By Abigail Ekue-Smith, ,
Published May 16, 2015
Going out for sushi is widely considered a healthy way to treat yourself. Whether it's sashimi or sushi rolls, most sushi is pretty healthy; it’s high in omega-3 fatty acids, beneficial minerals and carbohydrates from the rice.
However, despite its popularity among movie stars and health-conscious people, sushi can be high in mercury or infested with parasites. Dipping sauces or fusion/Western ingredients can add calories and fat, virtually eliminating any benefit you might get from going raw. We’ll give you the breakdown of healthiest and unhealthiest sushi options.
Brown rice is increasingly becoming an option on sushi menus. This deviation from traditional sushi comes with health benefits: Brown rice maintains many of the nutrients lost while processing white rice (iron, vitamins B1 and B3, and magnesium). The bran layer of brown rice grain contains the fiber that lowers cholesterol and helps in keeping you regular. The fact that brown rice takes longer to break down in the body means it has a lower glycemic index, so it stabilizes and maintains blood glucose levels instead of causing rapid spikes.
The brown rice in sushi will still be wrapped in nori, the black layer that keeps sushi rolls together. Nori is dried seaweed and contains a dictionary’s worth of health benefits: It’s high in many vitamins and minerals including iodine; zinc; calcium; vitamins A, E, C, and K; fiber; and protein.
For those who like spice, wasabi is a healthy sushi condiment. This hot green paste is Japanese horseradish and is usually served alongside sashimi. It is a smart pairing because wasabi may help protect you from food poisoning due to its antimicrobial properties. It may prevent platelets from forming blood clots, asthma and cavities, but contrary to popular belief, it doesn’t “clear the sinuses.”
A healthy sushi ingredient that does relieve sinus congestion is ginger. Served in a pickled form, it’s used to cleanse the palate after each piece of sushi. Ginger contains the compounds gingerols and shogaols. These oils stimulate digestive juices and neutralize stomach acids, which is definitely a plus when you ingest raw fish. Maybe you’ve had to fetch a ginger ale for your partner suffering from morning sickness, and that’s because Japanese researchers have found that ginger may be responsible for blocking the body’s reflex to vomit. Ginger can also lower cholesterol levels and limit blood clots in the same way aspirin works in the body.
Of all the raw fish you could eat, mackerel sashimi is a healthy sushi choice. Mackerel is packed with omega-3 fatty acids. The small size of the fish means it’s low in mercury. It is also a high-protein fish; there are 25 grams of protein in a 4-ounce serving, and only 160 calories. This healthy sushi choice also contains selenium, which works along with omega-3s to neutralize free radicals.
Deep red bluefin tuna is a popular sushi ingredient, but unfortunately it’s one of the unhealthiest fish to eat, raw or otherwise. It has among the highest mercury contents, not to mention chemical PCBs. Eating bluefin tuna is also bad for the environment: Due to overfishing, bluefin is now being replaced on many sushi menus with more common (and inexpensive) yellowfin or albacore tuna.
Tobiko sushi is made full of eggs — fish roe and quail eggs. Those quail eggs, however, are an unhealthy sushi choice. Similar to chicken eggs, quail eggs are high in cholesterol and saturated fat. There is also the risk of salmonella poisoning since the eggs are eaten raw. There is folate in quail eggs, but that won’t do you any good if you get sick.
Lovers of deep-fried goodies live by the motto, “if it aint fried, it aint food.” Tempura is the usual sushi menu choice for those averse to raw fish. Both seafood and veggies can be served with tempura, meaning deep-fried in tempura batter. The batter consists of water, flour and eggs. Frying anything raises the total calorie and total fat content.
Soy sauce is a high-sodium condiment served with sushi, making it an unhealthy sushi ingredient. Anyone with high blood pressure or following a low-sodium diet should not eat soy sauce. Despite the fact that it’s made from soy beans, the sauce does not contain soy isoflavones and has negligible amounts of vitamins and minerals, except sodium (Na+). One tablespoon of soy sauce has 1,006 milligrams of sodium — nearly half the recommended daily value.
The next time you head out for sushi, don’t assume you’re doing your body a favor. Although Japanese cuisine is among the healthiest in the world, Western preferences have added all sorts of unhealthy elements to sushi (cream cheese, anyone?), and some of sushi’s most innocent-seeming ingredients, like tuna, can take their toll on you if ingested in large quantities. Remember that the more veggies in your sushi, the better off you’ll be, and when in doubt, order the mackerel, and load up on the wasabi.
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