If you asked me what my ideal last meal would be? I would probably say California rolls. (Either that or a honeygrow salad. But I’ll take a muffin too!) I used to assume sushi had tons of health benefits, regardless of its ingredients. In fact, I was wondering the other day, “Is sushi healthy? Is this just something I’ve been assuming, yet I’ve been wrong?”
There are few things I enjoy more in than eating high-quality sushi that you know is freshly made. To best completely honest, I rarely stray far from the cooked and vegetable sushi options. I know that some people swear by the raw rolls (and that I’m not eating “official” sushi when the fish is cooked), but hey, I enjoy it nonetheless.
A few weeks ago, I was eating a set of California rolls when I discovered that the crab I was eating was actually imitation. (I received a whole lot of, “You didn’t know that?! from friends). No, I assumed crab was crab, and only the supermarkets sold the “imitation” version.
Well, what exactly is imitation crab? The crab sushi restaurants use is actually called “surimi,” which means ground meat. (Gulp.) Surimi is a combination of different kinds of fish, often added with starch, sodium, and artificial flavors. (Double gulp.)
I stopped eating and thought: “Well then, if I’m eating the equivalent of a Lunchable, then I guess this isn’t actually healthy?”
Well, it all depends! Luckily, you have the option of asking for real crab instead of imitation crab. It costs a little bit more, but wouldn’t you rather enjoy the health (and taste) benefits of real crab?
On the other hand, if you’re eating deep-fried shrimp tempura or sushi loaded with mayo and cream cheese, then you’re not enjoying the many health benefits of other kinds of low-fat, protein-filled sushis. Many sushi rolls are considered healthy foods and are a great source of omega-3 fat (the healthy kind of fat) and other vitamins and minerals.
To enjoy all the healthy benefits of sushi, make these substitutes when choosing your rolls:
Brown Rice Over White Rice
I cannot stress this enough! I personally find brown rice to be more satisfying, filling, and tasty than white rice, which is just brown rice that’s zapped of its nutrients. (Yeah, not satisfying.) Whole grain brown rice is packed with fiber, so it’s great for your digestive system. It keeps you full and satisfied, so you’re not craving fried ice cream afterwards. Unless specified, sushi comes with traditional white rice, so don’t forget to ask for brown rice!
If you don’t want a huge portion of rice interfering with the flavor, you can request half the rice. (Yes, you can do that, as well. Remember, it’s made fresh, so you can custom order.) If you really don’t want any rice, opt for sashimi, or plain, raw fish without rice. If you prefer cooked or vegetable rolls, you can also opt for nori, which is dried seaweed, wrapped around your filling. Nori is packed with fiber, protein, and a number of vitamins, making your sushi even healthier.
Wasabi Over Mayo (And Other Sauces)
Wasabi, the little green paste on the side of your dish (which is actually really just a combination of horseradish powder and mustard — it’s rare to find actual “wasabi” in America) packs a loaded spicy punch to your sushi. And — it’s healthy!
Like spicy? Well ordering a set of “spicy tuna rolls” is unfortunately taking a perfectly healthy food (tuna) and pairing it with unhealthy sauces (calorie-packed heavy spicy mayo) and then deep-frying it. Doesn’t sound like traditional sushi to me.
Why take away the flavor of the tuna by adding an everyday condiment anyway? (Can you even taste the tuna?) If you’re not too keen on spicy, you can also get a roll filled with avocado, which offers additional flavor, taste, and added vitamins. (Or — try some ginger, the pink side that you’re also offered with your sushi. It’s great for digestion!)
Vegetables Rolls Over Seafood Rolls
I know, maybe you’re thinking, “Why would I eat vegetable rolls when I get sushi?” but vegetable rolls are just as delicious. Plus, eating vegetable rolls is a great way of incorporating more veggies to your diet. (I didn’t say you couldn’t also order a set of seafood rolls! Just don’t order an excessive amount.) I love avocado and squash rolls, or just ordinary veggie rolls, which are filled with nutritious nori, cucumber, carrots, avocado, and occasionally, squash. (Many vegetable rolls include “sea vegetables,” or, yes, vegetables from the sea, which are a powerful healing food and are delicious). Go for the perfect balance when choosing your rolls. You won’t be disappointed!
Tuna Over Tempura
I told you that you could have your seafood as well and still enjoy it raw! Tuna is a very healthy fish, which is loaded with omega-3 fatty acids, which can actually reduce abdominal weight. So yes, fatty fish is good for you, too, as it contains unsaturated fat, which boosts brainpower and protects your heart. (Got a test coming up? Eat some tuna.)
On the other hand, tempura is a code word for “fried,” which will actually increase your risk of heart disease. (And it sure isn’t brain food.) Plus, do you really need fried batter for your sushi to taste great? It’s not a doughnut!
Less Over More
When it comes to sushi, less is more. If you’re a chopstick novice, practice perfecting your chopsticks to enjoy your rolls at a slower pace. Don’t down a set of rolls before you actually taste the fresh ingredients. A typical serving size is one set of rolls (about six pieces), so don’t go crazy and order everything on the menu (and then dessert). Still hungry? Try a green salad with delicious ginger sauce, or a bowl of miso soup, which has less than 75 calories and offers a powerful kick of nutrients. Avoid added ingredients and unnecessary sauces when you can eat and enjoy traditional sushi — minus the calories.
So, yes, you can eat sushi as a healthy lunch or dinner, but don’t forget to be smart when ordering. (Sorry, Philly, but I’ll skip the cream cheese.)
So is sushi healthy?
You can enjoy the simplicity of seafood and vegetables without adding a thick batter, deep-frying, or adding gratuitous sauce when you don’t even need it! So, if you find yourself asking, “Is sushi healthy?” Yes and no. Just be smart about your roll of choice!
What’s your favorite sushi roll? Leave me a comment below!