Being Tom Hanks á la Castaway has one major drawback: being stuck on an island with only a volleyball to call friend. But it also has one redeeming benefit: fresh, healthy sushi! Since we lost the deed to our ocean-front office space in a heated game of laser tag, our access to fresh fish has been somewhat limited, meaning we’ve had to resort to Westernized versions of sushi for our fish fix. Unfortunately most of these rolls make the dangerfood list (dun dun duuun).

We Found Nemo — The Need-To-Know

Traditional sushi rolls can be some of the healthiest dinner options around thanks to the combo of steamed rice, ultra lean fish, and extra veggies. Alas, that’s not what is typically served at sushi joints. Instead the menu is often packed with high-calorie rolls loaded with extras like cream cheese, mayo, and fried tempura. One roll is typically about 500 calories, which isn’t horrible… assuming only one roll is consumed (but we can easily down two, plus a miso soup and salad before we call it a night.)

Not to mention those cute little bite-sized pieces can contain as much as one cup of rice. If looking to avoid carbs entirely, consider opting for thin slices of raw fish (without the rice), called sashimi in most places. And, when consuming anything raw, make sure to ask about preparation methods. Sushi has been known to carry pathogenic bacteria or parasites like salmonella— and we’d agree those are on the opposite side from sake bombing on the fun spectrumMicrobiological quality of sushi from sushi bars and retailers. Atanassova, V., Reich, F., Klein, G. Hannover, Germany. Journal of Food Protection.2008 Apr;71(4):860-4..

Just Keep Swimming — Your Action Plan

Of course, there is a way to avoid the sushi dangerfood trap and make healthier choices. Before ordering the regular, use these guidelines when seeking out rolls:

  • Try to avoid anything breaded and fried (i.e. tempura)… and especially rolls topped with Doritos.
  • Special sauce is not a friend. It’s most likely loaded with mayo or sugars.
  • Order rolls with brown rice instead of white if available.
  • Seek out rolls featuring nutrient-packed ingredients like avocado, salmon (hello, Omega-3), and seaweed/nori.
  • Instead of ordering two or three rolls, order one and add a side of edamame and few pieces of sashimi. If still hungry, order another.
  • Opt for low-sodium soy sauce.
  • Avoid rolls with hidden sugars. Like these, for example.

Good luck navigating those sushi seas!

Updated January 2012.