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The Healthiest Choices at the Sushi Bar

You’d think you can’t go wrong with fresh fish, but some sushi dishes are loaded with fat, calories, and refined carbs. Order smart with this guide.

When you’re constantly told to eat more omega-3-rich fish, sushi sounds like an ideal weight-loss dinner. But whether you dine in or call for takeout, consider these words of caution: If you’re not careful, sushi can be high in calories, fat, and simple carbs, not to mention sodium, thanks to soy sauce and certain marinades. You don’t have to avoid sushi, but you also don’t want to be blindsided by seemingly healthy dishes that derail your diet. Here’s how to choose healthy sushi options every time your craving hits.

Start With an Appetizer

One of the best things about sushi is that many appetizer options are great diet choices. Try a broth-based soup or a small portion of edamame before you go on a “roll.” Nutrition expert Tina Ruggiero, MS, RD, LD, says the list of positive attributes for the young soybean is long. Soft enough to be eaten raw, right out of the pod, soybeans are rich in protein, fiber, and micronutrients, specifically folic acid, manganese, and vitamin K. Edamame is a power food that may even help reduce the risk for cancer, according to research from Vanderbilt University on more than 73,000 Chinese women that looked at its beneficial effect on preventing breast cancer.

Eating an appetizer may also help you avoid overeating because spreading your meal into smaller portions over a period of time will give your stomach a chance to tell you brain that you’re getting full.

Choose the Right Type of Roll

Consider all the ingredients in a dish when making choices for your main course. Shari is actually the term for the sticky rice and vinegar base of individual pieces and rolls, which forms the base for all forms of traditional sushi. The shari can be topped with raw seafood, forming a dish called nigiri sushi, which is rich in protein and other nutrients. Maki rolls — fish with vegetables and rice wrapped in seaweed — can also be a healthy choice, depending on what exactly is within that wrapper .

There are certain red flags to watch for when making your selections from the sushi menu. To limit added fat and calories, avoid rolls made with batter-dipped and fried tempura items, both fish and vegetables, such as the spider roll with its deep-fried crab. Ask about ingredients in any nigiri or roll described as “spicy” because that can be code for high-calorie chili oil and fatty mayonnaise. Shrimp-based Boston rolls often also get a smear of spicy sauce or mayonnaise, so stay away if you’re on a diet, or simply ask them to hold the mayo. Another diet detour: Salmon-filled Philadelphia rolls have a slab of fatty cream cheese. Watch out for creamy sauces that might artfully decorate the serving plates on fancier combination “fusion” style rolls, which can add extra calories.

Besides eliminating weight-loss busters, you can also boost the nutrient value of your sushi by asking for brown rice instead of white rice — you’ll be ordering up fiber and antioxidants. Choose rolls with added vegetables, such as cucumber and carrots. Even calorie-rich avocado has heart-healthy fats that make it a plus. Instead of salty soy sauce, enhance your sushi with wasabi and ginger. Both have antibacterial qualities, and ginger is known for aiding digestion.

Fish With Caution

As delicious and nutritious as sushi can be, there are growing general concerns about the safety of the fish itself. Pay attention to the amount of tuna, swordfish, and mackerel you eat because they’re known to have higher levels of mercury than other types. Small amounts of mercury may not be harmful for most healthy people, but it can cause damage to the nervous system of unborn babies and young children. For this reason, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency advise pregnant women and young children to limit albacore (white) tuna to less than 6 ounces each week and total fish consumption to less than 12 ounces per week (2 meals); consuming swordfish, mackerel, tilefish, and shark is discouraged altogether because of their excessive mercury content.

Adding fish and shellfish to a well-balanced diet is beneficial to overall health, just one more reason to visit your local sushi spot. Ruggiero points out that nearly all fish are an excellent source of lean protein, and fish such as salmon, tuna, halibut, and sardines are prime sources of omega-3 fatty acids, specifically eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). “A diet that includes these fish may help reduce inflammation and decrease your risk of cardiovascular disease,” she adds. “The omega-3 fatty acids found in fish are also essential for brain and eye development.”

By ordering carefully, you can make the most of your calories, feel full and satisfied, and eat a heart-healthy meal.

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