Saturday, April 21, 2012

Food Focus: Sushi

Brown rice sushi from Maki Mono

What's the deal with sushi? Is it good for you?

Yesterday I sushi'd up while at the mall. There wasn't much thought involved. The groceries expedition had gone waaay past lunchtime and for some reason the mall was completely chocker. Later intelligence informed me that it was the last day of school holidays, but I didn't know that at the time. I only knew that there appeared to be one little haven of calm in the chaos.

The Maki Mono sushi place:

I guess sushi is not the lunch of choice for kids about to be deprived of their freedom. :D

It's been ages since I ate sushi. Who knew you could get brown rice & tuna sushi now? Not me. How exciting!  

Sushi is one of those things that people tend to think is inherently healthy. It's a popular fast food choice for slimmers, but how good is it really? Is it all that and more?

The Stats

The first thing I noticed when researching the nutritional stats for sushi is that there is wide disagreement as to the size of a 'roll' and the number of calories contained therein. Both and Foodworks (which is supposed to be the most accurate for Aussie and NZ), underestimated the energy content of a roll of sushi. 

Cronometer estimated the weight of a roll at just 24 grams, which seemed light to me so I weighed my specimen (carefully saved just for the purpose). It was 42 grams. Foodworks got the weight about right, but seemed wildly optimistic about the fat (and therefore total calorie) content. Further research suggests that if you eat an eight-piece box, that would come to about 240 more calories than Foodworks would have you believe.  Nosher beware.

The charts below are from St Pierre's Sushi of Japan, which are a major sushi franchise in NZ. Their estimates look about right to me, just based on what I know about the nutritional stats of rice, fish and the tiny sprig of veges that lurks inside a singular sushi roll.


As you can see, there is considerable variation between types of sushi. What I appreciate about St Pierre's chart is that they assume you will eat the whole packet. None of this 'each box contains 2.75 servings' business.

The Good
  • Sushi is generally low fat and not too awful calorie-wise
  • The fats that are in there are healthy plant fats and omega 3's from avocado and fish
  • Sushi contains a higher proportion of whole foods than most other takeaways / mall foods
  • Sushi generally does not contain gluten or trans-fats, although this may not be true for all venues
  • The nori seaweed surrounding the roll is a valuable source of trace minerals, including iodine
  • If made with brown rice, sushi contains Thiamine, B6, Manganese, Magnesium and Phosphorous
  • There are vegetables in there which will provide some nutrients and fibre
  • Sushi contains a decent amount of good quality protein - around 20g per eight rolls
  • The serving arrangement makes it easy to not eat the whole thing. It practically lends itself to taking some home for later (and if you do, make sure you store it in the fridge ASAP. For food safety reasons sushi should not be allowed to get warm).
  • Sushi usually comes with WASABI, which is the most amazing condiment ever. It can turn you from half-asleep to fully functioning in two seconds flat, while also efficiently clearing your sinuses
The Average
  • An eight pack of sushi contains as many calories as a Big Mac, and more sugar (however the Big Mac is higher in unhealthy fats). A full eight-pack is not a snack
  • Holy carbs! At around 80g carbohydrates per serving, this is not a low carb feast and the protein/carb ratio means it won't fit into popular diets like The Zone or Body for Life. It's not paleolithic either. Precision Nutrition would only let you eat it after a workout 
  • There are not really many veges in sushi. Let's be real about that
  • Sushi can be high in sodium, which may raise blood pressure in some people and in others will make them retain water, bringing on an 'I feel fat' day
  • Most sushi is made with white rice, which is not only quite high on the glycemic index, but has had most of its fibre, vitamins and minerals removed along with the husk, bran and germ
  • Sushi sometimes contains raw fish, which can be a problem for anyone who is pregnant or has compromised immunity

When it comes to grabbing a quick lunch, you could certainly do worse. Depending on the type of rice and the generosity of the vege-putter-inner, sushi can contain decent amounts of nutrients, and the protein should keep you full for longer than a deli muffin would. If you have issues with carbs or grains, then clearly it's not for you, but I think I can make it work - maybe eat half the box and team it with a big salad.

Oh, and if you are like me, you'll have to spend time digging out the evil nightshades. See those red capsicums? I had to do a search and destroy with the chopsticks. I'm sure the counter girls thought I was a little bit crazy. :D 

Are you a sushi fan?
Would sushi fit into your way of eating?


  1. I like sushi, but I've always been aware that it's generally carb-heavy and, depending on the type you choose, can be quite low in protein as well. As a lunch on the run, I take the view that there are many far worse choices, and just have it if I want to....which is maybe half a dozen times a year.

    My biggest complaint is that it doesn't seem to keep me satisfied for all that long. Not sure exactly why that is, except maybe for the small protein serve. I'd usually go for tuna, salmon or teriyaki chicken, but even so, there's maybe 50g of fish/meat in a serve, about a third of what I'd normally have at lunch.

    BTW, it's easy to make yourself...future project for Foodie Friday, perhaps? :)

    1. yup, I think there is a lot of variation. I was suprised that the St Pierres stats showed 20g protein per serve - that's as much as a chicken breast. I'm pretty sure the one in the pic didn't have that much. Maki Mono seem to be mainly about the rice. As for satiety, the white rice version has very little fibre and doesn't fill me up for long either. The brown rice version, I was pleasantly surprised.

    2. That could be it... I may have to drag out the sushi mats and have a go at a brown rice version myself. I've never seen it in any sushi places around here, that's for sure.

  2. We love sushi and make it at home ...the kids often go for sushi rather than other fast foods so I think its the lesser of the evils...

  3. Great blog Sara...With 5 Kids you would think we never had sushi but only 1 out of the 5 dont like it and often they choose over other fast foods. The kids love it when we have home made sushi which we like less rice more veg......

    1. I know.. I have to give it a go. I would also make it with more veg and protein and less rice. But then this defeats the whole 'fast meal' aspect.. :-/

  4. I love sushi - my favourites are fresh tuna and salmon and whilst high in calories, I think good fats and very satisfying

    1. And.. so few dishes when you are hauling ass to write an enormo uni assignment :D No cooking, no cleaning and not bad for the bod. Win win.

  5. Hi Sara, thanks for joining in the Fitness Friday blog hop :)

    Sushi is my go to takeaway meal when I'm desperate. Not perfect but better than loads of other options.

    I've just recently mastered making it myself, my kids love tunis nori rolls. I will definitely be trying a brown rice version next!

    1. Hi Kate, thanks for visiting Fit to Blog. I'm trying to figure out how to drop the blog hop HTML into a coming post. I've got a giveaway coming up and should put it in with that if I can figure it out.. :D (programming dunce over here..)

  6. I never used to like Sushi, but lately I actually enjoy the Teriyaki chicken ones from St Pierre's. I find 4-6 rolls is plenty for lunch... and interestingly, I don't feel hungry afterwards.
    I look on sushi as a better option than say ... a burger or chinese takeaways!
    Expalin what is wrong with red capsicums please! We eat them....

    1. I agree, at least the ingredients are usually recognisable! There is nothing wrong with capsicums but I'm allergic to them. ;) Between me and capsicums, it's a case of.. it's not you, it's me..:-/

  7. Yum I feel like sushi now! I haven't seen any sushi made with brown rice over here.

    I don't eat sushi as much as I used to as I take my lunch to work basically every day. But when I do, I usually get three of the large rolls. Yikes I hate to think how many is in all of that!


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