What are the health benefits of sushi?
Famous as a Japanese cuisine, sushi has amassed an equally strong following in the West.
In recent years, Japanese restaurants have been popping up in capital cities to small towns across the globe. Interestingly, sushi actually originated in China, where farmers first began fermenting fish with the rice from their paddy fields, rice vinegar and salt. That specific dish is known today as narezushi. It was introduced in Japan during the Yayoi period, dating from 300BC to 300AD, and has since become synonymous with Japanese culture. The version we know today however, has been around for only about 200 years.
What if you don’t like fish?
It’s a misconception that sushi has to contain fish! Most people know it as chunks of raw fish, either on their own or wrapped in or presented on rice. Sushi is actually the generic term for a dish containing rice that is seasoned with vinegar and topped with raw fish or vegetables – not necessarily both. If you are not a lover of fish, or are a vegetarian, you can therefore still eat sushi. What’s more, the Western world has adapted sushi to suit a wider-ranging palette, and it’s not uncommon to see duck, chicken or even beef in sushi now.
But is it healthy?
It certainly can be. Like most cuisines, there are ways to lessen or increase the health benefits. If you opt for overly processed varieties, you might end up consuming more sugar and empty calories than you planned. If you season your sushi with too much soy sauce you may also find yourself consuming more than the recommended daily salt allowance, as soy sauce is particularly high in sodium. That being said, there are ways to make sushi a very healthy snack or even a meal:
• Opt for sashimi. Sashimi is literally just the fish without the rice or extra sauces, meaning you won’t be consuming the extra salt and sugar.
• Focus on the vegetables and ginger. Ginger has been shown to be anti-inflammatory and have strong healing properties,1 and it tastes delicious with sushi!
• Go for brown rice instead of white. Brown rice is higher in nutrients and lower in refined carbs.
The specific health benefits of sushi
As well as tasting delicious, there may be some specific benefits of making sushi a part of your healthy living diet.
Assists with hormone balance
Sushi rolls wrapped in seaweed are high in iodine, which is fantastic at helping to maintain the body’s hormonal balance.2 This is particularly beneficial for people going through the menopause who may have fluctuating hormone levels. In addition, people going through the menopause often have problems with their thyroid function, and iodine can help regulate this.3
Good for the skin
Sushi is packed full of ingredients that naturally contain antioxidants, which reduce cell growth and slow down cell damage,4 making your skin look younger, fresher and more radiant.
Improves brain activity
The fish in sushi is naturally high in Omega 3 fatty acids that have been shown to be beneficial to brain function, noticeably improving your ability to concentrate and enhancing cognition.5 Omega 3s may also reduce high cholesterol levels and lower blood pressure.
Helps to repair muscles
Eating sushi may help to replenish fatigued muscles. This is because it is packed full of protein, which has been proven to aid muscle repair significantly.6
Guards against osteoporosis
Sushi contains high levels of calcium, which is important for keeping your bones healthy and free from osteoporosis.7
Sushi is packed with vitamins, minerals and nutrients including zinc and calcium, magnesium, phosphorous, and iron, which are all necessary for a healthy immune system.8
Reduces sugar cravings
Protein is known to balance blood sugar which keeps your energy levels stable and reduces food cravings – particularly for sugar.9
If you haven’t tried sushi or were put off by the thought of eating raw fish, it might be time to give it a try. There are many different varieties, both with and without fish and there are a wide range of tasty fillings and toppings to choose from including avocado, tofu, chicken and vegetables. If you like your food with a bit of a heat-kick, try it with wasabi, the green paste that often accompanies a sushi dish. It’s fiery, delicious and comes with health benefits of its own, including reducing the risk of foodborne illness and bacteria10 making your sushi dish even healthier!