how to choose healthy sushi
Penelope Wilson
Penelope Wilson
July 7, 2023 ·  3 min read

Sushi may contain parasites and heavy metals: These are the best and worst rolls to eat

Sushi is one of those foods that marketed as super healthy – or at least, a healthy alternative to your everyday white bread sandwich. But if you look at the ingredients and the way sushi is made, there isn’t a lot of healthy choice out there.

I mean, it’s one thing to go to a fancy Japanese sushi restaurant, but it’s quite another to get your sushi from where most people get it: To-Go Sushi joints and supermarket stations.

Sushi: The Bad


So let’s get to the bad stuff. Sushi is made in a certain way.

  1. Namely, with short grain, white rice. This rice is highly processed and a simple carbohydrate. This results in spikes in blood sugar which coincide with the sugar crash afterward. This means you end up craving food shortly after you just finished lunch. To make matters worse, the rice is made “sticky” by combing 1 tbsp. of sugar and 1 tbsp. of rice vinegar to every cup of rice. That’s what makes it so tasty. There’s also between 1/2 a cup and 1 cup of rice in each sushi roll (about 2 pieces of bread). That’s a lot of sugar.
  2. Sushi is actually low in protein. Compared to how many carbs you get in a bite of sushi, your protein intake is limited when you actually look at the make-up of a sushi roll. Plus, few sushi rolls contain enough omega-3s.
  3. Sushi is really high in sodium. Between the rice vinegar and the soy sauce (and sometimes the processed crab!) there can be upwards of 1000mg of sodium in one sushi roll.
  4. Sushi can carry food-borne illness when it’s not prepared properly.
  5. Certain types of fish carry a high likelihood of parasites and can expose you to heavy metals.

Sushi: The Good


So you don’t want to kick sushi out of your diet. I hear ya. I’m with ya. There are things you can do to improve your sushi.

  1. Swap over to brown rice instead of white. More fiber means brown rice are a) complex carbs and b) more filling. So you won’t get the crash or experience the hunger that follows from regular sushi. If you can’t get sushi with brown rice, take off about half.
  2. Swap out your soy sauce for tamari sauce. This is a lower sodium and wheat (gluten) free option for those of you who are gluten sensitive.
  3. Drop anything that has a “sauce” in it. No “spicy” rolls, nothing with a teriyaki sauce. These are mostly sugar and/or mayo with some spice thrown in. Also, drop any “cream cheese” or “creamy rolls” from your repertoire. And this is a no-brainer, but: no tempura rolls!
  4. Move into sashimi territory. Sashimi is the sushi which comes with no rice, just the slabs of raw fish. If you get them in salmon or tuna (high protein, good fats) they’re delicious.
  5. Make it at home. Use lake-caught, or sea-caught fish to limit exposure to heavy metals. You can add kimchi for added spice (and it’s anti-parasitic abilities), wasabi for extra flavor, and ginger for those cancer-busting benefits.
  6. If you suffer from low stomach acid levels (surprisingly common!) take an HCl supplement. This will help prevent acid reflux, and help better battle any low contamination in your fish.

Sushi: Worst to Best.

Young Girl with sushi in hands near eyes

9. The worst type of roll for you is… Crunchy or tempura rolls! The thick batter and frying add unhealthy fats, and add processed foods.

8. The unagi/eel sauce rolls: the eel is often smoked with a high sodium content. And the primary ingredients in sauce are soy sauce (sodium) and sugar.

7. Cream cheese rolls, processed, processed, processed. And fat. And unlikely to be grass fed. Just take a pass.

6. Creamy rolls, full of processed sugars, fats, and empty calories.

5. Spicy rolls, that spicy sauce is chili paste and mayo, my friends.

4. Rolls without sauce: the California roll, so long is the crab is actually crab.

3. Rolls with brown rice instead of traditional white sushi rice: extra fiber, no sugar crash!

2. Vegetable rolls such as cucumber, asparagus or avocado rolls. Veggies, need I say more?

1. The best is sashimi! Fresh raw fish like salmon, tuna or trout. Cut properly, these can melt in your mouth like butter.

Final Thoughts

Sushi can be plenty healthy, so long as you follow the 6 rules above. It’s fun to make at home and my kids love to help me make it.

Anything else you want to know about? Sound off in the comments!