Sushi is a type of food that originated in Japan. It is most often available as a dish of sticky rice and raw fish, but can also involve partly raw, pickled or fried fish. Sushi can also be served as a vegan or vegetarian food. Any risks or health benefits associated with eating sushi regularly will consequently be based on the type of sushi.
Sushi Consumption in the U.S.
Sushi has been consumed throughout Asia for millennia. However, sushi's popularity is fairly new to the United States. It only really became popular after World War II, when Japanese Americans started opening sushi bars across the United States throughout the 1950s and 1960s. Since sushi is typically based on raw fish and shellfish, like oysters and prawns, this cuisine quickly became a part of the fine dining scene throughout America.
Sushi typically requires a minimum of two ingredients — sticky rice and some sort of seafood. Virtually any type of seafood product can be used to create sushi, although menus typically feature commonly consumed products like salmon, tuna, crab, prawn, eel and octopus. There are also vegan and vegetarian forms of sushi that involve ingredients like tofu, egg (tamago) and avocado instead of fish or shellfish.
Eating Different Types of Sushi
These days, the popularity of sushi has made this food unique to each country. Many sushi restaurants focus on serving locally-produced seafood. However, since sushi is consumed worldwide, this can range from mackerel to octopus or sea urchins. Some common types of sushi include:
- Maki sushi, which involves sticky rice and seafood wrapped up in nori, a type of seaweed. There are many types of maki, including futomaki, hosomaki, uramaki and shikai maki. They all differ in complexity and ingredients.
- Temaki, which is similar to maki sushi but prepared as a cone. This type of sushi is often referred to as a hand roll.
- Sashimi, which is sliced raw fish or shellfish served on its own.
- Chirashi sushi, which is a bowl sushi rice topped with sashimi.
- Nigiri, which is essentially sashimi placed upon a small portion of rice.
- Inari sushi, which is fried tofu stuffed with sushi rice.
As sushi has grown in popularity and become increasingly accessible to obtain, you can now find it anywhere — from high-end restaurants to your local supermarket. It's now affordable and convenient, which makes it easy to consider eating sushi every day. Since sushi can involve raw, pickled or fried seafood and vegetables, you should vary the sushi you're eating if you're choosing to consume this food regularly.
Sushi Nutrition Facts
Sushi's nutrition is greatly influenced by how it's prepared. Many Western sushi restaurants may add their own spin on a traditional maki roll, adding Philadelphia cheese to cucumber rolls, swapping brown rice for white rice or creating giant rolls you'd never find served in traditional Japanese cuisine. Given the differences between experimental and traditional sushi cuisine, as well as the variety of products that exist, it's hard to find accurate nutrition information for sushi.
According to an interview in Time Magazine with Isabel Maples, a registered dietitian and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, a single sushi roll can contain as many as 500 calories. However, most commonly consumed six-piece rolls, like California rolls, spicy tuna rolls and salmon avocado rolls have about 200 and 300 calories. Estimated macronutrients for these rolls range between:
- 9 to 24 grams per roll for protein
- 3.5 and 5.8 grams per roll for fiber
- 7 and 11 grams per roll for fat
- 26 and 42 grams per roll for carbohydrates
Vegetarian rolls, like avocado rolls and cucumber rolls, are typically lower in calories (about 140 calories per roll) and all other nutrients, except carbohydrates. On the upper end of the scale you'll find fried rolls, which may either have fried components, like prawn tempura, or be completely deep fried. Such rolls are obviously much higher in calories and fat.
Pros of Eating Sushi
Eating sushi every day could be healthy or it could be bad for you; it really depends on the sushi rolls you're consuming. Assuming you're eating a balance of vegetarian and seafood-based sushi products, eating sushi frequently can be a healthy part of a balanced diet.
The Dietary Guidelines for Americans and Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health recommend that people consume between 8 and 12 ounces of fish and shellfish each week. Seafood is rich in nutrients, especially essential omega-3 fatty acids, which have a range of health benefits. Regularly eating seafood-based sushi products can be an easy way to meet this recommended amount.
Dangers of Eating Sushi
The main downside to eating sushi every day is the possibility of mercury ingestion. As long as you're eating a seafood-based sushi product and not a vegan or vegetarian one, your food is likely to have some mercury in it. Mercury poisoning can be dangerous — while it can cause temporary neurological issues in adults, it can cause long-term damage in children.
Fortunately, there isn't typically too much fish in sushi; unless you're eating sashimi, you'll be consuming other ingredients, too. This means that you'd have to eat sushi every day or eat a lot of sushi each week to be in danger of mercury poisoning.
According to a Today.com interview with Eric Rimm, director of cardiovascular epidemiology and professor of epidemiology and nutrition at Harvard School of Public Health, eating fish every day can be a safe and healthy dietary choice. If you're worried about mercury poisoning and are eating seafood-based sushi products regularly, be sure to choose sushi products low in mercury. Low-mercury seafood choices include products like shrimp, light tuna, salmon and pollock.
The other main downside to eating sushi products is the possibility of microbial contamination. Disease-causing bacteria like Aeromonas, Enterobacteriaceae, Staphylococcus and Escherichia coli are regularly found in sushi products, especially those sold in supermarkets. However, many of these disease-causing pathogens can be found in any raw food, even salad products, so don't let this deter you from eating sushi.
- Journal of Food Protection: Assessment of Microbiological Quality of Retail Fresh Sushi From Selected Sources in Norway
- A Framework for Assessing Effects of the Food System: Dietary Recommendations for Fish Consumption
- Today.com: Eating Fish 2-3 Times a Week Is Recommended: What About Every Day?
- Journal of Risk Research: Sushi Consumption Rates and Mercury Levels in Sushi: Ethnic and Demographic Differences in Exposure
- NIH: Omega-3 Fatty Acids Fact Sheet for Health Professionals
- Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health: The Nutrition Source: Fish: Friend or Foe?
- SushiFAQ.com: Sushi Calories and Nutritional Information
- Mayo Clinic: Can I Eat Sushi on a Diet?
- Time: Is Sushi Healthy? Here’s Everything You Need to Know
- Food and Foodways Explorations in the History and Culture of Human Nourishment: Sushi in the United States, 1945–1970