Sushi: Healthy or not healthy?

People generally consider sushi to be nutritious, healthy and rich in omega-3 fatty acids.

However, there are also some concerns regarding some of the ingredients it contains.

This article analyzes sushi in detail and its effects on health.

It also provides simple tips on how to maximize the health benefits of eating sushi.

What is sushi?

Sushi is a popular dish that originates in Japan.

It consists of cooked rice flavored with vinegar, rolled together with fish and vegetables raw or cooked in seaweed known as nori.

Commonly served with soy sauce, a spicy green paste called wasabi, as well as pickled ginger.

Sushi became popular for the first time in 7th century Japan as a way of preserving fish.

The clean fish was pressed between rice and salt and left to ferment for a few weeks until it was ready to eat (1).

In the mid-seventeenth century, people began adding vinegar to rice to reduce fermentation time and improve flavor.

The fermentation process was abandoned relatively recently in the 19th century, when fresh fish was used instead of the fermented variety. This resulted in an early version of the ready-to-eat sushi to which we are accustomed (1).

Bottom line: The sushi is originally from Japan and consists of a roll of seaweed containing rice flavored with vinegar, raw fish and vegetables.

Common types of sushi

These are the most common types of sushi (1):

  • Hosomaki: A roll of thin algae containing rice and only one type of filling, for example, a roll of avocado or cucumber (photos).
  • Futomaki: A special thicker roll that usually contains a combination of rice and various types of fillings (photos).
  • Uramaki: A special roll that contains several ingredients, but with the algae inside and the rice on the outside (photos).
  • Temaki: A cone shaped hand roll that contains the fillings inside (photos).
  • Nigiri: Mounds of rice covered by thin slices of raw fish (photos).

Sashimi is thin slices of raw fish. Technically it's not sushi, but it's often served with it.

Bottom line: Sushi comes in several different types. The five most popular are hosomaki, futomaki, uramaki, temaki and nigiri.

Ingredients rich in nutrients

Sushi is often considered a healthy food, mainly because it contains the following nutrient-rich ingredients.


Fish is a good source of protein, iodine, as well as several vitamins and minerals.

In addition, it is one of the few foods that naturally contain vitamin D (2).

In addition, fish contains omega-3 fats necessary for your brain and your body to function optimally. They help combat medical conditions such as heart disease and stroke (3, 4, 5).

The consumption of fish is also related to a lower risk of developing certain autoimmune diseases, depression and loss of memory and vision in old age (6, 7, 8, 9, 10).


Wasabi pasta is often served together with sushi. It is very spicy, so it is only eaten in small quantities.

It is made from the grated stem of the Eutrema japonicum Plant, which is part of the same family as cabbage, horseradish and mustard.

Wasabi is rich in beta-carotenes, glucosinolates and isothiocyanates. Research shows that these compounds may have antibacterial, anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer properties (11, 12, 13, 14).

However, due to the shortage of the wasabi plant, many restaurants use an imitation paste made from a combination of horseradish, powdered mustard and green dye, which is unlikely to have the same nutritional properties.


Nori is a type of seaweed that is used to roll sushi.

It contains many nutrients, including calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, iron, sodium, iodine, thiamin, as well as vitamins A, C, and E (15).

In addition, 44% of the dry weight of nori is protein, which is comparable to plant foods with a high protein content, such as soy (16, 17).

However, a sushi roll contains very little algae, which makes it unlikely that it contributes to a large part of your daily nutrient needs.

Studies show that nori can also contain compounds that have the ability to fight viruses, inflammation and even cancer (18).

Some claim that nori also has the ability to remove heavy metals from the human body.

However, research shows that this property is most likely attributed to the types of brown seaweed, such as those found in the wakame salad (19).

Pickled ginger

Sweet pickled ginger, also known as gari, is often used to cleanse the palate between different pieces of sushi.

Ginger is a good source of potassium, magnesium, copper and manganese (20).

In addition, it may have certain properties that help protect against bacteria, viruses and even cancer (21, 22).

Studies show that ginger can improve memory and help reduce nausea, muscle pain, arthritic pain, menstrual pain and even LDL cholesterol levels (23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28).

Bottom line: Sushi contains several healthy and nutrient-rich ingredients, such as fish, wasabi, seaweed and pickled ginger.

Refined carbohydrates and low fiber content

The main component of sushi is white rice, which has been refined and stripped of almost all fibers, vitamins and minerals.

Some studies suggest that a high intake of refined carbohydrates may promote inflammation and increase the risk of diabetes and heart disease (29, 30, 31).

In addition, sushi rice is often prepared with sugar. The added sugar and low fiber content means that carbohydrates break down quickly in your digestive system.

This can lead to an increase in blood sugar and insulin levels, which has been shown to contribute to overeating in many studies (32, 33).

However, studies also show that adding rice vinegar can help lower blood sugar, blood pressure and blood fats (34).

Asking your sushi to be prepared with brown rice instead of white rice can increase its fiber content, its nutritional value and reduce the increase in blood sugar.

