I hate to do this to my beloved sushi.
Sushi is my weekend-special occasion-something-badass-just-happened-in-life-let’s-go-celebrate-with-some-frigging-sushi best friend.
In general, sushi is a super healthy eating out option. Usually served with some veggies, rice and a hefty portion of deliciously lean protein, it couldn’t possibly make you gain weight, right?
Well I would be remiss, if I pretended like there weren’t some sushi dishes out there that are definitely worse than others.
That’s why I’m going to show you how to navigate yourself around the sushi menu to avoid ones that could make your culinary trip to Japan end up being an atom bomb of calories, and not all of them coming from healthy sources.
So, I’ve made a list of some of the most favorite, common rolls, how they stack up calorie-wise. Also, if weight loss is your goal, also have some tips on how you can still enjoy your sushi dinner and leave satisfied without being a stick in the mud for your dinner guests.
The Rolls to Watch For
To clarify, in this list, I am referring to one roll which is a serving and contains 6 pieces of sushi. A standard size of a sushi roll is about 2x2 inches in diameter. Here’s what to look out for:
Shrimp Tempura Roll - 508 calories
This roll is one of the highest in calories because, not only does it contain breaded and fried shrimp, it’s often topped with even MORE fried shrimp. To cap it off, this roll often has a generous drizzle of spicy mayo on top for extra flavor (and saturated fat).
Rainbow Roll - 478 calories
This one is a tricky one. On the one hand, yes it is high in calories, but that’s mainly because it’s packed with white rice and avocado, which is great for an athlete, if you’re in bulking season or just generally trying to gain weight. On the other hand, it’s higher in protein than most rolls (which is a plus) and these calories are coming from healthier sources than the other rolls on this list.
So, yes, the rainbow roll is high in calories, but also has a lot of nutrients. Just be sure if you’re eating it that it is consistent with your goals.
Dragon Roll - 454 calories
What makes this roll so explosive isn’t just its famously spicy tang, but the fact that it usually contains crispy and fried eel, a signature and sugary eel sauce and then topped with MORE crispy eel plus, of course, rice. Lots of tasty. Lots of no-no fat.
Philadelphia Roll - 320 calories
The Philadelphia name comes from the fact that this roll contains cream cheese and it doesn’t take a lot of that on a sushi roll to pump up the calorie count. Cream cheese, while fine in moderation, is also high in saturated fat which is no bueno for our heart health. I’d rather you opt for an avocado-stuffed roll instead.
California Roll - 225 calories
Probably the most popular mainstream sushi roll, especially for sushi virgins, it’s on the lower end of calories on this list. However, my knock against this one is that the California roll only contains seaweed, rice, avocado and imitation crab. So, don’t expect any omega-3s or other nutrients (and high-quality protein) from the raw fish you get in other rolls.
Navigating Your Sushi Menu
So, now that the bad news is out of the way (wow that hurt).
You don’t understand how much I love sushi.
But I have good news!
There are still plenty of sushi options or decisions you can make to keep your dinner from being astronomical in calorie cost. One great thing about sushi joints is that sushi is very versatile and Japanese flavors offer a lot of variety, so you can mix and match your choices without feeling deprived or limited with your sushi menu.
Here’s some of my suggested guidelines for your next sushi date:
-- Avoid rolls with terms in their menu descriptions that read “tempura,” “crispy” or “crunchy.”
This usually means that there are ingredients that have been breaded or fried which instantly spike the calorie count and likely contain some saturated or trans fats.
-- The term “spicy” on the menu usually means that spicy mayo has been added. If you're not familiar with spicy mayo, first off, I'm sorry. It's delicious.
BUT it is essentially a sauce made with mayo, sriracha and lime mixed together. Seeing as mayo is nearly 100% fat, consider the alternative of taking advantage of that complimentary side of wasabi for some spice.
If it’s extra flavor you want, pickled ginger is my favorite addition to my sushi rolls. Ginger also has the bonus benefit of containing health-boosting antioxidants!
Can ya girl mayo give you those? Don’t think so!
-- Use those chopsticks! Not only does it make you feel more authentic, but it can slow down your eating and really let you enjoy and be satisfied by your food rather than just shoveling it in your face with a fork.
-- Lower calorie rolls like the tuna roll, avocado roll and cucumber roll can allow you more options. Just be sure you’re getting some protein SOMEWHERE in the meal. This means that choosing rolls without all of the extra sauces and breading can allow you to have your other favorite dishes like dumplings.
-- As a reminder, one roll of sushi (or 6 pieces) is a serving. Also, each roll can have about a cup (or 200 calories) worth of white rice, so keep this in mind when you’re ordering!
As you can see, those calories can add up fast depending on what you order. If you’re worried about getting enough food to keep you full, order some miso soup, sesame salad or edamame as an appetizer before the rolls arrive.
-- Consider opting for sashimi! Sashimi is literally just plain raw fish sans the rice and seaweed, so this is as calorie-friendly as you can get and you can. Also, your protein queen is a champion for any dish that is going to satisfy your hunger with just traditional ol’ lean protein.
The bottom line? Given how creative sushi has gotten lately, I understand how it’s become a common misconception that it’s definitely not a diet food. However, when you strip away all of the excesses of sauces and fried crumbles of things, sushi is actually packed with a lot of healthful ingredients. You just have to know where to look.