Is Sushi Healthy?

Updated: Apr. 19, 2021

This is what dietitians really think about your favorite meal.

Plate of sushi and sashimi rolls.
Evgeny Karandaev/Shutterstock

What is sushi?

The Japanese word “sushi” refers to seasoned rice, not fish, according to Malina Malkani, RDN, a media spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics in New York, NY. The delicious dish itself includes small balls of seasoned sticky rice garnished with vegetable, egg, or raw fish, Malkani says. Now that you know what sushi is, check out what you need to know about the rules of eating Japanese food.

Sushi chef making sushi rolls.

Is sushi healthy?

Generally speaking, Alyssa Pike, RD, manager of nutrition communications for the International Food Information Council Foundation in Washington, D.C., says sushi is healthy. “There are several ways to make sushi, but often it contains ingredients like tuna and salmon, which contain omega-3s and protein,” she says. Many sushi rolls have cucumber (high in vitamin C, K, and fiber), avocados (full of monounsaturated fats), a seaweed wrap (high in iodine and fiber) and ginger (with gingerol, an antioxidant) on the side, Malkani says. Sushi also includes all three macronutrients—carbs, fats, and protein—giving your body a tasty variety of fuel.

Bowl of miso soup on a mat.
Lisovskaya Natalia/Shutterstock

Sushi sides are also healthy

The answer to “is sushi healthy” depends on your specific order and whether the restaurant is reputable, says Malkani, creator of the Wholitarian Lifestyle. But an extra boost of nutrition definitely comes from the typical sushi sides. “Sushi is also often accompanied by nutrient-dense, plant-based whole foods that promote health, like edamame, salad, seaweed, tempeh, tofu, miso, and steamed vegetables,” Malkani says. Satisfying and filling meals are one of the reasons why Japanese children are the healthiest in the world.

People eating sushi at a restaurant.

Only eat at restaurants you trust

Eating raw fish can lead to potential health risks, including food poisoning by bacteria like Salmonella and Vibrio vulnificus, as well as ingesting parasites like roundworm, tapeworm, and flatworm along with the fish, according to Malkani. “Commercially freezing raw fish at a temperature of 4 degrees Fahrenheit for a minimum of three days destroys the majority of these parasites,” she says. Anyone eating sushi should only order from trustworthy or reputable restaurants. “Choosing reputable sushi restaurants that are known for high-quality, fresh ingredients, and food safety and preparation practices can help reduce your risk of foodborne illness,” Malkani says. It’s also safe and easy to make your own sushi at home with kits like this one.

Four pieces of salmon sashimi and soy sauce.

Opt for fish lower in mercury

One of the main reasons why people ask “is sushi healthy” is because of mercury poisoning. And there is a potential risk of consuming too much mercury if you eat lots of sushi often—but it depends on what you order. Malkani says you can manage your risk by eating fewer pieces of larger, longer-living fish like swordfish, shark, bigeye tuna, and king mackerel less often. Instead, choose smaller prey options like salmon, shrimp, and cod. Pregnant women should especially avoid raw fish and fish high in mercury, Pike adds. Make sure you also know the 7 best fish to eat—and the 5 to avoid.

Puddle of soy sauce on a black table.

Use soy sauce sparingly

You probably love bathing your sushi in soy sauce. But, sadly, this beloved condiment can pack a huge sodium punch. One tablespoon of soy sauce can have up to 1,024 milligrams of sodium. The American Heart Association recommends eating no more than 2,300 mg a day if you are trying to lower your blood pressure. To avoid belly bloat, try a low-sodium soy sauce, coconut aminos, or limit yourself to one small pour from the bottle.

Fried shrimp tempura on a black plate.

Avoid too much tempura

Is sushi healthy if it’s fried? Ordering vegetable tempura is like dropping a battered green bean into a fryer. A typical serving of vegetable tempura can have almost 1,600 calories, with 60 percent of that coming from oil absorbed by the veggies. Shrink your portion by ordering a plate to share among a group of friends. Limit katsu and agemono dishes, too—they are also fried and therefore have more fat and calories, Malkani says. You’ll also want to avoid these types of fish while eating out at a restaurant.

Rows of sushi and sashimi.
Lisovskaya Natalia/Shutterstock

Watch your serving size

If only the bite-size nature of sushi allowed you to eat an unlimited supply! But no, you have to watch your serving size here too. Six to eight pieces of a salmon and avocado roll has about 300 calories, while two rolls will rack up 600 calories. You can cut the calories by  ordering a serving of sashimi, soup, salad, or any low-calorie vegetable dish that will also fill you up.

Wooden bowl of brown rice.
Atsushi Hirao/Shutterstock

Order the brown rice

Is sushi healthy if it has white rice? Brown rice is a better option as it has more fiber and nutrients than white rice, Malkani says. Researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health found that those who ate brown rice twice a week had a lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes, while those that ate white rice raised their risk. The next time you buy sushi from the supermarket, reach for the brown rice rolls like these. Many restaurants will also prepare brown rice rolls if you just ask. The perks of brown rice might not be shocking to you, but these 20 food facts might change how you eat sure are.

Every product is independently selected by our editors. If you buy something through our links, we may earn an affiliate commission.

Reader's Digest
Originally Published in Reader's Digest