About a year ago I lived with one of the most eccentric, silly, beautifully unique individuals I will probably ever live with in my entire life; her name is Taylor and one day there will be a movie about her life.
Besides being a personal assistant turned chef, (cooking 50 salads in the kitchen on a regular day), being a raging partier yet classy socialite, this girl made sushi EVERY SINGLE NIGHT of the week.
And no, she was not Asian.
My former roomate taught me a lot about sushi. It was easy to eat sushi and stay on track when she made it at home because I knew how much of everything she used.
However, eating sushi at restaurants makes eating sushi for fat loss much more difficult.
But, where there’s passion (for sushi) and drive (for fat loss) you *can* make it work!
It took me about 18 years to have the guts to try sushi, about two bites to become obsessed and about five hours to try and figure out how to track it.
Sometimes (for fat loss’s sake) I wish I never knew sushi existed…
…Just kidding I have no regrets.
I have, however, pondered many a time how exactly to make it fit into my nutrition guidelines.
I often wonder:
How much rice am I eating per roll?
How many calories should I track?
Is one roll all I can eat on a diet?
What is the best roll to have?
When is a good time to eat sushi?
Is sushi a cheat meal?
Have you wondered the same?
The thing is, sushi can be whatever you want it to be.
I do not believe any food is inherently good or bad, however just like any other restaurant, you have choices to make with the options provided and some choices will bode well for fat loss; others will not.
Imagine your “Average Neighborhood Bar & Grill” restaurant: you could go there and get the fried onion rings with a burger and sweet potato fries, or you could go and get a grilled chicken breast with seasonal veggies, right?
The same thing goes for sushi.
Make sure you see sushi as a regular restaurant with plenty of healthy options. Understand that sushi can provide very high volume, low calorie meals or low volume, high calorie meals. It is up to you to make smart choices!
25 Fat loss tips for eating sushi and staying on track:
1. Before your sushi lunch or dinner, have a good idea of how much you have eaten that day. Whether you are counting calories or tracking meals and snacks make sure you know how much you need to eat. In example, if you are tracking calories you can definitely know you have either 400, 500, 300 or 200 calories to go for the day. Armed with this information you can better pick your meal structure (see #3).
2. Decide ahead of time if you are going to have a cocktail.
3. If the answer is “no” to the cocktail, have one of these combinations for a meal:
- two “basic rolls” + soup + small house salad
- basic roll + “basic plus roll”+ soup OR salad
- basic roll + nigiri rolls + soup + salad OR edamame
- “Fancy Roll” + soup + salad
- “Fancy Roll” + Nigiri (#alltheprotein)
Basic Roll [CROF Definition]: a six piece sushi roll with only rice and fish.
Basic Plus Roll [CROF Definition]: a sushi roll with fish, rice and avocado or cream cheese
Fancy Roll [CROF Definition]: a sushi roll with special sauces, more than one type of fish, avocado or cream cheese (or both), and added fish or roe to the top of the roll.
4. If the answer is “yes” to a cocktail, have on of these combinations with the cocktail:
- basic roll + soup + salad
- basic plus roll + soup or salad
- nigiri (3-5 pieces) + soup + salad (light dressing)
- Fancy Roll (no cream cheese)
- Fancy roll in cucumber wrap + soup +salad
- Soup + salad + edamame +2 nigiri
- 2 basic rolls, one in cucumber wrap.
5. Ask if the restaurant can wrap the roll you want in cucumber wrapping. My favorite roll is called a Naruto roll; it is crab, avocado, roe and a tiny bit of salmon inside a cucumber wrapping. Not all restaurants do this but if they have Naruto rolls, chances are they can.
6. Knowing how much protein you have had going into the day is helpful because you can decide ahead of time if you need to eat more protein at dinner or if you can sit back and enjoy the rice and veggies, fully knowing you are getting sufficient protein for the day. If you don’t understand why you need ample protein for fat loss, check out: “What are you eating for?” and “Five Steps to know what to eat everyday” or “Four Fat Loss Myths That are Killing Your Progress” (cc #2)
7. Sushi rice is not as plain as you might think. Sushi rice is made with several types of rice vinegars and added sugar and salt. If you are tracking sushi, be sure to track “sushi rice” (if you cannot find the exact roll on your tracking app and are tracking various pieces).
8. Here’s a general breakdown of how I track sushi. I tend to only eat basic rolls and basic plus rolls for the sake of tracking; fancy rolls are really hard to track. When the sushi is rolled up it’s hard to eyeball the portion of fish they use and difficult to ascertain how much sauce is in it. And seriously, tracking all of that is really annoying and detracts from the fun social aspect of eating sushi in the first place. So, instead of stressing, use this helpful guide:
- basic roll (4 pieces): 80-120 calories depending on how big they look
- basic roll 6 (pieces): 180-220 calories
- basic plus roll (6 pieces): 300-350 calories depending again on size
- Fancy roll: 400 plus calories– 450 if there is avocado 500 if there is mayo or cream cheese
- cucumber wrapped roll with avocado: 350 calories if 6-8 pieces
9. The simpler the roll the better. Eat more, stress less.
10. There is no scientifically proven research that shows brown rice is better than white.
11. If you have had low protein leading up to the dinner have some nigiri with a salad, (omit the rice until you finish the salad) and then see how you feel. Do not forget to prioritize protein.
