April 12, 2024

Sushi is a pretty broad category as far as entrees go.

On the one hand, you can walk into a high-end omakase restaurant and spend hours enjoying single-bite plates of some of the freshest and most flavorful fish in the world. On the other hand, you can sit down at an all-you-can-eat sushi joint and order countless rolls made with all kinds of ingredients, from spicy tuna to shrimp tempura to cream cheese. And while both experiences certainly have their time and place, they’re nutritionally very different.

Merriam-Webster defines sushi as “cold rice dressed with vinegar, formed into any of various shapes, and garnished especially with bits of raw seafood or vegetables.” Sure, you can find sushi filled with pretty much anything. But most often, sushi is made with some combination of rice, fish, and vegetables like cucumber, avocado, and cucumber. Think: shrimp- or tuna-topped nigiri, imitation crab-filled California rolls, or seaweed-wrapped hand rolls with avocado and salmon.

That said, just how nutritious is sushi?

The nutrient profile of sushi—that is, the combination of macronutrients (protein, carbs, and fat) and micronutrients (vitamins and minerals)—really depends on the ingredients being used. But in general, a sushi meal will deliver a few things: “Eating sushi can be a great way to load up on healthy fats (like omega-3 fatty acids), high quality protein, selenium, and many other key nutrients,” says Lauren Manaker, M.S., R.D.N., L.D., the author of Fueling Male Fertility.

Salmon and mackerel are all top sources of two of the three most common omega-3 fatty acids: eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). According to the National Institutes of Health, consuming at least 1.6 grams of omega-3 fatty acids each day (for men over 18) helps support healthy cell development and might reduce the risk of chronic diseases like heart disease and certain cancers. Three ounces of wild-caught salmon delivers the full recommended daily amount, while three ounces of mackerel will give you 1 gram.

Ordering a variety of different fish when you get sushi means you’re eating a variety of nutrients, as well. Just three ounces of yellowfin tuna contains 92 micrograms of selenium, which is 167-percent of the recommended daily value. According to the National Institutes of Health, selenium works as an antioxidant, and is important for reproduction, thyroid hormone production, and DNA synthesis.

You’ll also get extra nutrition from the seaweed that’s served in or alongside your sushi. Kelp, which is used for seaweed salad, is high in antioxidants like vitamin C, manganese, and zinc, which can lower oxidative stress and improve heart health. “Plus, certain varieties of sushi are made with nori, a seaweed that is a natural source of iodine,” Manaker says.

Does sushi have a lot of carbs?

If you’re afraid to eat sushi because of the carbs—specifically white rice, a refined grain—Manaker says that you really don’t need to worry. “White rice has gotten a bad rap over the years, but rice can be a healthy part of an overall diet,” she says.

“Rice is a source of carbohydrates, which gives a nice burst of energy,” Manaker explains. “Depending on the rice used, it can be fortified with important nutrients like folic acid and other B vitamins.”

And while eating a ton of white rice on its own can lead to high blood sugar levels and a subsequent blood sugar crash, Manaker says that you probably don’t need to worry about this when you’re eating sushi. Because you’re eating the rice alongside high-quality protein and healthy fats (both from fish), it’s unlikely that your blood sugar levels will climb too high.

How filling is sushi?

Although the combination of carbs, protein, and fat can definitely keep you full, Manaker suggests pairing your sushi with a salad (seaweed or otherwise) or a side of vegetables. They’ll add fiber, which helps with fullness, as well as extra vitamins and minerals.

Are there any health risks associated with sushi?

“Certain fish varieties can contain large amounts of methylmercury, a heavy metal that is linked to some unsavory side effects when consumed in large quantities,” Manaker says. “Opt for lower mercury choices like salmon and shrimp to reduce this risk,” she says.

Because sushi generally contains raw fish, freshness is also key. “Make sure your sushi is fresh and it comes from a reputable restaurant,” Manaker says. “If the sushi looks suspect, don’t risk it by eating it.” Generally, you can tell when fish isn’t fresh. It will be duller in color and will have a strong fishy smell.

So, is sushi healthy?

The bottom line is that, yes, sushi is healthy. It contains high-quality protein and omega-3 fatty acids from fish, plus a great combination of vitamins and minerals. White rice provides carbs for energy, and won’t raise your blood sugar too high because it’s combined with fat and protein. To make sushi a balanced meal, add a side of vegetables or a seaweed salad for fiber and a nutrient boost.

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Christine Byrne, MPH, RD, LDN, is a registered dietitian and the owner of Christine Byrne Nutrition, a private practice serving clients in Raleigh, NC, and virtually across the country. She specializes in eating disorders and disordered eating, and takes a weight-inclusive approach to health. A longtime journalist, she has worked as a food editor at BuzzFeed and Self, and her writing has appeared in dozens of national media outlets, including Outside, HuffPost, EatingWell, Food Network, Glamour, Bon Appetit, Health, and more.


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