Food and Nutrition

How to Choose Low-Calorie Sushi

| by Mitzi Dulan

Sushi has become quite a popular food trend in the US. It’s hard to go a few blocks in any area without seeing a sushi restaurant, usually packed on Friday and Saturday nights with diners, and busy with takeout orders throughout the week. Many like to go for sushi before a night out and drinking, thinking that it’s “light fare.” But those tasty little rolls, if you’re not careful, can quickly add up in the calorie department. One California roll (8 pieces consisting of imitation crab, cucumber, avocado, rice, & seaweed) has over 250 calories. So what do you do when you’re craving sushi? Keep these tips in mind to enjoy a “light fare” sushi meal:

What Ingredients to Look for in Rolls:

  1. Avocado: provides healthy monounsaturated fats to keep you feeling full and satisfied
  2. Fish: look for tuna, salmon, yellowtail, shrimp, & lobster that is raw, grilled, or cooked to provide filling protein and healthy omega-3’s
  3. Cucumber & Carrot: these veggies will fill the roll without piling on the calories
  4. Mango: some rolls are topped with fresh fruit such as mango – what a great, sneaky way to get fruit into your dinner!
  5. Squash & Sweet Potato: often these veggies will be the main event for veggie rolls. This is a great option to score in more veggies and antioxidants

What to Avoid in Rolls:

  1. Tempura: anything tempura has been battered and deep-fried. Avoid rolls with tempura-based proteins/veggies to prevent excess calories and trans fats. (6 pieces of a shrimp tempura roll has around 544 calories!)
  2. Crunchies/flakes/crispy flakes: these words just mean small bits of tempura inside or on top of the roll
  3. Mayonnaise & Spicy Mayo: these spreads add extra calories and saturated fat


Other Options to Consider:

1. Sashimi: this is fresh raw seafood usually sliced into very thin pieces. This is a great option to get the protein and omega 3’s from fish without all the rice, tempura, and mayo

2. Hand Rolls: these are large cone-shaped pieces of nori (edible seaweed) with the same ingredients as regular inside-out sushi but often contain less rice. Another bonus- they are easier and less messy to eat.

What to ask For:

  1. Brown Rice: more and more sushi restaurants are offering the option to substitute the traditional white sticky sushi rice for brown rice. Don’t be afraid to ask the waiter or waitress for this substitution even if this option is not presented on the menu. Brown rice might cost more but it will provide more health benefits and fiber.
  2. Cucumber/Soy Paper: If you want to avoid rice altogether, look for rolls that are wrapped in cucumber or soy paper. These rolls are becoming more popular menu items. If the restaurant doesn’t have any, ask the waiter or waitress if you can substitute the rice for cucumber or soy paper.
  3. Sauce/Spicy Mayo/Tempura Flakes & Crunchies on the side: if you don’t want to eat sushi without the crunch of the tempura flakes or the taste of the spicy mayos, ask for such items on the side instead of on the roll. That way you can control the portion you eat.


Keep these tips in mind next time you want to go out for a “light” sushi meal.

Research Assistance provided by Marsi Shapiro