If you like Japanese food, chances are it was fairly recently and probably involved a couple of California rolls.
The added bonus to this lunchtime treat is sushi is healthy … isn’t it?
It is true the Japanese diet is among the healthiest in the world, brimming with fresh fish and vegetables, and it boasts a lot of relatively low-calorie options.
But Australians often fall into traps when they interpret traditional Japanese fare into our own, less-healthy versions.
This means our daily sushi order isn’t always as healthy as we may think.
Luckily, this can be remedied with some slight tweaks to get your sushi order back on track.
When the Japanese order lunch, it’s likely to be a steamed soba or udon noodle dish, or a bento box — a mix of pickled vegetables, rice, fish and miso — a perfect balance of veggies, carbs and proteins.
When we compare this to a standard sushi order here in Australia, our balance is a little off.
Generally, when we eat Japanese, it’s sushi rolls or occasionally a ball of rice with some sashimi perched on top.
Now, while the sashimi is exceptionally healthy, the mix of sushi rice, high-fat fillings including tempura, avocado and tuna with mayo, dipped in tons of high salt soy sauce, means our lunch mix contains much more processed carbohydrates and fat than good-quality produce.
A small container of mini sushi rolls will contain at least 50-60g of carbs, the equivalent of 3-4 slices of bread, with as little as 5g of protein.
And a couple of those mini fish containers, filled with soy sauce, will add 1000mg of sodium to your diet, or more than half your recommended upper daily limit of sodium.
This can leave you feeling bloated and tired.
If you’re a sucker for tempura, you will double the calories in your sushi order.
Popular noodles choices on offer tend to be deep fried in vegetable oil, as opposed to steamed noodles served with vegetable broth.
For lovers of Japanese cuisine, the good news is it is not difficult to give your lunchtime order a healthy makeover.
As a starting point, if your goal is to eat sushi, spend a little more and actually buy sashimi. While it is true you can eat too much sashimi, as it contains the heavy metal mercury, including it in your diet a couple of times each week is no issue.
If you want to include a California roll or two, avoid white rice in favour of higher fibre brown or black rice, look for lean fillings such as tuna or salmon and go easy on the soy sauce.
The most important part of your lunchtime sushi makeover is to add in the key foods that give the Japanese diet its good reputation.
EAT YOUR GREENS
First of all, extra greens are a must with edamame beans containing just 60 calories per serve and adding protein and fibre adding bulk to your favourite Japanese meal.
Low-calorie seaweed salad is another nutrient-rich addition.
Seaweed is a superfood in the world of nutrition, as it adds much-needed iodine into our diet that is crucial to help our thyroid function optimally.
Miso soup, another Japanese staple, is a must add, offering a range of vitamins and minerals as well as probiotics known to be particularly important for gut health.
While miso is relatively high in sodium, containing up to 1000mg per serve, it is also low in calories, with less than 100 calories per serve, and the health benefits associated with consuming it as part of a balanced Japanese meal outweigh any of the negatives.
And finally, let’s not forget the pickled vegetables full of the key nutrients that support gut health — always add these to your order when they are on offer.
Once you shift your Japanese order away from white rice and sugary rolls and instead add in the fish, vegetables and miso, you can create a low-calorie, healthy lunch option to reap the benefits of authentic Japanese cuisine.