Piles of scientific studies continue to show that fish is an incredible source of heart-strengthening, inflammation-reducing, cognition-boosting, life-lengthening nutrients, but the question remains—is sushi a good choice when trying to lose weight?
When it comes to low-calorie restaurant ordering and takeout, Japanese cuisine is one of your safest bets—it favors fish, vegetables, and greens from both the land and the sea (like algae), fermented foods, and plain steamed rice. In other words, Japanese dishes often consist of a range of simply prepared healthy light ingredients. Sushi is no exception—if ordered in its simplest form, which means when it’s not adorned with glazes, sauces, or breading, it is a great choice for a weight loss diet.
However, some rolls come laced with mayo and cream cheese, and without any real meat, so they offer very little by way of nutrition. Check out our sushi roll nutrition breakdowns below, and find out which sushi rolls you should order for weight loss, and which sushi rolls you should avoid. All nutrition info is based on 6-8 pieces. (Plus, find out where to get The Best Sushi in Every State.)
Shrimp Tempura Roll
Ingredients: Nori, rice, shrimp, tempura batter, oil for frying
Why take a perfectly good piece of lean shrimp and ruin it with a thick batter and a hot oil bath? The joy of fried food—the crunch—is snuffed out by the moist rice, so this one doesn’t make sense from either a flavor or nutritional perspective. If you want to lose weight and keep artery-clogging fat off your plate, steer clear of this menu item.
Eel and Avocado Roll
Ingredients: Nori, rice, avocado, eel
Eel brings a solid helping of omega-3s to the sushi bar, but unfortunately, it’s almost always covered in a gloppy, sugary brown sauce that masks both the nutrition and the delicate natural flavor of this wily sea creature. If you opt for this roll, make it your only one of the night
Ingredients: Nori, rice, salmon, cream cheese, cucumber
The cream cheese blankets the perfectly fine cucumber and omega-3-packed salmon with an unnecessary measure of fat. This roll isn’t your best bet if you’re looking to lose weight, but if you decide to indulge, order it with a miso soup and call it a night. Opting for another fat-laden roll or calorie-packed appetizer isn’t in your best interest.
Spicy Tuna Roll
Ingredients: Nori, rice, tuna, mayo, chili sauce
In the world of sushi, “spicy” means a spoonful of mayo spiked with an Asian chili sauce. The calorie counts can climb higher than this, depending on how heavy a hand the sushi chef has with the spicy stuff. Either way, you’re better off ordering a plain tuna roll and satisfying your need for heat with a touch of wasabi or asking for the spicy sauce on the side.
Ingredients: Nori, rice, avocado, surimi, plus a variety of raw fish arranged on top
Sure, this roll is higher in calories than most, but it’s loaded with substantial portions of raw fish, so most of those calories are the good kind. For a superior Rainbow Roll, ask the sushi chef to make it with real crab. They may charge a bit more, but the flavor punch and extra flab-frying protein make it a worthy upgrade. Looking to slim down? Pair this roll with an order of steamed edamame and call it a day. A second roll would push you far beyond the reasonable amount of calories for a single meal.
Ingredients: Nori, rice, avocado, surimi
The ubiquitous fusion roll is a great beginner’s foray into the world of sushi since there’s no raw fish involved. There are also no real healthy fats, either—aside from the avocado, of course—since the fake crab (made from a variety of processed and compressed fish) has just a fraction of omega-3s as the real stuff. To make this roll more worth your while, ask for real crab instead.
Ingredients: Nori, rice, avocado
Most of the calories in this vegetarian roll come from the healthy monounsaturated fats in the avocado—one of our favorite fat-frying superfruits. An avocado provides nearly 20 vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients essential for healthy weight management, including satiating fiber and vitamin K, a nutrient that helps regulate sugar metabolism and insulin sensitivity.
Ingredients: Nori, rice, cucumber
It’s hard to go wrong with cucumbers and seaweed. Though not a nutritional powerhouse, cucumbers are a low-calorie delivery system for vitamins A and C, fiber and silica, a compound that has been shown to foster healthy skin. Get this roll along with an order of yakitori—skewers of grilled lean meats and veggies—for a complete, nutritious meal.
Salmon and Avocado Roll
Ingredients: Nori, rice, salmon, avocado
Sure, it’s high in calories, but nearly all of them come from the one-two punch of healthy fats found in both the salmon and avocado—a fruit that can help lower blood pressure, banish bloat, quell hunger pangs and fry stubborn belly fat.
Ingredients: Nori, rice, tuna
More than half of the calories in this simple, classic roll come from protein, making it a great light meal or a snack with substance. Plus, tuna is a primo source of docosahexaenoic acid, a type of omega-3 fat found in oily fish that can down-regulate fat genes in the abdomen, preventing belly fat cells from growing larger. Sounds like a good reason to place an order of the Japanese staple to us!
Read more about the health benefits of fish: