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Calorie Count Blog

10 Best and Worst Sushi Choices

By +Leyla Shamayeva on Sep 28, 2013 10:00 AM in Healthy Eating

You’ve heard it before: fish is good for you. From low-calorie varieties to heart-healthy omega-3’s, studies have convinced the American Heart Association and others to recommend eating fish twice a week. One way to enjoy it is wrapped in nori, along with rice and various vegetables. Japanese sushi can be a delicious, healthy meal…or an unhealthy calorie bomb, if you don’t know which choices to indulge in. Our list of best and worst options can help.

Sashimi and Nigiri

Raw fish, anyone? Although not exactly the wrapped sushi we’re used to, sashimi and nigiri are a great way to enjoy the actual flavors of the fish without any interference from other ingredients. Sashimi is served in pieces while nigiri is served spread over a clump of rice. Without the rice, these options are lower in calories and full of protein and heart-healthy fats. Yellowfin tuna, salmon, and mackerel are healthy choices. A 4 oz serving of mackerel sashimi is only 160 calories and has almost 25 grams of protein! 

Brown Rice Rolls

If raw pieces of fish aren’t up your ally, go for traditional rolls. Chances are that they are wrapped in white rice, so make them healthier by asking for brown rice instead. An average roll of sushi uses about 1 cup of cooked white rice, which contains 242 calories and almost no fiber. A cup of brown rice contains about 200, less carbs, more fiber, iron, magnesium, and vitamins B1 and B3. Any sushi or nigiri can use brown rice instead of white, so don’t hesitate to ask if it’s available.

Healthy Fish Rolls

When choosing a roll, choose low-calorie and healthy fish like salmon, mackerel, yellowfin or albacore tuna. These are full of omega 3’s, unsaturated fats, protein, and vitamins. Watch out for seemingly healthy options like eel, which is also full of omega-3’s but smothered in a sugary brown sauce. An eel and avocado roll is 372 calories, while a salmon and avocado roll is about 300 and half the fat. Be mindful that some options also use imitation fish, like imitation crab in California rolls. 

Also be mindful of environmentally-friendly options. The Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch, who keeps an eye out for ocean-friendly fish, has bluefin tuna and swordfish high on their list. These have high mercury content and are overfished, so even if they’re available opt for healthier fish instead. 

Vegetarian Sushi

Not a fan of fish? No problem. While the typical roll contains fish and veggies, there are veggie-only options. An avocado roll, for example, only contains rice, nori and avocado. A cucumber roll swaps the avocado for cucumbers and sea vegetables. Although these rolls are not as nutrient dense, avocado still provides heart-healthy fats and cucumbers contain vitamins A, C, and fiber. These are lower-calorie and safe options, and a great option for pregnant women advised against eating raw fish. There are even restaurants that specialize in vegetarian sushi, like Beyond Sushi in NYC.

Spicy Rolls

If you’re craving spicy and don’t want to deter from your clean eating streak, go for wasabi and ginger instead of a spicy tuna roll. The spicy kick comes from mayonnaise mixed with chili sauce. Depending on how much mayo is used, the roll can be at least 300 calories and provide more than 10 grams of fat. You’re better off going for one of the healthier rolls mentioned above.

Creamy Rolls

Cream cheese and salmon on a bagel also comes in sushi form: the Philadelphia roll. Although the cream cheese adds a nice creamy texture, it also adds empty calories (a roll can be 300 calories or more) and 12 g of fat, 5 of which are saturated. Enjoy the taste of salmon with a salmon and avocado roll or salmon sashimi instead.

Tempura Rolls

Battered and deep-fried, tempura is the best way to mask any natural flavors in your sushi with oil. There are tempura vegetables and fish and they are two of the unhealthiest options. A shrimp tempura roll packs in over 500 calories and 20 grams of fat!

Specialty Rolls

Big, overstuffed, beautiful and expensive, specialty rolls like the Spider Roll and Rainbow Roll can be a benefit or a bust depending on the ingredients. The Rainbow Roll, for example, packs in almost 500 calories, many of which are healthy from the avocado and variety of fish. Other rolls that contain fried, tempura, or creamy ingredients aren’t as healthy. Ask what is in a roll, use your judgment in deciding, and make it your only roll of the night.

