Is Sushi Good for You?

Medically reviewed by Natalie Butler, RD, LD on April 19, 2016Written by Jane Chertoff on April 19, 2016
Sushi and chopsticks

The Japanese people are some of the world’s healthiest individuals. In Japan, obesity rates are low, and life expectancy is high. Experts often credit the Japanese lifestyle and diet for these factors.

You might be thinking: Sushi is a staple in the Japanese diet, so it must be good for you, right?

Well, it depends. Some types of sushi are simple and nutritious. But rolls filled with fried ingredients and covered with sodium-heavy sauce can be calorie bombs.

Here’s a guide to enjoying healthy sushi, including a look at menu choices that are good for you. You’ll also find recipes so you can make your own nutritious sushi at home.

Is sushi healthy?

Traditionally, sushi is made with rice seasoned with vinegar, seaweed, and seafood.

Fish and seafood are heart-healthy choices for your diet. They’re rich in omega-3 fatty acids. Try to eat three servings of fish each week. You’ll be less likely to get cardiovascular disease, according to the American Heart Association.

The seaweed used in sushi, also known as nori, is also nutritious. It’s one of the best food sources of iodine. Iodine is important for healthy thyroid function and may play a role in the body’s immune response.

Eating small portions of white rice is OK. But for a more nutritious meal, ask to substitute brown rice in your sushi. It contains fiber.

To enjoy the nutritious benefits mentioned above, order sashimi-style sushi or nigiri.

Are sushi rolls healthy?

Sushi rolls, also known as maki-style sushi, have become popular on menus at Japanese restaurants across the United States and around the world.

California rolls, for example, are stuffed with crab, avocado, and cucumber. An unagi roll is filled with broiled eel.

While these ingredients may seem healthy on their own, sushi restaurants often top rolls with unhealthy sauces, or add other unhealthy ingredients. Skip sauces made with calorie-heavy mayonnaise, sugar, or sodium-heavy soy sauce.

If you’re watching your calories, inconsistency may also be a problem. The size of each sushi roll varies by restaurant, and even by chef. One roll you order maybe sliced thin, for example, while another may have more rice and be filled with more ingredients. This makes it hard to predict how many calories you’re eating.

If you’re looking for a nutritious meal, you’ll want to avoid unhealthy rolls with fried and battered ingredients like tempura shrimp or fried vegetables.

If you like to enjoy your sushi with soy sauce, ask the restaurant for the low-sodium variety, or bring your own.

Your best bet when it comes to sushi rolls? Ask for brown rice and stick to rolls filled with fresh or pickled ingredients.

What type of sushi should you order?

If you’re looking for a healthy meal, here’s what to order at your local sushi restaurant, and what to avoid.

What to order:

  • sashimi
  • nigiri
  • fresh vegetable rolls
  • salmon and avocado roll
  • California roll
  • rainbow roll

What to avoid:

  • tempura rolls
  • spicy tuna or other mayo-filled rolls
  • spider rolls
  • cream cheese rolls

Make your own sushi

Looking to enjoy healthy sushi? Try making your own at home. Here’s what you’ll need:

  • sushi rice
  • nori
  • rice wine vinegar
  • flat spatula
  • bamboo sushi mat

Try these healthy recipes to make your own sushi. After you get the technique down, you can mix up the ingredients of each roll. The combinations are endless.

Brown rice veggie roll

You’ll get your fill of fresh vegetables with these vegetarian-friendly rolls. They’re filled with avocado, carrots, and green onion. Add sesame seeds for a photo-worthy finish.

Get the recipe.

DIY brown rice salmon sushi

This recipe was created by a sushi-loving nutritionist who wanted to create healthy rolls her family could enjoy at home. The brown rice offers fiber, while the canned salmon is packed with heart-healthy omega-3s.

Get the recipe.

Quinoa sushi

You can substitute rice for healthy quinoa when making sushi at home. These quinoa rolls are filled with delicious salmon and avocado for a healthy meal.

Get the recipe.

Sweet potato rolls

This is a recipe for vegetable sushi with a healthy twist. It calls for wild rice instead of white. The rolls are filled with sweet potato, avocado, and almonds for both a creamy and crunchy taste.

Get the recipe.

Slacker sushi bowls

If you don’t want to invest in a mat to make rolls, try this “slacker” version of sushi. Simply pile fish, seaweed, and vegetables on top of a bowl of rice, and you’re ready to eat.

Get the recipe.

Next steps

There’s no reason to give up sushi if you’re trying to stay healthy. Sushi can be good for you.

Stick to fresh rolls and order brown rice when you can. Avoid heavy sauces and using too much soy sauce. Ginger and wasabi, commonly served with sushi, also have health benefits. Instead of ordering your favorite rolls the next time you eat out, try sashimi or nigiri.

By making smart choices at your favorite sushi restaurant, you can enjoy it guilt-free. 

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