Sixty years ago, finding sushi for sale in most areas of the USA was about as likely as finding an alien spaceship in front of the local high school. Today, however, you can find it in just about any strip mall or supermarket. While reams of scientific studies continue to show that fish is an incredible source of heart-strengthening, inflammation-reducing, brain-boosting, life-lengthening nutrients—but is sushi healthy?
In simple terms, it can be—when it’s not adorned by glazes, sauces, or breading. Ordering just any sushi roll won’t ensure you’re eating well or aiding your weight loss efforts. Some rolls come laced with mayo and cream cheese, and not all the meat is real, so it offers little nutritional benefits. Check out the sushi roll nutrition breakdowns below—listed from most to least caloric—to learn which ones are worth choosing and which are secretly diet destroyers.
Shrimp Tempura Roll, one 6-8 piece roll
Ingredients: Nori, rice, shrimp, tempura batter, oil for frying
Why take a perfectly good piece of lean shrimp and ruin it with a thick batter and a hot oil bath? The joy of fried food—the crunch—is snuffed out by the moist rice, so this one doesn’t make sense from either a flavor or nutritional perspective. If you want to lose weight and keep artery-clogging fat off your plate, steer clear of this menu item.
Rainbow Roll, one 6-8 piece roll
Ingredients: Nori, rice, avocado, surimi, plus a variety of raw fish arranged on top
Sure, this roll is higher in calories than most, but it’s loaded with substantial portions of raw fish, so most of those calories are the good kind. For a superior Rainbow Roll, ask the sushi chef to make it with real crab. They may charge a bit more, but the flavor punch and extra flab-frying protein make it a worthy upgrade. Looking to slim down? Pair this roll with an order of steamed edamame and call it a day. A second roll would push you far beyond the reasonable amount of calories for a single meal.
Eel and Avocado Roll, one 6-8 piece roll
Ingredients: Nori, rice, avocado, eel
Eel brings a solid helping of omega-3s to the sushi bar, but unfortunately, it’s almost always covered in a gloppy, sugary brown sauce that masks both the nutrition and the delicate natural flavor of this wily sea creature. If you opt for this roll, make it your only one of the night.
Salmon and Avocado Roll, one 6-8 piece roll
Ingredients: Nori, rice, salmon, avocado
Sure, it’s high in calories, but nearly all of them come from the one-two punch of healthy fats found in both the salmon and avocado—a fruit that can help lower blood pressure, banish bloat, quell hunger pangs and fry stubborn belly fat.
Philadelphia Roll, one 6-8 piece roll
Ingredients: Nori, rice, salmon, cream cheese, cucumber
The cream cheese blankets the perfectly fine cucumber and omega-3-packed salmon with an unnecessary measure of fat. This roll isn’t your best bet if you’re looking to lose weight, but if you decide to indulge, order it with a miso soup and call it a night. Opting for another fat-laden roll or calorie-packed appetizer isn’t in your best interest.
Ingredients: Nori, rice, tuna, mayo, chili sauce
In the world of sushi, “spicy” means a spoonful of mayo spiked with an Asian chili sauce. The calorie counts can climb higher than this, depending on how heavy a hand the sushi chef has with the spicy stuff. Either way, you’re better off ordering a plain tuna roll and satisfying your need for heat with a touch of wasabi or asking for the spicy sauce on the side
California Roll, one 6-8 piece roll
Ingredients: Nori, rice, avocado, surimi
The ubiquitous fusion roll is a great beginner’s foray into the world of sushi since there’s no raw fish involved. There are also no real healthy fats, either—aside from the avocado, of course—since the fake crab (made from a variety of processed and compressed fish) has just a fraction of omega-3s as the real stuff. To make this roll more worth your while, ask for real crab instead.
Tuna Roll, one 6-8 piece roll
Ingredients: Nori, rice, tuna
More than half of the calories in this simple, classic roll come from protein, making it a great light meal or a snack with substance. Plus, tuna is a primo source of docosahexaenoic acid, an type of omega-3 fat found in oily fish that can down-regulate fat genes in the abdomen, preventing belly fat cells from growing larger. Sounds like a good reason to place an order of the Japanese staple to us!
Ingredients: Nori, rice, avocado
Most of the calories in this vegetarian roll come from the healthy monounsaturated fats in the avocado—one of our favorite fat-frying superfruits. An avocado provides nearly 20 vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients essential for healthy weight management, including satiating fiber and vitamin K, a nutrient that helps regulate sugar metabolism and insulin sensitivity.
Cucumber Roll, one 6-8 piece roll
Ingredients: Nori, rice, cucumber
It’s hard to go wrong with cucumbers and seaweed. Though not a nutritional powerhouse, cucumbers are a low-calorie delivery system for vitamins A and C, fiber and silica, a compound that has been shown to foster healthy skin. Get this roll along with an order of yakitori—skewers of grilled lean meats and veggies—for a complete, nutritious meal.