Is Sushi Healthy? Benefits, Risks of Eating It

Certain foods have an undeniable health halo, but it can be hard to know whether that reputation is justified. That can leave you wondering if what you’ve heard is true. For example: is sushi healthy?

The answer, like many things, is a little complicated. “Sushi can be a healthy choice or it can fall more into the fast food category,” says Christy Brissette, MS, RD, owner of 80 Twenty Nutrition in Laguna Beach, CA.

Meet the experts: Deborah Cohen, DCN, RDN, associate professor in the department of clinical and preventive nutrition sciences at Rutgers University School of Health Professions; Christy Brissette, MS, RD, owner of 80 Twenty Nutrition in Laguna Beach, CA; Tara Gidus Collingwood, MS, RDN, owner of Tara Gidus Nutrition Consulting in Orlando, FL.

Nutritionists explain what to expect in terms of nutrition when you eat sushi. They also explain how you can ensure that the sushi you eat is a healthy choice.

Is sushi good for you?

“It all depends on what you order,” says Brissette.

She explains it this way: A salmon-avocado sandwich would be about 300 calories and contain heart-healthy fats and protein. “On the other end of the spectrum, a shrimp tempura roll can be over 500 calories and high in inflammatory fats due to the fried shrimp and mayo drizzle,” says Brissette.

Eating fried foods regularly also increases your risk of developing heart disease and obesity, she points out. So if you’re constantly reaching for a tempura roll, it’s not a healthy choice. But if you include rolls with fish and vegetables that are not fried in your diet, sushi can be good for you.

Can Sushi Help You Lose Weight?

Sushi can help with weight loss, but it is not a guarantee. “Sushi is typically eaten in very small portions: 0.5 to 1 ounce fish that, served over sushi rice, contains about 40 to 60 calories, and small portions can help control calorie intake,” says Deborah Cohen, DCN, RDN, an associate professor in the department of clinical and preventive nutrition sciences at Rutgers University School of Health Professions. Rice also contains fiber, which makes you more likely to feel full after eating it, she says.

But sushi can also be loaded with calories. Philadelphia rolls, which contain cream cheese, can contain 300 to 500 calories per roll, while firecracker rolls can contain 400 to 600 calories per roll, Cohen points out. “In general, most rolls, when they don’t contain cream cheese or mayonnaise-like sauces, are relatively low in calories,” Cohen says. “In short, eating sushi doesn’t promote weight loss, but sushi can be a healthier option compared to fast food and the many options available at chain restaurants.”

Nutritional information for sushi

There are a wide variety of sushi rolls you can eat, but one of the most popular types is the California roll. Here’s what you can expect nutritionally if you eat one piece of a California roll, according to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA):

Calories: 28

Egg white: 0.87 grams

Fat: 0.2 grams

Carbohydrates: 5.5 grams

Fiber: 0.3 grams

Sugar: 0.6 grams

(Of course, keep in mind that many people will eat six pieces of a sushi roll, and often more than that at one time.)

What is the healthiest sushi to eat?

There are many options for healthy sushi. Cohen lists several that are healthy, including California rolls and tuna rolls, adding that “any vegetable, salmon or rainbow rolls are all healthy.”

Brissette loves salmon avocado rolls. She says they are “a great choice because you get protein and heart-healthy omega-3 fats from the salmon and monounsaturated fats, fiber, folate, and potassium from the avocado.”

You can make it even healthier if you make it with brown rice and use low-sodium soy sauce as a dip, she says.

Health Benefits of Sushi

There are a few potential health benefits you can gain from eating sushi.

It’s an easy way to get fish

Many health organizations recommend including fish in your diet, but it’s not a food that’s common in the American diet. The American Heart Association (AHA), for example, recommends eating fish twice a week. (The organization specifically recommends focusing on fatty fish.)

“Sushi can help you meet the recommended two to three servings of fish per week,” says Brissette. A typical serving of fish is 4 ounces, according to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

It can help reduce inflammation in your body

The fish in sushi contains omega-3 fatty acids that “can help reduce inflammation,” says Tara Gidus Collingwood, MS, RDN, owner of Tara Gidus Nutrition Consulting in Orlando, Florida. Physical inflammation is linked to a range of serious health problems, including autoimmune diseases, cardiovascular disease and gastrointestinal disease, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

“The ginger, wasabi and nori (seaweed used to wrap fish) all have good antioxidant properties,” says Collingwood.

It is healthy for the heart

If you choose oily fish like salmon, tuna and mackerel, you’ll get EPA and DHA, “which are heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids that can help lower triglycerides and blood pressure,” says Brissette.

It can improve the health of your bones

Fatty fish is “an excellent source of vitamin D, which supports bone health, can help reduce inflammation and support your immune system,” Brissette says.

Possible risks of eating sushi

There are a few things to keep in mind when it comes to sushi.

You could get a foodborne illness

This is one of the biggest risks of eating sushi. “Consumption of undercooked or raw fish always carries risks associated with foodborne illness,” Cohen says. That includes the risk of salmonella infection, vibrio vulnificus and parasitic tapeworms, the Cleveland Clinic says.

It may raise your blood sugar levels

“A lot of my customers don’t realize that a typical sushi roll contains about a cup of rice,” Brissette says. “Because the rice is packed so tightly to make the rolls, it’s harder to gauge how much you’re getting.”

Sushi is usually made with white rice, which can cause your blood sugar levels to spike and crash quickly, Brissette says. “That can leave you feeling hungry, weak, cranky, and tired,” she adds.

There is a mercury risk

Mercury is a toxic metal found in most types of fish, and high levels of mercury can make you sick, Collingwood says. “Mercury can be a problem if you eat swordfish or a lot of tuna,” she says. “If you stick to salmon, shrimp, and other white fish, they’re low in mercury.”

The takeaway meal

In general, dietitians say sushi can be a healthy part of your diet. “Sushi fits into a healthy diet,” says Cohen. To ensure your sushi is as healthy as possible, Brissette recommends avoiding baked rolls and rolls that contain cream cheese. You can also try sushi made with brown or black rice to add more fiber, she says.

In general, though, sushi is relatively low in calories and fat and contains protein, making it a healthy choice, says Cohen.

Korin Miller is a freelance writer specializing in general wellness, sexual health and relationships, and lifestyle trends, with work appearing in Men’s Health, Women’s Health, Self, Glamour, and more. She has a master’s degree from American University, lives by the beach, and hopes to one day own a Teacup Pig and a taco truck.

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