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Sushi: Is It Good for You?

Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on October 16, 2020

Sushi is a term used for seaweed wrapped around cooked rice, raw or cooked fish, vegetables, and other ingredients. Sushi started as a way of preserving fish in seventh-century Japan, but has since evolved to describe a variety of food items.

Sushi is a catch-all term. As a result, it can be hard to say whether sushi is healthy or not. Not all sushi is created equally. Some sushi features toppings such as mayonnaise, thick soy sauce, and other dressings that add fat, sugar, and sodium to the dish. However, there are many known health benefits available from staple sushi ingredients such as seaweed, rice, and fish.

Nutrition Information

Sushi nutrition information varies based on ingredients. For example, one Southern Tsunami California roll contains:

  • Calories: 628
  • Fat: 5 grams
  • Cholesterol: 0 milligrams
  • Sodium: 1,038 milligrams
  • Carbohydrates: 129 grams
  • Fiber: 5 grams
  • Sugar: 10 grams
  • Protein: 15 grams

The fish used in many types of sushi is filled with omega-3 fatty acids and is a rich source of nutrients and minerals, including:

The sheets of seaweed (also known as “nori”) used to make Maki also contains high levels of:

Nori also contains Vitamins A, B1, C, and E.

Potential Health Benefits of Sushi

The American Heart Association recommends eating fish at least twice a week, and sushi is a great way to meet those quotas. However, there are more health benefits available from eating sushi to consider.

Reduce Inflammation

Chronic inflammation is associated with a higher risk of cancer, diabetes, heart disease, and stroke. However, the Omega-3 fatty acids in sushi can help reduce chronic inflammation and these associated risks.

Wasabi, which is commonly paired with sushi, also has strong anti-inflammatory properties. Nori — the seaweed that’s used to wrap sushi — has anti-inflammatory properties as well.

Disease Prevention

Many of the ingredients commonly found in sushi can help you maintain long-term health and prevent diseases. Fish, for example, contains Omega-3 fatty acids, which can help fight conditions like heart disease and stroke.

Ginger, which is commonly served with sushi, can also help protect against respiratory viruses.

Prevent Heavy Metal Poisoning

Another benefit of seaweed is its ability to remove heavy metals and radioactive strontium from your body. Heavy metal poisoning can affect your body’s ability to function and have serious repercussions such as cardiovascular diseases.

Potential Risks of Sushi

Some of the biggest risks come from sushi made using raw fish rather than cooked fish. You can minimize your risks by choosing sushi made with cooked fish or vegetables only.

If you choose sushi with raw fish, here are some of the risks you may face.

Bacteria or Parasites

Raw fish can be a source of bacteria or parasites, including tapeworm and salmonella.

Although raw fish is frozen before storage to help kill bacteria, there’s no guarantee that the raw fish in your sushi is contaminant-free. In a study looking at 23 different Portuguese restaurants, 64% of the raw fish examined was contaminated with some sort of harmful microorganism.

More studies are needed to determine whether this holds true universally, but it’s always best to exercise caution when eating raw fish.

Mercury

Some fish contain mercury, a heavy metal that is toxic in large doses and is especially dangerous to pregnant or breastfeeding women.

Some fish — including swordfish, shark, tilefish, and king mackerel — can contain higher concentrations of mercury than other fish. You can limit your mercury exposure by choosing sushi with fish known to be low in mercury.

Sodium

Many types of sushi contain high levels of sodium. The popular sushi topping, soy sauce, is also high in sodium. Most Americans already have too much sodium in their diets, and high sodium levels can lead to problems that include congestive heart failure and kidney disease.

Show Sources

SOURCES:

Canadian Family Physician: “Fish Tapeworm and Sushi.”

Comprehensive Reviews in Food Science and Food Safety: “The Tale of Sushi: History and Regulations.”

Elsevier: “Evaluation of ready to eat sashimi in northern Portugal restaurants.”

ESHA Research, Inc., Salem, Oregon: “Sushi, roll, California, Southern Tsunami”

Food Research International: “Flavour and pharmaceutical properties of the volatile sulphur compounds of Wasabi (Wasabia japonica).”

International Journal of Biological Macromolecules: “Antioxidant and anti-inflammatory activities of porphyran isolated from discolored nori.”

Journal of Ethnopharmacology: “Fresh ginger (Zingiber officinale) has anti-viral activity against human respiratory syncytial virus in human respiratory tract cell lines.”

Journal of Food Protection: “Incidence of Salmonella in Fish and Seafood.”

Journal of Human Nutrition and Dietetics: “The health benefits of omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids: a review of the evidence.”

Journal of Toxicology: “Heavy Metal Poisoning and Cardiovascular Disease.”

Mayo Clinic: “How to Use Food to Help Your Body Fight Inflammation.”

Mayo Clinic: “Omega-3 in Fish: How Eating Fish Helps Your Heart.”

Mayo Clinic: “Sodium: How to Tame Your Salt Habit.”

The World’s Healthiest Foods: “Soy Sauce.”

Washington State Department of Health: “Health Benefits of Fish.”

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