Sushi: Health Benefits and Risks

“Irashaimase!” (ee-ra-shy-ma-seh) is the greeting of welcome you’ll hear upon entering most sushi restaurants. Irashaimase, indeed, to the world of modern Western sushi, a world in which you can find sushi restaurants in malls and airports and snatch grab-and-go bento boxes from the local supermarket.

As people try to eat more nutritiously and add fish rich in omega-3 to their diets, sushi continues to grow in popularity. The compact little rolls certainly look nutritious – rice, fish, veggies – but how healthy is it to eat sushi?


Sushi for beginners

The Japanese have eaten sushi for centuries, but the sushi we know today originated as a fast-food option in Edo, Japan, in the mid-19th century. People could eat it with their hands or carry it with them as they went to the theatre. Visit a sushi cart or restaurant today, and you’ll see two main kinds of rolls – nigiri and maki. Nigiri consists of a mound of vinegared rice topped with a dab of hot horseradish wasabi and a slab of fish, crab, egg, or other topping. A small, thin bamboo mat is used to roll maki, a cylinder of rice wrapped in nori seaweed with a morsel of fish or other filling in the middle.

The health benefits of sushi

Sushi comes in such a staggering variety that many menus offer a pictorial glossary to help you order. Because of this diversity, the nutritional value of one roll to the next can vary. In general, fish provides a lean source of low-calorie, high quality protein. It’s also low in saturated fats and cholesterol, making it a heart-healthy food choice. Salmon is especially high in omega-3 fatty acids, which are linked to improved cholesterol levels, lowered blood pressure, and decreased risk of abnormal heart rhythms. Mackerel, lake trout, herring, and tuna also have omega oomph.

The thin sheets of seaweed, or nori, which are flattened, cut, and wrapped around maki and hand rolls, contain mighty minerals. Iodine, essential for proper hormone function, is abundant in this dried sea vegetable. You’ll also get the benefit of magnesium, calcium, iron, and antioxidant phytonutrients and folic acid from eating rolls wrapped in nori.

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