Is Sushi Fattening or Healthy? (Westernized Versus Traditional Variety)

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Sushi traditionally evolved from the provinces of Japan and in its historic form was mostly raw fish fermented in rice. Of course the sushi of modern age is a highly upgraded version with several culinary additions while maintaining the basic ingredients of vinegared rice and seafood.

The healthy cuisine from Japan

Is sushi a fattening cuisine? No; any form of traditional sushi makes for a very healthy diet rich in protein and essential omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids with a dash of carbohydrate (contained in rice).

But if you end up eating any form of “westernized” sushi there is no guaranteeing that it will not add to your body fat.

Traditionally sushi is prepared by rolling a thick layer of vinegared, thin, white rice around raw fish meat from tuna, mackerel, salmon or eel. Usually a layer of seaweed, known as nori, is wrapped on top to bind the ingredients together. Cucumbers, avocado and other vegetables may also be placed as fillings.

Dips for sushi are high sodium soy sauce and wasabi sauce (originally made from wasabi plant root, modern version are made from horseradish and mustard).

If you take the individual ingredients, none of them are fattening except may be the rice. You can order brown rice sushi which is a better option than white rice.

Raw fish is a great source of lean protein and rich in omega-3 fatty acids that are essential for a healthy body. Vegetables like cucumbers and fruits like avocado are rich sources of vitamins and minerals. Avocado contains fat but it’s “good” fat unlike the fats used in cooking.

Nori, the seaweed, is again a rich source of protein and vitamins while having zero fat. The dips if made using traditional ingredients hardly have any fattening agents in them. Wasabi is actually great for aiding digestion.

What type of sushi should you eat?

The westernized influence on sushi has turned it in an unhealthy version of what it traditionally was. If you hit a sushi bar you are likely to find a huge array of choices when it comes to sushi preparation. So what type of sushi makes for a healthy option?

Anything which is traditional, like Nigiri (nigirizushi) or Makimono (makizushi), is not only tasty but extremely healthy as it contains not fattening add ons.

If you want to avoid the rice and toppings, simply go in for the “Sashimi” which is plain raw fish meat served with the pungent soy sauces and wasabi. Some people naturally love the taste of raw fish while some prefer the sushi variety with rice and toppings.

The new versions of sushi to hit the culinary market today are Philadelphia roll, tempura rolls, California roll, Spider roll and spicy tuna to name a few.

Anything with a “tempura” attached to it means it’s going to be fried. So it’s going to have cooking fats. Most of these “new age” sushi rolls are coated with mayonnaise and cream cheese with the intention of adding a flavor and richness to the dish. Philadelphia roll is one such example. “Spider rolls” are fried while “spicy tuna” is made with mayo. All these variations have fattening elements and the seafood is denatured by cooking thus removing the original healthy aspect of eating raw and non-fattening ingredients.

California rolls are a top favorite with more Americans, but in the very least it’s an unauthentic sushi made with rice and kani kama (imitation crab stick) and vegetables. It’s healthier than the fried options but the use of processed meat renders it a less healthy option than the traditional raw fish sushi.

If you are eating raw fish sushi or sashimi be sure to visit a “popular” restaurant where quality is taken care of. There is a possibility of parasite or bacterial infection if the fish is not fresh enough. Professionals chefs are adept at selecting the right fish for the sashimi.

In most good places sushi is served along with Gari and Green Tea. Gari is basically thin pickled ginger used to cleanse the palate and aid digestion. Green tea is excellent as a antioxidant and makes for a great accompaniment to sushi.

You can also get sushi that contains seafood like prawn, squid, octopus (tako), shrimp, sea urchin and crab as fillings or toppings. Most of these foods will be cooked. It’s best to go in for the boiled or braised options than the fried ones.

Seafood in general make for non-fattening foods rich in protein, so you can dig in and enjoy the fest while brushing aside your “calorie” concerns.


  • Rembrandt Steele

    @ Vi An…
    Actually the amount of sugar used in the Mirin to season and bind sushi rice is negligible compared to what you would see in most other dishes in the same proportion, excluding of course your standard salad. Yes, refined sugar is not so great but I will take it any day over some artificial sweetener.

    Of course you can”t sit down to a completely fat free meal and honestly enjoy it as you would do a plate of sushi, or any other animal flesh for that matter but you can prepare and portion these foods in a way that will give you the pleasure without the measure, if you know what I mean?!

    I just ate my goldfish.

  • Sushi is actually made with a lot of sugar which is mixed into the sushi rice mix before they roll. Best to make your own sushi using Thai black rice. Sugar is poison. Learn all about it on youtube by watching “Sugar – the bitter truth” for yourself. Any and all animal flesh is very fatty it is in the fiber of their muscles.