I celebrated my birthday with one of my favorite meals- a Sushi Dinner with family and friends! Believe it or not, this traditional Japanese meal was not a staple in our household growing up! In fact I didn’t venture into the world of sushi until college. My initial sushi experiences were from a varying array of restaurants, everything from a Villanova budget-friendly student favorite “Sushi-land” to high-end Philadelphia Morimoto restaurant, run by the Iron Chef himself!
I became a big fan of sushi because it was fun to share on a date or with friends, tasted deliciously light and airy and I could leave feeling satiated yet not sluggish and too full. Done right, sushi can be one of the tastiest healthy meal options offered for your date night, take-out, or birthday celebration!
A little background…
Scientists believe that sushi could be one of the reasons why the Japanese are among the healthiest people in the world! Sushi actually originated as one of the earliest fast-food options in the 1800s Japan. People could take it with them and eat it on the go. The fish was literally taken straight from the bay, it was so fresh that there was no need to ferment or preserve it! Now we have modern advances in refrigeration and shipping that allow people all over the world to enjoy this traditional dish!
Sushi can be delicious or nasty, nutritious or the equivalent of junk food! Traditional sushi rolls have a great mix of fresh fish, crunchy vegetables and white rice rolled with nori, dried sea vegetable. There are many new roll variations that have made their way into mainstream, some good and some bad. Below is a guide to the best and worst options at your local sushi bar.
- NORI is a type of seaweed that many consider a superfood! Its concentrated mineral content has made it a staple in the Japanese diet. It’s also loaded with vitamins A, B-6, minerals like iodine and proteins that reduce blood pressure and improve heart health. Nori also has magnesium, calcium, iron and antioxidant phytonutrients and folic acid.
- GINGER, usually pink or white and pickled, is an optional topping served with your sushi roll. Ginger is an antimicrobial and antiviral agent that aids in digestion and has been linked to a number of other therapeutic remedies. It’s even been linked to easing flatulence…good option!
- RICE is a staple in the Japanese diet, and can be a great source of energy and a fiber-filled addition to your sushi. Whole grain brown rice can usually be substituted for more fiber and nutrients! Brown rice will also cause less of a blood sugar spike than white rice.
- FRESH FISH is high in protein, Omega 3 fatty acids (necessary for a healthy brain) and Vitamin D! Whether you choose a raw (see below) or cooked version, fish & shellfish has shown to be a beneficial addition to your diet when eaten in moderation- aim for 12 oz. (2-3 servings) per week.
- WASABI is thought to cleanse the palate. This spicy green paste contains antioxidants and isothiocyanates, don’t try to pronounce it, just know it’s been linked to prevent tooth decay!
- TEMPURA is just a fancy name for battered and deep-fried in hot oil. , so kiss your light and airy departure good-bye. Try to skip ordering Tempura all together, but if you can’t help yourself, eat these rolls sparingly.
- CRUNCHY rolls are not named these because of their multiple fresh vegetable ingredients (nice try). The “crunch” is actually deep fried onions sprinkled on top, so think French fry or onion ring when you see this option.
- SPICY SAUCE is usually an indication that mayonnaise has been mixed with some hot chili sauce. A dollop the size of a pencil eraser should do, but avoid slathering this sauce on (I learned this the hard way, as the aforementioned Sushi-land had a wonderful spicy sauce).
- SOY SAUCE can be loaded with sodium. Experts suggest diluting your regular soy sauce with half water. This is the best option of reducing your sodium. You can also try the soy sauce with a green-cap, which is low-sodium. This option will have less sodium but added chemicals.
- IMITATION CRABMEAT or “surimi” is actually just a combination of Alaskan Pollock, a white fish (but can also be mackerel, barracuda, blue whiting and cod) that has been formed and colored to look like crab legs. While it is still real fish and a good source of complete protein, it’s also loaded with artificial flavor and preservatives and a LOT of sodium! All of this extra processing puts imitation crab pretty low on the list of healthiest options at the sushi restaurant.
Since when is it ok to eat raw fish and shellfish?!
Eating raw seafood is nothing new; people have been doing it since the beginning of time. Does that make it good for us? Our world has definitely changed in the last few centuries, and environmental contamination is a legitimate issue when it comes to selecting the fish you eat. Mercury, a neurotoxin, contamination is one of the most common concerns. I always refer to the FDA’s brochure that covers the mercury levels in seafood options and gives advice on which fish or shellfish to choose. Large, predatory fish (like shark, swordfish, king mackerel, and tilefish) tend to have the highest mercury levels. Tuna has moderate levels of mercury, so eat in moderation. Most health organizations agree that the health benefits of fish and shellfish outweigh the risks of mercury exposure.
If raw fish or shellfish freaks you out, there are plenty of other options to try- cooked shrimp, sweet potato, or vegetable rolls are always offered on the menu. Some kinds of sushi include uncooked fish, but safe and reputable chefs use only fish that have been frozen. The deep freeze will kill off parasites, rendering the fish safer to consume. However, the deep freezing will not kill bacteria, it will only stop or slow down its growth until the temperature warms up again. Eating raw fish inherently comes with an increased risk of foodborne illness compared to eating cooked fish.
**Young children, pregnant women, and women planning to get pregnant are advised to minimize their consumption of these fish known to have high levels of mercury. For more information, check out the FDA’s guide for Pregnant Women and Parents.
Hope our Sushi Survival Guide helps you at your next night out!
Live your WHOLE life,
Shannon + Meg
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