Is Sushi healthy?

The art of sushi has been developed and perfected by Japanese culture since the 14th century.

Relatively recently Americans and countries around the world have picked up this exotic cuisine and made it a hot topic amongst the dining community. For those who are still a little behind, allow me to explain. Sushi is composed of three sections: raw fish, white rice and nori. Together they make a unique blend that bundles a ton of flavor.

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If you like strong umami flavor and you’re ready to try something new, sushi might be the perfect dinner for you.

The raw deal

The beauty about most Japanese restaurants is their variety. Many times, you have the ability to choose sushi from an assortment of different fish like eel, salmon, tuna, mackerel, scallop and yellowtail. They come in different textures and an array of different colors that light up every dish.

Food safety and raw fish

However if you do decide to take the raw fish route, make sure you are eating at a responsible restaurant. Food safety is extremely important when consuming raw fish or you could run the risk of contracting a foodborne illness. If your sushi smells fishy, my best advice is to leave it alone.

At the same time, raw fish shouldn’t be completely avoided. There’s a reason why Japan has some of the most centenarians in the world. My guess is that it’s due to their wholesome, well rounded diet. Fish is a lean protein source that can be a healthy alternative to its competition – chicken and beef. That’s because it has fewer calories for the same sized portion.

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The fish typically served at Japanese restaurants is loaded with omega-3 fatty acids, the kind of fat that American’s need more of. And it also contains solid amounts of thiamin, riboflavin, vitamins B6 and B12, niacin and selenium.

Think twice about rice

White rice is the staple of Japanese culture but it has many drawbacks. Rice is the starchy portion of the roll of sushi; it contains the most calories and the least nutrients. Some restaurants make rolls without rice in them but they will likely leave you hungry not long after.

My advice is to choose sushi that contains rice but ask your waiter if brown rice is an option. Brown rice is a whole grain and contains more nutrients than its white counterpart.

The story about nori

The thin sheet of paper wrapped around your sushi is actually seaweed! This processed dry sheet of paper-like seaweed is called “nori.” Nori is only a small fraction of sushi but it still contains some nutrients. Nori contains an impressive amount of iron, iodine and fiber. The Japanese also consume nori sheets on their own but I’m not sure if Americans are ready for that quite yet.

A robust root

Ginger is ubiquitous in Japanese culture.

At any Japanese restaurant you will find a small side of pickled ginger alongside wasabi at the corner of your plate. The color of ginger varies by restaurant but it is typically between a pale yellow or light pink color.

Ginger is an herbal root thought to have medicinal properties for centuries. It has been used to help motion sickness, digestion and diarrhea. Ginger is also a good source of antioxidants that get rid of free radicals circulating around the body. Try topping your sushi with some ginger for a spicy, refreshing touch to your dish.

Watch for wasabi

While sushi is rather low in sodium, smothering it in soy sauce won’t do you any good. Soy sauce is the poster child for MSG. This substance, though approved by the FDA, has unclear effects on the body both in the short term and long term. If you need some flavor to mask the taste of fish, why not use that side of wasabi?

Wasabi has been linked to a number of positive health effects such as reducing blood pressure, improving liver function bone health, gut movement and stimulating the body’s natural immune system. Wasabi tastes a lot like horseradish but it packs a powerful kick. A pea-sized amount could set your taste buds on fire, so tread lightly.

Sushi is overall a healthy meal choice. Raw fish provides a number of nutrients but should be consumed in moderation. Nori, ginger and wasabi all play into the health benefits of sushi and can make your meal even better.

With sushi’s distinct flavor and texture, it’s definitely not for everyone. But if you’re feeling adventurous give it a try!

Sources:

Health and Nutrition Letter, What are the pros and cons of eating raw fish, as in sushi? 

The Worlds Healthiest Food, Is sushi healthy? If so, which are the healthiest?

The University of Maryland Medical Center, Ginger

Self Nutrition Data, Nutrition Facts 

 

Read more from Expert Bonnie Giller.

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