There was a time when eating sushi might have felt exotic or even unheard of. These days, though, almost anyone can pick up sushi at a specialty food market, supermarket, or even a convenience store. But sushi is still new to many who may wonder whether or not it can fit into a diabetes meal plan. The answer is yes – compared to many take-out and restaurant meals, sushi is, a better-for-you option – as long as you enjoy it the right way. Here are some tips to make diabetes-friendlier choices when dining on sushi.
1. Curb the carbs. For those living with diabetes, the biggest consideration with sushi is the amount of rice, though sushi accompaniments such as wasabi paste, pickled ginger, and soy sauce have small amounts of carbs. (You may want to consider using a food tracker app, such as GoMeals®, or a book, such as CalorieKingTM to help count exact calories, carbs, and other nutrients.) There’s no way of knowing exactly how much rice is in a serving unless you make the sushi yourself, but there are some ways to minimize carbs, yet still enjoy the sushi you love.
- If you’re buying sushi in plastic take-out containers at a supermarket or convenience store, choose one with the smallest amount of rice. Keep in mind, 1/4 cup of cooked short grain white rice (the kind used for sushi) has about thirteen grams of carbs. Avoid “inside-out” rolls, which have rice on the outside and fish, nori (which is a type of seaweed), and vegetables on the inside. These usually have more rice than regular sushi rolls. For a carb-free option, look for sashimi, which is the raw fish and nothing but the raw fish. It might take some getting used to, but can be delicious.
- If you’re eating sushi with friends in a restaurant, order a large platter to share. Take the portion you intend eat and put it on your plate all at once. Seeing your entire serving on your plate may help you judge how much rice you are eating. If you take individual pieces of sushi from the communal platter as you eat, it’s easy to lose track.
- Depending on how much sushi you’re eating and with your meal plan in mind, keep servings of other high carb foods to a minimum. Japanese restaurants often serve noodle dishes and dumplings, which are also laden with carbs.
- If the menu offers special sauces or dressings to go with the sushi, ask about the ingredients. There may be hidden carbs from sugars or extra fat from mayonnaise or oil.
2. Add side dishes. To minimize the carbs, combine sushi with other low-carb foods. Even if you’re getting sushi from a convenience store, it will often sell packages of seaweed salad (seaweed has only about four grams of carbs in one-half cup) or cucumber salad, which has hardly any carbs. (Note: I’m referring to traditional Japanese cucumber salad made with vinegar, which often paired with sushi; other kinds of cucumber salad may contain cream or other ingredients which may alter the calorie and carb counts.) If you’re eating sushi in a restaurant, consider ordering miso soup as a starter (it’s nearly carb-free) and add a low-carb side dish such as steamed vegetables or a radish salad.
3. Pick your place carefully. With a little online investigation, you will probably find a restaurant or take-out spot that makes sushi with brown rice or one that offers sashimi or other sushi options without rice, along with healthier side dishes and salads. If you find yourself in a restaurant with limited options, try asking if the chef can modify menu items to meet your needs; many restaurants are happy to accommodate special requests. In addition to covering your carb needs when researching sources, don’t forget the fish! Raw fish is highly perishable. Whether grabbing sushi for take-out or eating in a restaurant, choose a place that’s busy. With a high turnover, you stand a better chance of getting fresh sushi.
4. Make it yourself. It isn’t hard to do, and the only special equipment needed is an inexpensive mat for making sushi rolls. You can easily make sashimi, nigiri (small mounds of rice topped with fish), or temaki (a.k.a., hand-rolls, small cones of nori filled with rice, fish, and vegetables) without a mat. You’ll find all the ingredients and condiments you need in a large supermarket or a specialty foods store. At home, you can minimize the rice and pump up the veggies and fish. Make your homemade sushi with brown rice – just be sure to choose short-grain. It is stickier and will hold together better than long-grain rice.
5. Go easy on the sodium. Salty soy sauce may be a perfect accompaniment to rich-tasting fish, but it’s loaded with sodium. When you eat sushi at a restaurant, request low sodium soy sauce, but if they don’t have it, try this trick: ask for a small dish, pour in some soy sauce, then add about as much water as soy sauce. You’ll still get the flavor, but with half the sodium. At home, choose low- or reduced-sodium soy sauce.
CalorieKing is a registered trademark of CalorieKing Wellness Solutions, Inc. CalorieKing provides the database service that powers GoMeals® through a partnership with Sanofi US.
Jackie Mills is a registered dietitian who develops recipes for such national magazines as Cooking Light and Family Circle, as well as for books such as the American Medical Association Type 2 Diabetes Cookbook. She was formerly the food editor at Redbook magazine. Mills is a paid contributor for The DX. All opinions contained in this article reflect those of the contributor, and not of Sanofi US, its employees, agencies, or affiliates.
© 2013 The DX: The Diabetes Experience