Is Sushi Healthy? Benefits, Risks of Eating It

Is Sushi Healthy? Benefits, Risks of Eating It

Is Sushi Healthy? Benefits, Risks of Eating It

Certain foods have an undeniable health halo, but it can be tricky to know whether that reputation is earned. That can lead to you wondering if what you’ve heard is legitimate. Case in point: Is sushi healthy?

The answer, like many things, is slightly complicated. “Sushi can be a healthy choice or fall more into the fast food category,” says Christy Brissette, M.S., R.D., owner of 80 Twenty Nutrition in Laguna Beach, CA.

Meet the experts: Deborah Cohen, D.C.N., R.D.N., an associate professor in the department of clinical and preventive nutrition sciences at Rutgers University School of Health Professions; Christy Brissette, M.S., R.D., owner of 80 Twenty Nutrition in Laguna Beach, CA; Tara Gidus Collingwood, M.S., R.D.N., owner of Tara Gidus Nutrition Consulting in Orlando, Fl.

Nutritionists break down what to expect in the nutrition department when you enjoy sushi, plus how to ensure the sushi you enjoy is a healthy choice.

Is sushi good for you?

“It all depends on what you order,” Brissette says.

She explains it this way: A salmon avocado roll would have around 300 calories and contain heart healthy fats and protein. “On the other end of the spectrum, a shrimp tempura roll could be over 500 calories and high in inflammatory fats due to the deep-fried shrimp and mayo drizzle,” Brissette says.

Eating fried foods regularly also raises the risk of developing heart disease and obesity, she points out. So, if you constantly reach for a tempura roll, it’s not a healthy choice. But if you incorporate rolls into your diet that feature fish and vegetables that aren’t fried, sushi can be good for you.

Can sushi help with weight loss?

Sushi may help with weight loss, but it’s not a guarantee. “Sushi is typically eaten in very small portions—0.5 to 1 ounce of fish which, when served on top of sushi rice has about 40 to 60 calories, and small portions can help control calorie intake,” says Deborah Cohen, D.C.N., R.D.N., an associate professor in the department of clinical and preventive nutrition sciences at Rutgers University School of Health Professions. Rice also contains fiber, which increases the odds you’ll feel full after you eat it, she says.

But sushi can also be packed with calories. Philadelphia rolls, which contain cream cheese, can have 300 to 500 calories per roll, while firecracker rolls can have 400 to 600 calories per roll, Cohen points out. “In general, most rolls when they do not contain cream cheese or mayonnaise-type sauces, are relatively low in calories,” Cohen says. “Bottom line: Eating sushi will not promote weight loss, but sushi can be a healthier option compared to fast food and many options available at restaurant chains.”

Sushi nutrition information

There is a wide range of sushi rolls you can have, but one of the most popular types is the California roll. Here’s what you can expect for nutrition when you eat one piece of a California roll, according to the US Department of Agriculture (USDA):

Calories: 28

Protein: 0.87 grams

Fat: 0.2 grams

Carbohydrates: 5.5 grams

Fiber: 0.3 grams

Sugar: 0.6 grams

(Keep in mind, of course, that many people eat six pieces per sushi roll, and often more than that in one sitting.)

What is the healthiest sushi to eat?

There are a lot of options for healthy sushi. Cohen lists off several that are healthy, including California rolls and tuna rolls, while adding that “any vegetable, salmon or rainbow rolls are all healthy.”

Brissette is partial to salmon avocado rolls. She says these “are a great choice because you’re getting protein and heart healthy omega-3 fats from the salmon and monounsaturated fats, fiber, folate, and potassium from the avocado.”

You can make it even healthier if you make it with brown rice and use low sodium soy sauce as a dip, she says.

Health benefits of sushi

There are a few potential health perks you can get from eating sushi.

It’s an easy way to have fish

Many health organizations recommend having fish in your diet, but it’s not a food that’s common in many American diets. The American Heart Association (AHA), for example, suggests having fish twice a week. (The organization specifically recommends focusing on fatty fish.)

“Sushi can help you meet the recommended two to three servings of fish a week,” Brissette says. A typical serving of fish is 4 ounces, according to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

It may help lower inflammation in your body

The fish in sushi contains omega-3 fatty acids which “may help with reduced inflammation,” says Tara Gidus Collingwood, M.S., R.D.N., owner of Tara Gidus Nutrition Consulting in Orlando, Fl. Bodily inflammation is linked to a slew of serious health conditions, including autoimmune diseases, cardiovascular disease, and gastrointestinal disorders, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

“The ginger, wasabi, and nori—seaweed to wrap fish—all have good antioxidant properties,” Collingwood says.

It’s heart-healthy

When you choose fatty fish like salmon, tuna, and mackerel you’ll get EPA and DHA, “which are heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids that can help lower triglycerides and blood pressure,” Brissette says.

It may boost your bone health

Fatty fish is “an excellent source of vitamin D, which supports bone health and can help lower inflammation and support your immune system,” Brissette says.

Potential risks of eating sushi

There are a few things to keep in mind when it comes to sushi.

You could get a foodborne illness

This is one of the biggest risks of eating sushi. “Consumption of undercooked or raw fish always has risks related to foodborne illness,” says Cohen. That includes the risk of salmonella infection, vibrio vulnificus, and parasitic tapeworms, the Cleveland Clinic says.

It can spike your blood sugar

“Many of my clients don’t realize that a typical sushi roll contains about a cup of rice,” Brissette says. “Because the rice is packed so tightly to make the rolls, it’s harder to gauge how much you’re getting.”

Sushi is usually made with white rice, which can cause your blood sugar to spike and drop quickly, Brissette says. “That can leave you feeling hungry, weak, grumpy, and tired,” she adds.

There’s a mercury risk

Mercury is a toxic metal that’s found in most types of fish, and having a lot of mercury can make you sick, Collingwood says. “Mercury can be a concern if eating swordfish or a lot of tuna,” she says. “If you stick with mostly salmon, shrimp, and other white fishes, they are low in mercury.”

The takeaway

Overall, dietitians say that sushi can be a healthy part of your diet. “Sushi can fit in a healthy eating pattern,” Cohen says. If you want to make sure your sushi is as healthy as possible, Brissette recommends avoiding rolls that are fried and those that contain cream cheese. You can also try sushi made with brown or black rice to add more fiber, she says.

Overall, though, “sushi is relatively low in calories, fat, and contains protein,” making it a healthy choice, Cohen says.

Headshot of Korin Miller

Korin Miller is a freelance writer specializing in general wellness, sexual health and relationships, and lifestyle trends, with work appearing in Men’s Health, Women’s Health, Self, Glamour, and more. She has a master’s degree from American University, lives by the beach, and hopes to own a teacup pig and taco truck one day.