Is Sushi Healthy? Best Sushi Rolls To Eat For A Better Health 2023

Alexandra Gregg

Updated on - Written by
Medically reviewed by Dr G. Michael DiLeo, MD

is sushi healthy

When asked if sushi is healthy, most people would say that sushi is, in fact, nutritious and possibly a superfood because of the fresh ingredients, including fresh fish and vegetables.

However, this is only sometimes the case, as you can accompany sushi with fried tempura, cream cheese, and soy sauce. These additions can turn your nutritious dinner into a high-sodium and high-saturated-fat dish.  

This article looks deeper into sushi’s health benefits and risks and the healthiest choices to pick at your next Japanese restaurant.  

Is Sushi Healthy For You?

So this begs the question, is sushi healthy for weight loss and your overall well-being? The answer depends on the type of sushi you choose. However, as a broad general statement, combining fish, vegetables, avocado, and rice is a great way to increase your consumption of healthy omega-3 fatty acids, nutrients, and many other benefits.

On the other hand, sushi that is loaded with tempura, mayonnaise, and cream cheese should be eaten in moderation and saved for special occasions. These ingredients do little for your health and can increase your risk of heart disease.

Sushi Nutrition

Depending on which sushi roll you choose, you might have a lot of different macro and micronutrients. Sushi can contain vitamins, minerals, and protein. It can also contain

Antioxidants

Sushi is typically served alongside pickled ginger and wasabi. Both contain[1] an abundance of antioxidants which are essential for fighting free radicals. Free radicals are unstable molecules resulting from metabolism and, if they become too abundant, cause damage that can lead to cancer, heart disease, and diabetes.   

Carbohydrates

If able, ask to have your sushi roll made with brown rice[2]. Changing from white to brown rice is a great way to get additional health benefits such as fiber, selenium, and B vitamins. Sometimes white rice found in sushi is unhealthy as it contains sugar to help it become stickier to hold its shape. Brown rice will also help you feel fuller for longer because of its fiber content.   

Unsaturated fats

The avocado[3] found in specific sushi rolls is an excellent source of unsaturated fats. As a result, avocados support cardiovascular health, weight management, and healthy aging. They are also filling and can keep you satiated to prevent unhealthy cravings.   

Health Benefits Of Eating Sushi

Due to its nutrient-rich ingredients, sushi is generally considered healthy. Some of these nutritious ingredients include

Fish

is sushi healthy

Sushi contains either raw or cooked fish. Fish is high[4] in omega-3 fatty acids. These fats are incredibly healthy for your heart and have been shown to ward off heart disease and stroke. Omega-3 fatty acids are also crucial for brain[5] function. 

Wasabi

is sushi healthy

This side condiment, typically served with sushi, has its own health benefits. Wasabi is high[6] in 

  • Isothiocyanates
  • Glucosinolates
  • Beta carotene

All of these compounds make wasabi a potent anti-inflammatory and thus may prevent cancer.  

Nori

is sushi healthy

The type of seaweed used in sushi is called Nori seaweed. It contains a wealth of nutrition[7], such as

  • Vitamins A and C
  • Calcium
  • Phosphorus
  • Magnesium
  • Iron
  • Iodine
  • Thiamine

Of note, even though seaweed is considered a superfood because of its high nutrient content, unfortunately, there is very little Nori used in a sushi roll. Therefore, you would need to consume a large amount of sushi to get a decent amount of these nutrients. However, consider choosing a crunchy seaweed snack to obtain more nutrients.  

Pickled Ginger

is sushi healthy

When eating sushi, it is often served with pickled ginger to be used as a palate cleanser. Ginger is full of the following nutrients[8]:

  • Copper
  • Magnesium
  • Manganese
  • Potassium

It also has specific anti-viral and anti-bacterial properties[9] meaning it can help against these infections. Lastly, it is known to help[10] with 

  • Memory improvement
  • Menstrual cramps
  • Muscle pain
  • Nausea (useful with pregnancy morning sickness)

Potential Risks Of Sushi

Even though, in general, sushi is a healthy choice, certain ingredients are found in some sushi rolls (or sushi sides) that you should only consume in moderation, such as

Cream Cheese and Mayonnaise

Cream cheese and mayonnaise contain saturated fat. Saturated fat is coined “bad[11]” fats, as studies have shown a link between saturated fat intake and cardiovascular disease and stroke risk. Instead, look for sushi filled with avocado, a healthy unsaturated fat linked[12] to a decreased risk of heart disease and stroke. 

