Food & Nutrition

5 Dishes You Should Avoid (and the 5 You Should Order) at Sushi Restaurants

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Sushi can be one of the healthiest options when dining out. A mix of omega-3-rich fish, whole grains, and fresh vegetables leave little room for error—right? Wrong. As virtuous as the popular Japanese delicacy can be, sushi can easily turn into a major calorie and sodium bomb.

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The official recommendation for seafood consumption from both the 2015 Dietary Guidelines and the American Heart Association is to eat fish at least twice weekly—at least 8 oz. total. As such, sushi is a great way to hit your weekly fish quota when ordered strategically. The key is to stick to lean fish, sub for brown rice, keep sauces sparse, and vegetables plentiful. Here, we help you navigate the sushi menu so you can order a nutrient-rich meal with confidence.


1. Tempura Rolls

Menu items that say “crispy” or “crunchy” are often code for battered and fried. Usually prepared with shrimp or soft-shell crab, these rolls tend to be high in calories, saturated fat, and sodium—not to mention soggy when not consumed fresh. If you crave the crunch, ask that scallions or cucumbers be added to your roll.

2. Spicy Mayo and Aioli’s

Creamy sauces are one of the easiest ways to drive calories and saturated fat through the roof. Not only do these sauces take away from the inherent freshness of the fish, but they’re also one of the least traditional accouterments to sushi. There are plenty of other more nutritious flavor-enhancers available; fresh ginger, wasabi, or even a dash of lower-sodium soy sauce can add big flavor for minimal calories.

3. Cream Cheese Rolls

If you ask me, cream cheese belongs on a bagel with lox – not wrapped in rice and seaweed. If you crave the creaminess, request avocado be added to your roll of choice.

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4. Soy Sauce

One tablespoon of soy sauce boasts a whopping 900mg sodium (almost 40% your daily recommended intake). Most sushi restaurants have lower-sodium soy sauce available upon request, though this should still be used conservatively, as most brands still have around 500mg sodium per tablespoon.

5. Imitation Crab

Go fresh or go home (or to Wendy’s, I suppose?). Often used in California rolls or crab salad toppings, imitation crab is a form of processed seafood made of starch and pulverized white fish. Manufacturers often add fillers, flavoring, and color to mimic the taste, texture and color of crabmeat. I’ll pass.


1. Soup or Salad

To make sushi more satisfying, start your meal with miso soup, a mixed green salad (ginger dressing on the side, please), or a seaweed salad. Edible seaweeds are rich in fiber, protein, both fat-soluble and B-vitamins, minerals (particularly calcium, iron, copper, magnesium, and iodine), and bioactive phenolic compounds.

2. Sashimi

Sashimi is thinly sliced raw fish (basically sushi sans rice). Ask the sushi chef what’s fresh or what they recommend, or just go for salmon or tuna sashimi — two fail-proof options.

3. Brown Rice

Swapping white rice for brown allows you to slip in a few servings of whole grains while boosting the fiber content of your sushi roll. Most restaurants offer brown rice for a slight upcharge (typically $ 1-$ 2 per roll).

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4. Cucumber or seaweed wrapped rolls

Alternatively, ask that your roll be wrapped in cucumber or seaweed to keep both calories and carbohydrates in check. This is also a great hack if you’re looking to enjoy more than one roll, but don’t want to fill up on loads of rice.

5. Salmon or tuna rolls

Get the biggest nutritional bang for your buck by selecting sushi that includes salmon and/or tuna. Not only are they both rich in quality protein and essential nutrients — both contain a considerable amount of omega-3 fatty acids.

6. RD favorite roll: Salmon Avocado Roll (with brown rice)

Packed with fiber, protein and heart-healthy fats, this one is both satisfying and delicious. Pile on scallions, pickled ginger, and wasabi for extra flavor and crunch, and skip the sodium-loaded sauces. And in lieu of ordering a second roll, pair it with edamame, a seaweed salad, or Japanese vegetables. And maybe some sake.

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