Beyond the Sushi: Appetizers

If you’re going for a sit-down meal, start it off right with healthy appetizers. Common options include:

  • Miso Soup: This is a low calorie option (1 cup is about 50-75 calories) made from miso, onions, seasweed, and tofu pieces. Be mindful that it is high in sodium. As a starter, the broth will help fill you up and thus eat less later on in the meal.
  • Green Salad: Like the miso soup, a green salad will fill you up a little bit without all the sodium. Ask for the dressing on the side and mix it into the salad yourself.
  • Edamame: Hot, salty, shelled edamame is another healthy starter. The protein (about 15 grams per cup) will help you feel full. A sprinkle of salt on top is negligible compared to the sodium content in the soup.

Beyond the Sushi: Condiments

No sushi meal is complete without soy sauce on the table and wasabi and ginger on the side. Which do you choose?

  • Soy Sauce: At almost 1000 mg of sodium per tablespoon, soy sauce is one of the unhealthier options for dipping your sushi in. The sodium very much outweighs the negligible amounts of any other vitamins and minerals present. Anyone with high blood pressure or watching their salt intake should steer away from this option. Lower-sodium soy sauce does contain less sodium, but keep in mind that it is just a lower sodium option, not a low-sodium one.
  • Ginger: Many avoid the pickled ginger on their plate, but the benefits of having some are innumerable. Practically calorie-less, a small piece in between sushi pieces is enough to neutralize stomach acids and get your digestive juices flowing. It is also an anti-microbial, a huge plus when eating raw fish.
  • Wasabi: Another plus on your plate, horseradish wasabi is packed with antioxidants beneficial for human health. Being an anti-microbial, it serves as an added plus when eating raw fish. The spicy flavor gives your taste buds a kick as well.

How often do you eat sushi? What are your favorite options? 



I disagree with your opinion of brown rice as a healthy alternative when ordering sushi . I know they add tons of sugar to brown rice in order for it to  stick together. So the health benefits of using brown rice is offset by the high amount of white sugar added. 

Great info on the benefits of ginger and wasabi - who knew?

Take a bite of pure Wasabi, and with fire shooting out of your nose, exclaim to the world.."I'm eating so healthy!!" lol

This is the best news I have read since becoming diabetic and needing to lose weight and watch what I'm eating.  I have always loved sushi and thought it was not so healthy.  I also love miso soup and the salads most Japanese places serve.  Wasabi is absolutely wonderful and many years ago when I was in Japan, my friends and I annoyed a local restaurant by ordering extra wasabi and eating it till our eyes watered.  I think we did have fire shooting out of our noses but we didn't know we were eating healthy.  I also have always ate the ginger and even though it is not my craving and sushi and wasabi are, I like it just fine and try to eat as much of it as I can.  Never thought I could order brown rice but the point of carmelogiardina above sounds reasonable and worth following.   As a person who loves food - most of it chocolate, potato chips, (junk food) and pasta, it is great to finally read an article that doesn't tell me to take everything I like out of what I'm eating.  

I don't believe they add sugar to the brown is not sweet. They use a short grain sticky rice. I know they use vinegar also for the rice..

Thank you for the additional information.  I will ask before I just change to brown rice.  But I appreciate your additional information since I am diabetic and brown rice is so much better IF they don't add sugar.  Vinegar, on the other hand, would be a helpful addition to the stabilization of blood sugar.


About the rice. Every real Japanese chef has his own exact formula, but generally speaking, the rice is boiled with komochi kombu (a kind of seaweed) and then it is cooled with a special paddle and a mixture of vinegar, salt and either sugar or Aji Mirin, which is a sugar-sweetened rice wine. Mixed and cooled properly, this is what makes the rice stick together as needed for the sushi. So all sushi rice has some sugar in it. No doubt brown rice is marginally better in terms of nutrients, but I am a sushi traditionalist so I stick with the white.

Two last points: first, you will notice that the worst sushi from a calorie perspective are the American inventions such as the Philadelphia Roll (with cream cheese). Second, the main article didn't mention some of the lowest calorie options: ebi (shrimp), ika (squid) tako (octopus) or any of the various clams (mirugai, baigai, etc.)

carmel - I would still say a brown rice roll can be a better alternative to white rice; the sushi vinegar that is used to bind the rice is where the sugar comes in, so I'm thinking you're getting that sugar regardless of whether you have brown or white rice. (But I've never made it with brown rice, so maybe you need more vinegar for binding? - either way, when you consider how much vinegar actually ends up in the rice per roll, you're not getting that much sugar)

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