Is sushi a healthy choice?

 In Food, Nutrition

Sushi is seen as a popular choice for lunch or a light dinner; many clients we see choose sushi when they are trying to improve their eating habits or when they don’t have a lot of time for lunch. It is a quick and portable meal, which appears to be a healthy choice to many.

But is a sushi a ‘healthy’ choice? If you are trying to improve your eating habits should sushi feature in your eating habits regularly.

Many people associate sushi with Japanese food, however many other populations around the world have now eating sushi style foods on a regular basis.

The end of my sushi roll that was on display at the sushi shop (this was a Teriyaki chicken hand roll)

The sushi I am referring to here are the typical ‘rolled sushi’ or hand rolls’; white rice, wrapped in seaweed with small amounts of filling, usually a source of protein such as salmon and 1-2 types of vegetables such as lettuce or cucumber.

While this may sound like a balanced lunch we must look at the amounts of each of the ingredients. Sushi is mainly made up of white rice; this is very quickly digested by the body and has minimal amounts of fibre. While there are brown rice varieties available, these contain only small amount more of fibre and brown rice is still quickly digested by the body.

There are many different choices for sushi hand rolls and these are mainly determined by the ‘fillings’ or the ‘flavours’ e.g. you can have salmon, teriyaki chicken, avocado, tuna varieties etc. However, while these sound like they contain a variety of healthy ingredients, when you look at a sushi hand roll you can see that the amount of filling is actually quite minimal- you may find 1 small slice of cucumber, 1 part of a lettuce leaf etc.

When you compare the amount of filling to what an actual serve of vegetables or protein is you will see it is only small portion of a serve e.g. 1 serve of cucumber and lettuce (vegetables) would be one full cup (and the amount in one hand roll is only a tiny fraction of that).

One end of my sushi roll with barely any filling (this was a Teriyaki Chicken sushi hand roll)

So, basically sushi is mainly a meal of rice.

While rice is not necessarily ‘unhealthy’ you need to view the context of how you eat it. If you only eat sushi for say lunch and eat it often they you re basically eating a large amount of low fibre carbohydrate with only very small amounts of protein and vegetables- this is if you have only hand rolls for the meal.

High carbohydrate, low fibre and low protein meals may leave you feeling hungry quite soon after you have eaten and therefore may encourage consumption of more food than what you would have had if you had eaten a higher protein/fibre meal.

If you are someone who enjoys sushi, here are some points you may like to consider:

  • Add a salad and sashimi; instead of having say 3-4 handrolls for lunch try having 1-2 handrolls and add a side salad and some sashimi. This way you are having more fibre, more lean protein and more nutrient dense foods for a more balanced meal. It will help keep you feeling fuller for longer and lower the amount of energy you are having.
  • Choose sushi for lunch once per week; when you do have it ensure you have an afternoon snack higher in protein and /or fibre ready just in case you feel hungry in the afternoon.
  • Remember that each handroll has on average the same amount of carbohydrate as 1 slice of bread. And so, if you are someone that has 4 handrolls at a time (think those plastic trays fit 4 handrolls quite well) then you are having the equivalent to 4 slices of bread (which is 2 sandwiches). And when you think how full two sandwiches would leave you it is probably more full than 4 handrolls.
  • Remember that many sushi roles look like they can have more vegetables in them than they do- some of the rolls have most of their toppings in one end- the other end may be mainly rice. Get to know your sushi shop well and what the quality of the sushi is like.
  • Australia’s Healthy Food Guide has a great pictorial on the energy content of popular sushi options here in Australia which you may like to read.
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