On a Roll with Sushi

27 Jun

By: Joycelyne Lai

Photo courtesy of: Joycelyne Lai

Image courtesy of: Joycelyne Lai


Sushi. For those who love it, this one word can elicit immediate cravings. Sushi is an authentic Japanese dish that has revolutionized North American cuisine (Bestor, 2000). During the 1960’s, the fad of sushi swept the food industry has since been recognized as a food of sophistication and healthfulness (Bestor, 2000). The popularity of sushi has become a global phenomenon, i.e. sushi bars, all-you-can-eat sushi restaurants, and conveyor-belt sushi restaurants are now found in many cities (Feng, 2011). Offered in numerous forms, traditional sushi consists of bite-sized portions of slightly sweetened sticky rice combined with another ingredient such as fish, seafood or vegetables (Mouritsen, 2009). It is sometimes wrapped into a roll with seaweed and presented in individual pieces.

Some of the appeal of sushi to North Americans relates to the fact that sushi enjoys a ‘healthy image’ (Bestor, 2000). Seafood has been shown to be heart healthy. More specifically, oily fishes including tuna and salmon contain omega-3 fatty acids that help reduce the risk of coronary heart disease and cardiovascular disease (Davidson, 2006).  In addition, omega-3s may play a role in cognitive function, which has relevance for the aging population (Robinson, Nkechinyere & William, 2010). Seaweed contains high amounts of minerals, including calcium, iron, iodine, magnesium and phosphorous (Feng, 2011). Furthermore, wasabi, the green condiment used to spice up sushi, is rich in beta-carotene and phytochemicals (e.g. glucosinolates and isothiocyanates) (Feng, 2011).

Sushi is also relatively low in calories when consumed in moderation (Mouritsen, 2009). Of note, however, select sushi ingredients and accompanying dishes may counteract sushi’s health benefits. It is important to realize that the authenticity of sushi has been adapted for the tastes and comforts of Western consumers. In North America, sushi often contains ingredients such as beef, avocado, high fat cheeses, spicy mayonnaise and tempura which may negate some of the health attributes of a sushi meal (Bestor, 2000). Tempura is deep fried in oil that contains high amounts of fat, which may increase the risk of heart disease (Matsunaga et al., 2003). Furthermore, the rise of all-you-can-eat sushi restaurants speaks to the issue of serving size and portion control. As with other foods, overconsumption of sushi could lead to excess calorie consumption. .

Sushi containing raw fish may also present potential microbiological risk for aged persons, pregnant women and those with chronic illnesses and impaired immunity (Feng, 2011). Improper handling increases the risk for growth of dangerous parasites and salmonella bacteria in uncooked or undercooked seafood (Atanassova, Reich, & Klein, 2008). As with all foods, proper sanitation and handling practices, at home and in commercial establishments, are imperative.

Japanese cuisine remains incredibly popular in North America. Whether it’s the tradition of impeccable Japanese etiquette or the appeal of a seemingly exotic ethnic specialty, sushi has taken North America by storm and it appears to be here to stay. So… go ahead and grab a roll. If it’s prepared correctly, sushi can be one nutritious meal!



Atanassova, V., Reich, F., & Klein, G. (2008). Microbiological Quality of Sushi from Sushi Bars and Retailers. Journal of Food Protection, 71(4), 860-864.

Bestor, T.C (2000). How sushi went global. Foreign Policy, 121, 54-63.

Davidson, M.H. (2006). Mechanisms for the hypotriglyceridemic effect of marine omega-3 fatty acids. American Journal of Cardiology, 98, 27-33.

Feng, C.H. (2011). The Tale of Sushi: History and Regulations. Comprehensive Reviews in Food Science and Food Safety, 11, 205-220.

Matsunaga, K., Kawasaki, S., & Takeda,Y. (2003). Influence of Physiochemical Properties of Starch on Crispness of Tempura Fried Batter. Cereal Chemistry, 80(3), 339-345.

Mouritsen, O.G. (2009). Preparation of Sushi. SUSHI Food for the eye, the body & the soul (1st Edition). New York: Springer.

Robinson, J.G., Nkechinyere, I., William, H. (2010). Omega-3 fatty acids and cognitive function in women. Womens Health, 6(1), 119-134.




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