Is sushi really healthy?

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Is sushi really healthy?

One of the most common lunches my clients enjoy is sushi – now the description of ‘sushi’ can mean anything from a few California rolls to a full sashimi plate or even a Bento box. Just as all these foods are different so too is their nutritional profiles and while some types of sushi can be exceptionally healthy, others are simply a mix of rice, soy sauce and fried fillings. So if sushi is your go to lunch, here are the best options, and a run down on how often you can enjoy your favourite sushi without fear of taking in too much mercury.

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Mercury is a heavy metal that can be found in small amounts in some types of fish, namely larger fish that have spent some time eating small varieties of fish such as swordfish, tuna and sea bass. As mercury is unable to be removed from the body, ingesting too much over time can cause mercury poisoning which can lead to headaches, development delays and long term brain damage and organ failure. It is for this reason that if sashimi is your number one choice of sushi you do need to be mindful of how often you are consuming it. For this reason it is suggested that sashimi not be consumed more than a couple of times each week. 

When it comes to California rolls which are generally made with sushi rice, fillings ranging from avocado, to fish to fried chicken and some seaweed. As the rice used to make sushi often contains added sugars to help it stick, the combination of rice and high fat fillings such as avocado, fried meat and mayonnaise can mean that a single hand roll can contain as much as 170 calories and as much carbohydrate as 2 slices of bread. Or a small lunch pack of 6 rolls, up to 300 calories and 50g of carbohydrates. For this reason, sticking to a small number of rolls, and brown rice options will help to improve the nutritional profile of the average sushi roll. 

On the other hand, when it comes to other popular Japanese foods including Edamame, miso and fermented veges, you cannot go wrong. Specifically edamame is one of the best options on a Japanese menu, edamame is a protein and fibre rich option which adds much bulk to your favourite Japanese meal, minus the calories. With just 60 calories per pot of beans, adding a serve to your meal will significantly improve its nutritional profile. Seaweed salad is another nutrient rich addition, seaweed is a superfood in the world of nutrition as it added much needed iodine into our diet which is crucial to help our thyroid function optimally. It also contains next to no calories with a ½ cup serve adding just 20 calories to your meal. And miso soup, a Japanese staple is especially rich in nutrients, offering a range of vitamins and minerals as well as probiotics known to be particularly important for gut health. While miso is relatively high in sodium, containing up to 1000mg per serve, it is also low in calories with less than 100 calories per serve, and the health benefits associated with consuming it as part of a balanced Japanese meal outweigh any of the negatives. 

While we do need to be aware of the volume of sushi and sashimi we are eating, we also need to be aware of the less than healthy options too. Tempura for example, the Americanised version of Japanese, is relatively high in fat compared to traditional Japanese cuisine. In the case of a California roll, the addition of tempura will almost double the calories, while a single serve of tempura prawns and vegetables will contain at least 20g of fat, most likely coming via a blended vegetable oil. Noodle dishes too can be a calorie bomb in disguise. For example, a small cup sized serve of noodles will contain at least the same amount of carbohydrates as two slices of bread and in many cases they will be cooked using extra oil so go easy on your portions. 

Menu Item | kJ | Carbs (g) | Fat (g)

Tuna Sushi Roll | 240 | 7 |  1.5          

California Roll | 170 | 7 | <1

Miso Soup | 150 | 5 | 1

Sushi Pack (12) | 1100 | 45 | 3

Teriyaki Chicken | 1100 | 7 | 9

Edamame Beans | 670 | 12 | 7

Sushi Hand Roll | 490 | 18 | 2

Udon Noodles & Beef  | 2340 | 20 | <1

Sashimi Piece | 500 | 1 | <1