriction on it.”
Two tablespoons of pickled ginger is just 20 calories, 5 grams of carbs, and has no fat or sodium.
For wasabi, you can have as much as you want, although this should be fairly self-limiting, as most people can’t eat globs of wasabi. It’s a plant that’s very similar to cabbage.
Stick with low-sodium soy sauce. but try to keep this to less than 1 tablespoon (which has 575 mg of sodium), solely because of the sodium content.
“The main thing sodium will do is make you more thirsty and potentially bloated. Aim to keep sodium to less than 2,300 mg per day, but don’t get crazy about it unless you need to (in the case of high blood pressure),” Turoff advises.
2. Stick to certain fish.
According to Turoff, the lowest calorie/fat fish to choose are the following:
- Kani (King Crab Leg)
- Hirame (Flounder)
- Tai (Red Snapper)
- Ikura (Salmon Roe)
- Suzuki (Sea Bass)
- Katsuo (Skipjack)
- Ika (Squid)
- Shirauo (Whitefish)
- Kisu (Whiting)
- Hamachi/Buri (Yellowtail)
The highest calorie/fatty fish include:
- Anago (conger Eel)
- Tamago (Japanese Omelette)
- Saba (Mackerel)
- Sake (Farmed Salmon)
- Iwashi (Sardine)
- Union (Sea Urchin)
- Amaebi (Sweet Shrimp)
All of the other common fishes (salmon, shrimp, tuna) fall right in the middle and are good options. Eel is notoriously the fattiest option, however.
3. Practice good food safety with raw vs. cooked fish.
Nutrition facts remain the same, but food safety comes into play.
“As always, you have to be careful,” warns Turoff.
“This is why you’re less likely to get sick from eating sushi from some very high-end places; the chefs there are highly trained in not only sushi-making but also food safety. It’s not that fish is any more dangerous than others foods, but other foods like chicken/steak are cooked, which will kill most types of bacteria.”
4. Limit your rice intake.
Many types of rolls come with substitutions, like using vegetables instead of rice, cauliflower rice, or no rice whatsoever. Sushi rice itself is made with sugar and vinegar, which can make it more caloric.
“Depending on where you go, you can ask for your sushi to be prepared with less rice. And if you’re missing the rice, you can ask for a side of steamed brown rice and have a smaller portion (1/2-1 cup),” says Turoff.
Naruto rolls are sushi rolls that are wrapped in cucumber instead of rice, and sashimi is just fish without rice. As for cauliflower rice, there are several restaurants in big cities that offer it as an option.
Another option is to eat hand rolls, which have less rice than traditional rolls. According to Turoff, “There are sort of two types of hand rolls, and where the real difference comes in is a portion. Cone-shaped hand rolls will typically be lighter on the rice, but hand rolls that are just cut into pieces to look like traditional sushi are going to be pretty much the same as standard sushi.”
5. Look for specific words on the menu and avoid those ingredients.
Some of those words include “tempura,” “crunchy,” or “spicy.” Tempura and crunchy typically mean it’s fried, while spicy usually indicates the use of mayo.
Tempura rolls, anything that has the word “crunch” in its name, or any roll with spicy mayo or cream cheese is a no-go. These can have 500 calories per roll with crazy amounts of fat.
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Stay away from these options, or ask for them to be served on the side. And even then, just use a teaspoon.
6. Be mindful of calories.
For example, rolls with typically “healthy” ingredients can be deceiving. For example, a California roll and a salmon avocado roll.
An 8-piece California roll made with white rice has roughly 380 calories, 6 grams of fat, 69 grams of carbs (with only 3 grams of fiber), and 10 grams of protein. Brown rice won’t save you much here, either.
The same California roll made with brown rice has just 20 calories, with 64 grams of carbs (instead of 70), and 7 grams of fiber instead of 3 grams.
A salmon avocado roll might be a slightly better option with more protein. But the carbohydrate count will still be quite high.
7. Consider making your own sushi at home.
While making sushi at home takes a bit of know-how and practice, it’s still considered a healthier option, as you can choose the ingredients you add. You can also substitute ingredients like rice for something low-calorie.
“Using oats instead of rice for sushi offers many health benefits, such as being heart-healthy, reducing cholesterol, and being gut-healthy due to a special fiber in oats called beta-glucan,” suggests certified nutritionist and holistic health coach, Jeremy Robinson.
“Avocado offers healthy fats which lower cholesterol and triglyceride levels, and seaweed is high in iodine, iron, vitamin C (which aids iron absorption), antioxidants, soluble and insoluble fiber, vitamin K, vitamin B-12, and a range of other nutrients,” he recommends.
Aly Walansky is a NY-based lifestyle writer who focuses on health, wellness, and relationships. Her work appears in dozens of digital and print publications regularly.