As a born-and-raised Kansas girl, I didn’t get into sushi until slightly later in life. It took me a few tries to acquire a taste for it, and a few more tries to be able to eat sashimi, but now it’s one of those special meals I truly enjoy. Plus, sushi seems healthy. It’s one more way to get some fish in my diet, it tastes fresh and light and it’s oh-so-filling. Cue the music that something bad is coming — dun dun DUN.
As with everything fishy, you have to watch out for mercury, and a recent study in the Journal of Risk Research suggests that regularly eating sushi can post a significant risk to people from increased mercury exposure. The negative effects of mercury go beyond the known neurodevelopmental deficits and poorer cognitive performance. High mercury exposure is also linked to increased rates of cardiovascular disease — a big negative for those who eat fish to get heart-healthy omega-3s. Further, higher levels of methylmercury can be detrimental to the positive effects of omega-3 fatty acids, which are known to reduce cholesterol levels and the risk of some cancers and heart disease. It’s disheartening that any benefit you may get from eating a “healthy protein” like fish might be negated by the negative effects of mercury.
By looking at how much fish and sushi study participants were eating, and collecting and analyzing sushi samples for mercury levels, researchers estimated that some of the frequent sushi eaters exceeded safe levels of mercury exposure. So do you need to put down the chopsticks? Not necessarily. But there are a few ways to make sure your sushi is good for you. Because besides mercury, sushi can go bad in a hurry; when you start frying the fish or adding cream cheese, its “healthy” designation gets revoked. Read on for ways to make your next sushi excursion healthy, from mercury and beyond.
7 Ways To Make Sushi Healthier 1 of 8
Check in with these seven tips to make sure your next sushi adventure is as healthy as possible!
Frequency Matters 2 of 8
In the study, tuna sashimi was found to contain the highest levels of methylmercury in fish sushi based on U.S. samples. If you eat fish or fish-sushi less than monthly, choosing fish based on mercury content is probably not that important, researchers say. But if you eat it frequently (more than weekly), you should choose your fish wisely. If you're in that category, researchers recommend you skip tuna and opt for salmon instead.
Photo credit: adactio, Flickr
Plan Before You Go 3 of 8
If you're heading to a sushi restaurant, check out the list of fish highest in mercury and make notes on what to order — and avoid. Salmon, shrimp, squid, crab and scallops are all considered lower in mercury according to the Natural Resources Defense Council. Tuna, sea bass, swordfish and mackerel are considered high in mercury. Plus, sushi menus can be complicated, so it doesn't hurt to check out the offerings beforehand so you can do some research on healthy items.
Photo credit: Jennie Faber, Flickr
Skip The Rolls 4 of 8
If you're looking to cut calories, opt out of rolls and go for sashimi or nigiri. Because sashimi is just a strip of raw fish and nigiri is raw fish over rice, you're avoiding all of the extra calories rolls bring.
Photo credit: adactio, Flickr
When Rolling… 5 of 8
If you're going for rolls, go heavier on the veggies and light on the rice. Likewise, go easy on anything fried or stuffed with cream cheese.
Photo credit: slgckgc, Flickr
Go For Brown 6 of 8
Whether you're making sushi yourself or going out for it, ask for brown rice instead of the white for extra whole grain bang for your nutritional buck. While you're at it, you can request that they go light on rice altogether.
Photo credit: zackzen, Flickr
Make Your Own 7 of 8
A recent news article showed that fish are often mislabeled, with sushi restaurants being the most likely offenders. Grocery stores were the most likely to sell fish honestly, so making your own sushi is one of the best ways to make sure your fish is what you want it to be.
Photo credit: jespahjoy, Flickr
Get Spicy 8 of 8
Wasabi isn't just there for looking pretty, it can add a kick with health benefits! According to one wasabi expert, wasabi suppresses a bacterium responsible for many stomach-related diseases, such as gastric inflammation and maybe even stomach cancer. Some have promoted it as a means to prevent food poisoning, which is one of the reasons it's served with raw fish. So go for the wasabi if you can handle the heat!
Photo credit: Carlos Gracia, Flickr
Also from Erin: