Sushi is a really broad term that encompasses lots of different menu options. While some some types of sushi, like tempura, aren't the best choice, there could be a connection between more basic options, like salmon nigri sushi and weight loss.
The rice in sushi contains resistant starch, while the fish provides protein — some sushi types more than others. As long as you're choosing sushi options with rice, fish and vegetables or avocado as a base and avoiding things that are battered and fried and doused in heavy sugary sauces, you can include it in your weight-loss plan.
Sushi might not be a powerful weight-loss tool, but as long as you're careful about what sauces you're adding and avoiding fried tempura options, it can be part of a healthy weight-loss diet.
White Rice in Sushi
Most sushi choices contain white rice. It's also a popular sushi side dish. According to the Mayo Clinic, eliminating just four white foods — white bread, white potatoes, white pasta and white rice —can help you lose weight. These types of carbs not only cause blood sugar and insulin spikes that can lead to weight gain, they can also promote carbohydrate cravings.
Researchers from one study that was published in Applied Physiology, Nutrition and Metabolism in May 2019 tracked the diets of Japanese workers for a year. After the year was over, they compared overall weight gain in the workers who ate a lot of white rice with workers who only ate a little. They found that the workers who ate more rice gained at least 6.6 pounds more than the low-rice group.
But even though white rice may not be the best choice, there could be one advantage. As rice cools, the amount of resistant starch increases. And according to a report that was published in the Asia Pacific Journal of Clinical Nutrition in 2015, the resistant starch in cooled white rice can lower the glycemic response (or the effect it has on your blood sugar).
Another report from a 2014 issue of Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition points out that resistant starch can also increase the amount of calories and fat you burn and prevent the storage of fat. Because it acts like a fiber in your digestive system, the same report says that resistant starch reduces the calorie density (or the amount of calories absorbed) from the food you eat and increases feelings of fullness — all factors that can contribute to weight loss.
Read more: List of Foods Very High in Resistant Starch
Protein in Sushi
It's widely accepted that protein helps contribute to weight loss. Most sushi contains raw fish, which is a protein source, as one of the major components. But even though fish is a good protein source, the amount in sushi may not be enough to keep you full and help you lose weight.
According to the USDA, one piece of the popular California roll contains just 0.9 grams of protein. One piece of salmon nigri is a better option when it comes to protein, with one piece offering 3.1 grams.
But according to a report that was published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in June 2015, protein has the most significant effect on weight loss and weight maintenance when you eat 25 to 30 grams at each meal. You'd have to eat at least 28 pieces of California roll and at least eight pieces of salmon nigri to hit those numbers.
However, an October 2015 study in Nutrition Journal found that when you combine protein with resistant starch, as is the case with sushi, it can increase the amount of fat you burn and contribute to feelings of fullness by increasing the hormone peptide YY, which helps regulate appetite.
Read more: Frequent Sushi Consumption
Choosing Sushi and Weight Loss
Of course, not all types of sushi are the same when it comes to nutritional value. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics provides some tips on how to choose the healthiest types:
- Choose nigri or sashimi. Nigri, which is raw fish placed over a small amount of rice, and sashimi, which is raw fish or meat sliced into thin pieces, is the most basic of your sushi choices and generally contains fewer added ingredients.
- Choose your rolls carefully. Sushi rolls, also called maki, vary widely in their ingredients. Some include fried seafood (also called tempura) or creamy sauces, while others are made with raw fish, fresh cucumber and avocado. When trying to lose weight, stick to the rolls with lighter whole food ingredients, like a California roll.
- Vary your choices. Instead of choosing sushi with the same types of fish, vary your choices to optimize your nutrient intake. Different types of fish, like tuna, salmon and crab, all have different vitamins, minerals and fatty acids and including a variety in your meal will help you get more nutritional variety.
- Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: "Sushi Basics"
- Mayo Clinic News Network: "Eliminating Four White Foods May Make It Easier to Eat Less, Lose Weight"
- Asia Pacific Journal of Clinical Nutrition: "Effect of Cooling of Cooked White Rice on Resistant Starch Content and Glycemic Response"
- Applied Physiology, Nutrition and Metabolism: "Relationship Between Rice Consumption and Body Weight Gain in Japanese Workers: White Versus Brown Rice/Multigrain Rice"
- USDA FoodData Central: "Sushi Roll (Maki or Temaki), California"
- Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition: "Resistant Starch and Energy Balance: Impact on Weight Loss and Maintenance"
- USDA FoodData Central: "Sushi (Nigiri), Topped With Salmon"
- Nutrition Journal: "Resistant Starch and Protein Intake Enhances Fat Oxidation and Feelings of Fullness in Lean and Overweight/Obese Women"
- American Journal of Clinical Nutrition: "The Role of Protein in Weight Loss and Maintenance"
- Physiology & Behavior: Effectiveness of Green Tea on Weight Reduction in Obese Thais: A Randomized, Controlled Trial
- Journal of the American College of Nutrition: Green Tea Supplementation Affects Body Weight, Lipids, and Lipid Peroxidation in Obese Subjects With Metabolic Syndrome
- Nutrition Research and Practice: Anti-Obesity Effects of Hot Water Extract From Wasabi (Wasabia Japonica Matsum.) Leaves in Mice Fed High-Fat Diets