Mercury 

Be aware of certain fish that contain high mercury[13] levels. Mercury can be toxic if eaten in large amounts. Fish high in mercury include

  • Ahi tuna
  • Bigeye tuna
  • King mackerel
  • Marlin
  • Orange roughy
  • Shark 
  • Swordfish

Pregnant or nursing women, as well as children less than six years old, should avoid the consumption of mercury-containing fish.  

Tempura

Tempura is when food is lightly battered and then fried. A study[14] completed in January 2019 showed that eating fried foods just once per week is associated with a higher risk of death from cardiovascular disease.  

Sodium

Sushi can contain a lot of sodium. For example, just one tablespoon of soy sauce can contain almost 1,000 mg of sodium. However, the average person should have no more than 2,400 mg daily sodium. Therefore, you can see how you can easily be thrown off track while consuming sushi.  

A better option would be to order a low-sodium soy sauce to dip your roll into. These soy sauces are still high in sodium but contain about half (550 mg) per tablespoon as compared to the regular sauce. Another option is wasabi. Wasabi contains only about 100 mg of sodium per tsp. Since the flavor of wasabi is quite strong, you can use less, and it is much lower in sodium.  

Raw Fish

Even though sushi is generally safe, some are made with raw fish. Raw fish can be unsafe to eat if you are

  • Immunocompromised.
  • Pregnant.
  • Under five years of age.
  • Older than 65 years of age.  

Healthy Types Of Sushi To Consider

Ordering sushi can be overwhelming, especially if it is your first time. Consider going over the menu before arriving to determine your choices better. Most of the time, simpler is better. Therefore, pick a roll with only a few ingredients when in doubt and forgo the fancier rolls.  

Some healthy sushi choices include

Salmon-Avocado Roll and Seaweed Salad

Salmon-Avocado Roll and Seaweed Salad

This role is full of healthy fats and protein. If you can substitute brown rice, it will also give you a fiber boost. Avoid the spicy mayonnaise and try the wasabi for a flavor kick. If you are still hungry, the seaweed salad will provide additional nutrients. This role is very satiating and rich and creamy.

Avocado Roll

Avocado Roll

Avocado rolls are typically made with nori seaweed, rice, and avocado. Because of its simplicity, it isn’t as filling as other sushi varieties. However, the six-count sushi roll is relatively low in calories but provides many vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. If you are still hungry, try pairing this roll with a plant-based protein such as edamame.  

Veggie Roll

Veggie Roll

For a healthy vegan sushi roll, try the veggie. This role is typically comprised of rice, avocado, bell peppers, zucchini, and cucumbers. Try a side of edamame, an excellent vegan protein source for extra protein. 

Naruto Roll

Naruto Roll

This is your go-to if you are looking for a no-carb sushi choice. Naruto roll is sushi wrapped in cucumber instead of rice. Depending on the restaurant, you can also order other sushi rolls rice-less.

Nigiri

Nigiri

Nigiri is fish placed in a small bed of rice. Popular versions of nigiri include

  • Eel.
  • Mackerel.
  • Salmon.
  • Sea urchin.
  • Shrimp.
  • Tuna.

California Roll

California Roll

This is one of the most simple and nutritious sushi rolls you can order. It contains a mixture of rice, avocado, cucumber, nori seaweed, and imitation crab. (Beware–imitation crab may contain sugar.) These ingredients make it a great source of protein and fiber. Typically the California roll comes in six pieces and will set you back only about 350 calories but provide you with almost 10 grams of protein.  

Appetizer

Appetizer

A great way to begin your meal would be with a dark leafy green appetizer. Seaweed salad and boiled edamame are excellent choices as they offer high fiber and low calories. Both offer tons of nutrients as well. If neither sound appetizing, a side salad is always a great choice. 

Final Thought

Sushi can be a very healthy choice to eat that is rich in vitamins, minerals, healthy unsaturated fats, protein, and other nutritional compounds. These nutrients can help prevent cancer, heart disease, and even diabetes.  

However, you must be aware of the type of sushi you choose. Stay away from cream cheese, tempura, and mayonnaise. Instead, choose a simple roll with brown rice, vegetables, and heart-healthy avocados. Also, be aware of the sodium levels you ingest and if you are sensitive to raw fish. Choose a lower sodium option such as wasabi and a cooked fish if you are pregnant, under 5, over 65, or immunocompromised. If pregnant, avoid any raw fish (in sushi, sashimi, etc.) due to the possibility of getting a Listeria infection[15] (cooked fish is safe). 

