When you think “sushi’ you probably also think “healthy,” right? With its fresh fish, cucumber, seaweed, and occasional avocado, it sure seems that way. But the fact is that many items on a sushi menu might be considered rather indulgent. From the tempura to the white rice, there’s a lot of not-so-good options. If you’re getting your raw fish fix and want to keep it clean, here’s what the experts suggest.
“I’m a registered dietitian in private practice and go out to sushi weekly,” says Monica Auslander, R.D., founder of Essence Nutrition in Miami, FL. Auslander’s go-to pick is the sashimi platter, which is a selection of raw fish—sans rice—served over a bed of greens or curly-cued radish.
Her usual suspects include salmon, yellowtail, and fluke. “Pure protein and omega-3 fatty acids? Sign me up!” Auslander says. “Protein helps keep us full and modulates blood sugar, and omega-3 fatty acids reduce inflammation in the body.”
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According to the journal Advances in Food and Nutrition Research, seaweed (sometimes called sea vegetables) packs a powerful nutritional punch. Filled with b-vitamins, vitamins A and E, antioxidants, and carotenoids, this delicious appetizer promotes healthy blood pressure and aids in the prevention of cardiovascular disease. And did we mention it’s delicious?
Sipping green tea to enjoy alongside your sushi meal could be a big boon for your wellness. The beverage has been associated with a bevy of health perks. The reason: Researchers in the journal Chinese Medical Journal give the credit to green tea’s stores of natural phenol and antioxidant catechins, particularly EGCG.
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These steamed soy beans, served in their pods, are a popular appetizer option at most sushi restaurants. Next time you’re torn between an order of edamame or miso soup as a starter, go for the former, says Chelsey Amer, R.D., a nutritionist in private practice in Manhattan, NY and creator of CitNutritionally.com.
“While miso soup is low in calories, it’s loaded with sodium,” she explains. “Edamame contains fiber and protein to fill you up without the added sodium. To add a boost of flavor—and vitamin C—ask for a lemon wedge to juice on top.”
Amer prefers to let the fish be the main attraction, and axe any “fillers” like rice altogether. But if you’re really craving maki, opt for brown rice over white.
“Brown rice contains more fiber,” Amer explains. “Most Americans don’t eat enough fiber, which has been shown to reduce cholesterol and heart disease risk.” One important caveat: “The average sushi roll contains about one cup of rice, which is more than the recommended serving of 1/2 cup, so ask for your roll light on rice, even if it’s brown,” she says.
If you love a creamy condiment with your seafood (and we all do!), do your best not to gravitate to anything that’s made of multiple ingredients or is mayo-based. “I recommend skipping sauces—like spicy mayo—because these contain tons of added fat, and enjoy avocado, which provides heart-healthy fats,” advises Amer.
Avocados are rich in monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs), which may help lower your risk of heart disease by lowering your total and low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol levels but maintain your high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol level, potentially helping improve the unction of your blood vessels.
Skipping the brown rice in favor of sashimi but still want to nosh on something super filling? Soba noodles are a great go-to and a standard option on most Japanese menus. Offering up all the benefits of buckwheat, soba, which is gluten-free, filled with amino acids, vits and minerals, polyphenols, antioxidants, and protein.
Not to mention, soba can be eaten hot or cold. According to the journal Nutritional Research Reviews, the rutin in buckwheat packs a powerful punch; it’s been shown to reduce blood pressure, regulate weight and preserve insulin signaling.
A Note On Tuna
Every sushi menu stars tuna, so it’s a pretty ubiquitous go-to option. It’s delicious, sure, but you’ll do well to eat it in moderation. Why? It’s pretty high in mercury, explains Auslander. The concern there is that you run the risk of heavy metal poisoning, which is linked to lasting neurological and muscular impairments, Auslander says. “It’s rare, but not impossible,” she notes.
Other high-mercury fish include king mackerel, marlin, orange roughy, shark, swordfish, tilefish, ahi tuna, and bigeye tuna. Lower on the mercury? Choices like eel, salmon, crab, and clam.
The National Resource Defense Council (NRDC) notes that if you’re pregnant, nursing, or planning a family, though, you should probably skip all types of tuna, mackerel, sea bass, and yellowtail.