You can also request that your rolls contain a little less rice and more vegetables to further increase the nutrient content and make them feel fuller.

Bottom line: Sushi contains a large amount of refined carbohydrates. This can increase the likelihood of overeating and increase the risk of inflammation, type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

Low in protein and high in fat

Sushi is often thought of as a weight-loss friendly meal, but it may not be as beneficial as you think.

This is because many types of sushi are made with high-fat sauces and fried tempura dough, which significantly increases the amount of calories you get.

In addition, a single piece of sushi generally contains very little fish or vegetables. This makes it a low-protein, low-fiber meal and, therefore, not very effective in reducing hunger and appetite (35, 36).

This perhaps also explains why eating a portion of sushi will leave most people feeling hungry.

To make your next sushi meal more abundant, try accompanying it with a miso soup, a side of edamame beans, a serving of sashimi or a wakame salad.

Bottom line: Sushi often contains high-fat sauces and dressings, but relatively few vegetables or fish. This can easily turn it into a high-calorie meal that is less likely to make you feel full.

High salt content

A sushi meal usually contains a large amount of salt.

First, the rice that is used to make it is often cooked with a little salt. In addition, smoked fish and pickled vegetables used to make certain types of sushi also contain salt.

Finally, it is usually served with soy sauce, which is very high in salt.

Too much salt in your diet can increase your risk of stomach cancer. It can also promote high blood pressure in people sensitive to sodium (37, 38, 39).

If you want to reduce your salt intake, you should minimize or avoid soy sauce, as well as sushi prepared with smoked fish, such as mackerel or salmon.

Although miso soup can help prevent you from overeating, it contains a lot of salt. If you are watching your salt intake, you may want to avoid that too.

Bottom line: Sushi can contain a large amount of salt, which can increase the risk of stomach cancer and promote high blood pressure in some people.

Contamination with Bacteria and Parasites

Eating sushi made with raw fish can put you at risk of infection with several bacteria and parasites (40, 41, 42, 43).

Some of the most frequently encountered species include Salmonella And several Vibrio bacteria as well as the Anisakis Y Diphyllobothrium parasites (44, 45, 46, 47).

It is important to keep in mind that the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not currently regulate the use of the "sushi grade fish" label. Because of that, this label does not guarantee that the sushi you are eating is safe.

The only current regulation is that certain fish must be frozen to kill any parasite before serving them raw.

A recent study examined the raw fish used in 23 Portuguese restaurants and found that 64% of the samples were contaminated with harmful microorganisms (48).

However, proper food processing and handling procedures can reduce the risk of contamination (49, 50).

If you want to reduce your risk of contamination, try eating sushi in reputable restaurants. These are more likely to follow good food safety practices. Opting for veggie rolls or those made with cooked fish can also be beneficial.

There are some people who may need to avoid sushi made with raw fish. This includes pregnant women, young children, older adults and people with weakened immune systems.

Bottom line: Inadequate food processing and handling practices combined with the use of raw fish and shellfish increase the risk of contamination with various bacteria and parasites.

Mercury and other toxins

Fish can also contain certain toxins due to sea pollution.

The best known toxin is mercury.

Predatory fish tend to have the highest levels of mercury.

These include tuna, swordfish, mackerel, marlin and shark. Shellfish species that are low in mercury include salmon, eel, sea urchin, trout, crab and octopus (51).

Other types of toxins found in fish can cause ciguatera or scombroid poisoning (52).

Sea bass, halibut and red snapper are the most likely to lead to ciguatera poisoning, while scombroid poisoning is more likely to result from the consumption of tuna, mackerel and mahi mahi (52).

You can reduce your risk by simply avoiding the types of fish most likely to be contaminated.

Bottom line: Certain types of fish are more likely to be contaminated with toxins. This includes mercury and toxins that can lead to ciguatera or scombroid poisoning.

How to maximize the health benefits of sushi

To get the most health benefits of sushi, follow these simple instructions:

  • Increase your nutrient intake Choose sushi rolls made with brown rice over those made with white rice.
  • Favor the cone-shaped hand rolls. Look for temaki in the menu. These rolls contain less rice than the more traditional rolls.
  • Increase the protein and fiber content of your food. Accompany your sushi with a portion of edamame, a wakame salad, a miso soup or sashimi.
  • Avoid rolls made with cream cheese, sauces or tempura. To create crunchy without these unhealthy ingredients, order additional vegetables.
  • Cut the soy sauce. If you are sensitive to salt, avoid soy sauce or just lightly spray the top of your sushi.
  • Avoid certain types of fish. Do not request rolls made with smoked salted fish or fish species at high risk of contamination by toxins.
  • Order sushi at renowned restaurants. They are more likely to follow good food safety practices.

Bottom line: There are several ways to increase the health benefits of your sushi and reduce the risk of negative effects.

Conclusion: Is sushi healthy or not healthy?

Sushi is rich in several vitamins, minerals and compounds that promote health.

However, not all types are equally healthy or nutritious. Some of them are high in refined carbohydrates and other ingredients that can be problematic.

That said, if you follow the advice above, eating sushi can definitely be healthy.

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