As long as you are careful and considerate about the types of sushi you choose, it can make a great addition to your healthy diet. 


+ 15 sources

Health Canal avoids using tertiary references. We have strict sourcing guidelines and rely on peer-reviewed studies, academic researches from medical associations and institutions. To ensure the accuracy of articles in Health Canal, you can read more about the editorial process here

  1. Di, H., Cui, C., Fang, P., Ma, J., He, M., Li, M., Lu, W., Zhang, F. and Zheng, Y. (2022). Variation in the main health-promoting compounds and antioxidant activity of different organs of Wasabi (Eutrema japonicum) from two producing areas. Frontiers in Plant Science, [online] 13. doi:10.3389/fpls.2022.1043378.
  2. LEE, J.-S., SREENIVASULU, N., HAMILTON, R.S. and KOHLI, A. (2019). Brown Rice, a Diet Rich in Health Promoting Properties. Journal of Nutritional Science and Vitaminology, [online] 65(Supplement), pp.S26–S28. doi:10.3177/jnsv.65.s26.
  3. Dreher, M.L. and Davenport, A.J. (2013). Hass Avocado Composition and Potential Health Effects. Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition, [online] 53(7), pp.738–750. doi:10.1080/10408398.2011.556759.
  4. Ruxton, C.H.S., Reed, S.C., Simpson, M.J.A. and Millington, K.J. (2004). The health benefits of omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids: a review of the evidence. Journal of Human Nutrition and Dietetics, [online] 17(5), pp.449–459. doi:10.1111/j.1365-277x.2004.00552.x.
  5. McCann JC;Ames BN (2013). Is docosahexaenoic acid, an n-3 long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acid, required for development of normal brain function? An overview of evidence from cognitive and behavioral tests in humans and animals. The American journal of clinical nutrition, [online] 82(2). doi:10.1093/ajcn.82.2.281.
  6. Izawa, K., Amino, Y., Kohmura, M., Ueda, Y. and Kuroda, M. (2010). Human–Environment Interactions – Taste. Comprehensive Natural Products II, [online] pp.631–671. doi:10.1016/b978-008045382-8.00108-8.
  7. ACS Publications. (2017). Bioactive Compounds of Edible Purple Laver Porphyra sp. (Nori). [online] Available at: https://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/acs.jafc.7b04688
  8. Usda.gov. (2022). FoodData Central. [online] Available at: https://fdc.nal.usda.gov/fdc-app.html#/food-details/169231/nutrients
  9. Chang, J.S., Wang, K.C., Yeh, C.F., Shieh, D.E. and Chiang, L.C. (2013). Fresh ginger (Zingiber officinale) has anti-viral activity against human respiratory syncytial virus in human respiratory tract cell lines. Journal of Ethnopharmacology, [online] 145(1), pp.146–151. doi:10.1016/j.jep.2012.10.043.
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  11. News. (2016). Consuming high amounts of saturated fats linked to increased heart disease risk. [online] Available at: https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/news/press-releases/saturated-fats-increased-heart-disease-risk/
  12. American College of Cardiology. (2015). Unsaturated Fats, High-Quality Carbs Lower Risk of Heart Disease – American College of Cardiology. [online] Available at: https://www.acc.org/about-acc/press-releases/2015/09/28/13/58/unsaturated-fats-high-quality-carbs-lower-risk-of-heart-disease
  13. Guide, M. (2022). Mercury Guide. [online] NRDC. Available at: https://www.nrdc.org/stories/mercury-guide
  14. Sun, Y., Liu, B., Snetselaar, L.G., Robinson, J.G., Wallace, R.B., Peterson, L.L. and Bao, W. (2019). Association of fried food consumption with all cause, cardiovascular, and cancer mortality: prospective cohort study. BMJ, [online] p.k5420. doi:10.1136/bmj.k5420.
  15. Acog.org. (2018). Listeria and Pregnancy. [online] Available at: https://www.acog.org/womens-health/faqs/listeria-and-pregnancy
Alexandra Gregg

Medically reviewed by:

Michael DiLeo

Alexandra Gregg is a registered and licensed dietitian with a private practice in Kansas City, Missouri. After studying Nutrition and Dietetics at Northwest Missouri State she completed her Dietetic Internship at Mayo Clinic College of Medicine in Rochester, MN. Following her dietetic internship, Allie worked at Mayo Clinic in a variety of areas including nutrition support, geriatrics, neonatology, and pediatrics. In addition, she was a regular presenter at Mayo Clinic conferences and an educator for dietetic interns.

Medically reviewed by:

Michael DiLeo

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