12. Ask for low sodium soy sauce. Sushi is high sodium in general; miso soup is incredibly high in sodium; ginger dressing is high in sodium. Use the low sodium option if you can. It will help you feel a lot less puffy and bloated the next day if you enjoy using a lot of soy sauce on your sushi.
13. Have miso soup before you meal to fill your belly up and decrease hunger. This way you will be less less likely to gorge yourself with 20 pieces of sushi.
14. If you find yourself with a big dinner party sharing and/or mixing and matching pieces of sushi, make sure to count the pieces! And, identify if you are eating basic or basic plus rolls etc; stick to one of the plans listed above!
15. One of my favorite things to get at my favorite sushi spot in Boston (Genki Ya) are fresh spring rolls. I get the rolls with fresh salmon. Unfortunately, they come with very high calorie peanut sauce (that is actually amazing). Make sure to have the sauce on the side and if you consume all of it, add 400 calories on to your tracking. At Genki Ya the peanut sauce is literally served in a small bowl– so there are definitely over two tablespoons present. I always account for 400 calories. Either skip the peanut sauce, or own it.
16. Saki is a low calorie, fermented rice wine. It is 39 calories per ounce. The good news is that most sushi restaurants serve it in tiny two-ounce glasses so you can sip it and take your time (it is typically very strong tasting). If you have four ounces you’re indulging in 156 calories but if you limit to two ounces (with the help of the small glasses) you are staying under 80 calories!
17. If you hate sushi and want to opt for teriyaki chicken or beef, ask for the sauce on the side. First, most teriyaki sauces have gluten, so beware if you have an allergy. Second, teriyaki sauce can have upwards of 40 grams of sugar in it and it’s hard to know what recipe the restaurant uses and how much they add to the meat. Be prudent and ask for it on the side.
18. If your goal is to lose fat but still be able to go out to dinner, sushi makes it very easy to stay on track, if you follow a few rules. There has to be some give and take. One of the most important rules for eating sushi for fat loss is to AVOID “TEMPURA” anything. “Tempura” means fried, which means more batter and oil, which means more calories and gluten. Just say “No!”
19. Soy sauce is made with wheat. If you have a gluten allergy make sure to ask for Tamari, a gluten free alternative. Most places carry it. You can also buy your own Tamari at Whole Foods and bring it with you.
20. Ask your server if soy sauce is used in the creation of any of the salad dressings, sauces or mayos. It is very common at sushi restaurant to have soy sauce added to sauces and for Celiac peeps, that is not good news. Be careful.
21. If you want to stay on track, omit mayo from everything. You could fit a cocktail into your dinner en lieu of mayo with how much mayo restaurants add to the sushi. If you think you will really miss it, ask for mayo on the side and use it on every third bite.
22. For the sake of being able to eat more sushi rolls, omit edamame as an appetizer. Edamame is great because it is protein and fiber packed, however it is higher calorie than miso soup, for example. Thus, if you want an appetizer and the ability to eat more sushi, have miso soup en lieu of edamame.
23. I am still learning to like kimchi. It is an acquired taste. Most sushi restaurants have it. If you don’t know what kimchi is, it is a fermented food made from cabbage and it is traditionally made spicy. If I have very few calories left for my daily total I will have kimchi and tuna nigiri pieces. Imagine kimchi like a side of steamed veggies. It will fill you up for very few calories.
24. Remember, you can make sushi a very high volume, low calorie meal if you want with little sauces or fats. However if you aren’t careful it can become a calorie extravaganza with tempura flakes, spicy mayo, extra avocado and five rounds of saki! Be mindful of what you choose and make sure you choose something you love in a good portion size.
25. My favorite way to eat sushi is for a post-workout dinner. I will have a salad for the greens with light dressing and omit the avocado, some basic salmon rolls for some carbs and good fat and a Naruto roll for the extra protein I want! I know after a workout everything I am eating is going to help my body refuel, repair and recover and I am going to enjoy every single bite. On occasion if I am still hungry I will order a fresh spring roll for dessert.
Gluten Free *BONUS* Tips:
1) You should be very careful or ask about miso soup because miso often (but not always) contains gluten. It’s paste of fermented beans and grain, so it depends on what grain the miso is fermented with. I would ask waiter to OK before ordering if you like that soup.
2) Many (might even say most) of crab sushi rolls are made with imitation crab, which is not gluten free. It’s actually fish that’s processed and put together with emulsifier that contains gluten and died red with a die that contains gluten. Sometimes (but I think only in season) they will use fresh crab, but it looks totally different, it’s not that nice tube of crab; it’s flakes of crab meat. I’ve read that some places are making notes on their menus about the use of imitation crab.
**The tips above were contributed by my cousin Elizabeth (who is Celiac). She is currently completing her PhD at Harvard University.
Phew! You CAN have sushi and still lose weight! Make a plan and be mindful of the ingredients of what your are eating.
Here are some summarized answers to the questions at the beginning of the article:
How much rice am I eating per roll? 3/4 cup to 1 cup
How many calories should I track? see #8
Is one roll all I can eat on a diet? Nope! It depends on what you’ve eaten that day.
What is the best roll to have? It depends on what you like and how much you plan to eat.
When is a good time to eat sushi? Anytime! My favorite is post-workout.
Is sushi a cheat meal? I do not believe in cheat meals but it *is* possible to go off track if you are not careful!
Stress less, eat mindfully and enjoy your sushi!
As aways, #daretoeat, #daretoemove and reach out with any questions!