Is Sushi Healthy?

16th September 2016

Sushi generally gets a good press. With its emphasis on nutrient-rich ingredients – omega 3 fats and protein from the fish, beta-carotenes from the wasabi paste, calcium and magnesium from the seaweed – it’s often regarded as a health food. But there’s more (or less) to sushi than meets the eye. Peter Gaffney investigates, and makes some recommendations.

We are living in a generation where people are more aware of health and wellness than ever, and it’s now far easier to make the correct food choices. However, amongst some of these so called ‘healthy choices’ there are hidden food traps that we should be aware of – culinary wolves in sheeps’ clothing, if you like, that look innocent and appealing at first glance, but that have the potential to undo all your hard dietary work.

One of these is a food sensation that has swept the nation, joining pizza and curries as one of our favourite takeaways… It’s sushi – and depending on how you play it, it can either be a very healthy meal, packed with good fats and low in sugar, or it can be just as calorie dense as the old school pizza (high in saturated fat and carbohydrates, but oh-so-delicious as Sunday night comfort food) that was my favourite weekend treat as a child in Australia.

So can sushi fit in with your nutritional goals? Absolutely, it can. But proceed with caution. There can be a lot of diversity with the calories you’re consuming, depending on whether you order sashimi, sushi or a sushi roll. That’s problem number one. The second is that, as with any small finger food based meal, it’s terribly easy to get lost with the volume that you’re ordering and eating. Even if food is innately healthy, portion control still matters.

Let’s break the sushi options down…

Sashimi (just fish) sits at the top of the pyramid. No hidden calories, good fats, no sugar. Simple, right?

Yes – and no. Most people don’t like the taste of raw fish, so prefer it masked with other ingredients. Enter sushi, which has rice alongside the fish. It’s true there is very little fat in the rice, but there is sugar and sometimes vinegar.

And finally there’s the most calorie dense item in the mix: the sushi roll. This little treat, often made up of four to five ingredients, is packed full of fats, carbohydrates and protein. It’s easy to delude yourself into believing that a Fireman Roll, say, is healthy – ‘the tuna… the mango…’ – but you’re entering dangerous territory. Along with the rice (white, ie stripped of almost all its fibre, vitamins and minerals), there’s spicy mayonnaise, tempura batter, avocado – and a vanishingly small amount of fish. Each portion could have in excess of 350kcalories. Have four of these… and you can see how this little light indulgence has turned into a 1400+kcal meal. Compare this to salmon sashimi, say, at 45kcalories a piece –you’d need to eat in excess of 30 pieces of salmon to come close to the calories that the four rolls give you. And you thought sushi was always the sensible choice. I tell you, it’s a lot harder to kid yourself when you’re eating a slice of pizza!

So let’s roll it up…We have to recognise the realities of life. We are all busier than ever, and if a client or associate – or friend – invites us for a sushi lunch it can be difficult to say no outright. So the philosophy that I subscribe to is one of calorie control and planning. This provides the required leeway in a daily eating plan, while still achieving one’s physical goals.

Here’s my sushi eating advice:If you are on a weight loss regime then be careful about the choices you make when ordering. Sashimi is by far the easiest option if you want to know the calories you’re consuming. Just remember, sashimi is packed full of healthy fats (fat is still more calorie dense then carbohydrates, so keep this in mind). In second position is sushi and in last place are the rolls, as we have identified. So if you’re looking to lose weight and have a flat stomach as your goal, then the only real option when it comes to sushi is sashimi. Once you have ordered, the next challenge is not to eat too much.

It’s all too easy to eat sashimi/sushi in one mouthful. Don’t! Instead, chew each piece (savour the flavour), sip on water and eat slowly. I’d advise not exceeding 12 pieces, so if you’re out with friends, plate up your share first, so that you are aware about how many pieces you have taken.

Finally, beware of soya sauce, which is full of salt. Just one tablespoon is the equivalent to 13% of your daily requirement of sodium. Don’t drown your sushi in it; just dip it instead.

At the end of the day, everything in moderation is fine for you. Just don’t put away three or four (or more) rolls while deluding yourself that you are ordering the healthy option…

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