Fish, seaweed, rice… it sounds like a combo that'd be pretty good for you, right? But it depends on who you ask, according The New York Times. When the paper surveyed both nutritionists and regular Americans, 75 percent of nutritionists agreed sushi was healthy — but only 49 percent of the public thought so.
Of course, the actual answer depends on what's in the sushi and how much of it you're consuming — which perhaps gives some insight into the root of the disagreement. Either nutritionists are optimistic or they've just never seen someone single-handedly finish off a sushi platter the size of a turntable. Whatever the case, if you've looked at a sushi menu recently, you know that there are plenty of opportunities to turn simple raw fish into the kind of meal that requires unbuttoning your pants at the table. After all, just as a salad heavier on the croutons than on the leafy greens leans more toward junk food than a healthy meal, a sushi order mostly made up of unhealthy ingredients is, well, mostly unhealthy.
Here's what you should consider before you order your next roll:
Start With the Right Protein
Lean protein helps with weight loss, which is a good start. So get after those omega-3 fatty acids — they're good for your heart, protecting against heart disease and lowering blood pressure and heart rate. Salmon, trout, and tuna are all good options, says Ilyse Schapiro, a registered dietitian and co-author of Should I Scoop Out My Bagel? "Just be careful to not eat tuna too frequently, because it is high in mercury."
Mackerel, blue marlin, swordfish, and yellowtail are also high in mercury, so limit those as well. And avoid imitation crab entirely — it's made with starches and packed with sodium.
Keep an Eye on the Extras
Ginger and wasabi can add a kick and crunch to a no-frills roll — not to mention they've got anti-inflammatory and immunity perks, Schapiro says. But watch out for ingredients such as tempura (or anything fried, really) and tobiko cheese, she warns. Not only can they pack a calorie punch, they tend to crowd out the healthy veggies and fish in your roll.
Watch Your Portions
Made with sugar and rice vinegar, sushi rice isn't super healthy — and you could be consuming half a cup per sushi roll, Schapiro says. And those bite-size pieces add up... sometimes to over 1,000 calories per meal if you're ordering multiple rolls, she says. If you're watching your carbs or calories, consider sticking to one sushi roll and relying on an order of sashimi (thinly sliced fish, without the rice) or a naruto roll (made without rice and wrapped in cucumber) to fill you up.
Consider Brown Rice
Not willing to part with rice? (We get it. Carbs can be great.) Try going halfsies with regular sushi rice and brown rice if you want to up the health factor. "Brown rice has fiber to keep you full, and nutrients such as vitamin E, zinc, manganese, selenium, and magnesium," Schapiro explains.
Go Easy on the Sodium
Not only is too much sodium a surefire way to feel bloated, but government dietary guidelines recommend consuming no more than 2,300 milligrams of sodium per day. Just two tablespoons of soy sauce will get you almost all the way there, so make sure you request low-sodium soy sauce when you order. It's made the same way regular soy sauce is, but has about 40 percent of the sodium removed (you won't miss it).
Special Sauce? Especially Bad for You
Avoid eel sauce (which is a mix of soy sauce and sugar) and spicy rolls (which are made with mayo mixed with chili paste), along with most other "creamy" rolls, Schapiro says. They add calories and fat, but even if those aren't a major concern, it's hard to make the case for protein and omega-3s when your roll is equal parts fish and mayo.