What to Order at the Sushi Counter
Fish and rice – a seemingly healthy meal, right? Beware: The hidden calories in sushi can quickly add up, but not if you follow these easy tips.
Many people view sushi as a delicious light lunch or dinner, but depending on what you order, this Japanese-style fish-focused meal can also spell diet disaster if you’re not careful. “Sushi is a generally a healthy choice, but it can be deceptive,” says nutritionist New York City dietitian and health coach Allison Tanenbaum. “Certain rolls can have upwards of 500 to 1,000 calories.” To avoid busting your diet when you dine on sushi, follow these simple rules.
Make Moderation Your Mindset
“Follow the old adage, ‘moderation is key,'” says Jeffery Lunak, vice president of culinary at Blue C Sushi in Seattle. “Sushi is meant to be about a few simple, beautifully harvested ingredients put together in perfect balance, and not hidden behind heavy sauces or gravies like a lot of other cuisines.” It’s also ideal for sharing, which is why Lunak recommends sampling small amounts of several items, such as a few pieces of different maki rolls, a couple of ounces of rice pristine raw fish, miso soup, grilled protein, and a little bit of vegetable. “Have a few items, but in smaller portions,” he says.
Start With Edamame
According to both of our experts, edamame is a perfect low-calorie, high-protein appetizer to start with, especially if you request the shelled soybeans to come only lightly salted or skip the salt altogether. “Sushi is going to be a pretty high sodium meal in general,” says Tanenbaum, so it’s important to look for ways to cut the sodium level down when you can.
Pick a Soup or Salad
It’s also wise to begin your meal on a small fiber-rich veggie-filled green salad (ask for ginger dressing on the side), an antioxidant-packed seaweed salad, or cup of miso soup with broth and tofu and vegetables. Though the soup and even seaweed are high in sodium, they’re still lighter options that will fill you up and help pace your meal so that you don’t overeat. (Just be sure to sip plenty of water throughout to help flush out all that salt.)
Sip Green Tea
Speaking of drinks, Tanenbaum points to green tea as your best beverage bet at the sushi bar. “A hot green tea goes well with sushi and is filled with antioxidants,” she says. As in any dining out situation, if you’re going to order alcohol, try to stick to just one drink and skip the list of sugary special cocktails – just one could cost you 400 calories or more! – in favor of something lighter – like one glass of white wine.
Go Easy on the Rice
White rice is one of the sneakiest calorie culprits on sushi menus. “Luckily, the average sushi place is a little more progressive in offering wider array of options,” says Lunak, who says that it’s pretty standard to find brown rice (for the whole grains) or even quinoa available as options in your sushi rolls. Or, do as Tanenbaum does, and “Ask for your sushi rolls to be made with half the usual amount of rice,” a request any sushi chef should be willing to oblige.
Stick With Sashimi
A few pieces of protein-packed sashimi (raw fish) — about 25 calories a piece — are among your healthiest bets at the sushi counter. Tanenbaum suggests you skip having your sashimi served on beds of rice, which she says can cause you to eat an entire cup’s worth of rice without noticing. With raw anything, cautions Lunak, you should ask about the quality of your fish to be sure you’re getting a safe and tasty product. His tip is simple: “Just ask your server or chef where the fish is sourced from and if there’s a focus on sustainability. If they can answer right away, you’re probably in a good place.”
Skip the Spicy Mayo
“Be careful with menu items that say ‘spicy,’ like a spicy tuna roll,” says Tanenbaum, because it usually means it contains a heavy spicy mayonnaise sauce. If you do want your food to have a kick, she recommends using wasabi instead of the spicy mayo sauce, and ginger to add another level of flavor when you take each bite. Remember, too, that some rolls (such as eel rolls) are served with a sugary, thickened soy-based brown sauce, which can help pack on the calories quickly.
Be Smart About Soy
Soy sauce is usually right in front of you at the sushi counter, and it’s okay to dip into it — but sparingly. “Low-sodium soy sauce is a pretty standard offering nowadays,” says Lunak. “Some places even do their own ‘home brew’ by taking a regular or low sodium soy sauce and combining it with kombu, a sea vegetable, and water to thin it even more.”
Beware of Fried
With so many delectable options on a sushi menu, it’s easy to steer clear of the items you know will be fried in a fattening batter (and are also typically served with a heavy sauce). Avoid anything made “tempura,” for instance, but also be on the lookout for “crunchy” sushi rolls as well. “Or if you want to have a few pieces of tempura or a special crunchy roll,” says Lunak, “then go ahead, but keep the rest of your meal light.”