By Ekaterina Morrissey
Sushi are a favorite dinner (or take out lunch) choice for many people, and has become so popular, many airports have now a sushi joints attracting travelers who seek a healthier airport meal while galloping through. From Tempura to California Roll, to Specialty Rolls, the choices are endless and more people make it a weekly routine to go for this Japanese staple food.
There is no question of the healthy benefits of sushi but…there is a but! The difference in quality of the ingredients used with no doubt plays a major role in just how healthy the sushi are. On some of my travels to Japan, as well as spending a few years living in Guam, which is highly visited by mostly Japanese tourist all year around, I’ve had the chance to eat in one of the best Japanese sushi restaurants, where the owner was native Japanese, spoke little to NO English, and where, literally I was the only person non Japanese. A 100% indicator of how authentic and quality the place is. In most cases, the customers, including myself never even looked at the menu, but had the chef behind the sushi bar deliver many different little plates, one at the time of super tasty Japanese specialties including poki or nigiri, everything bursting with exceptional quality and freshness.
Unfortunately, what is called sushi here is far from this Japanese staple food, and it has been well Americanized to be a profitable business which is healthy for the establishment, not you. The sushi roll is a pure American invention, no such a thing in a real Japanese sushi joints. Dipping them non stop in a sodium and MSG packed soy sauce bath is another fictional move that doesn’t exist in real life in Japan.
Here are a few things to consider when going for sushi in North America:
- Sushi rice – normally sushi rice is white short grained, which means is a refined rice. Which means it will spike your blood sugar levels as if you ate 2 slices of Wonder bread. Typically in Japan the rice is dressed with rice wine vinegar, a little sugar and a pinch of sea salt. In this case the rice vinegar acts as an agent to prevent the fast absorption of the refined carbs in your blood stream, which is a good thing. But here, most sushi restaurants are using cheap vinegars if any, and sugar extracted from GMO sugar beets.* I also highly doubt they rinse the rice multiple time to wash off arsenic which naturally occurs in rice. Note* – don’t confuse sugar beets with beetroot.
Alternatives: Find a sushi joint where they use brown rice upon request, or call and demand your favorite place to add that as an option. Ask, ask and ask more questions about how they make the rice dressing. How many times they rinse the rice? My advise – speak directly to the owner.
- Soups – most soups like miso or the clear broth with fried onions are loaded with sodium and MSG. The one w/ fried onions has trans fats too from the fried onion. I also can’t imagine they are using filtered or Spring water for their soups which makes you drink most of the Periodic Table.
Alternatives: Ask if there is MSG in the soup and what water they are using in the establishment, or simply skip the soup.
- Seaweed salad – in most American sushi joints, what you’ll get as a seaweed salad is a chemical potion of food additives and colorants, like Yellow#5 and FD&C Blue#1, each of which are linked to severe allergic reactions including asthma, and cancer.
Alternatives: I’ve given up on this one. Most sushi places don’t know where the seaweed salad came from (already packaged!). Unless I am in a real Japanese authentic restaurant, I don’t order this salad.
- Spicy sushi rolls – as I mention earlier, rolls are budget friendly and profit oriented ‘alien’ of Japanese food, but very popular in America. It is what most people order because they are cheaper and people think they get more for their money. Spicy sushi rolls are just one of the ‘trends’ in your local sushi place, which comes with a lot of ‘baggage’ such as GMO and sugar loaded mayonnaise to kind of smoother the spiciness of the chili pepper. I don’t have alternative for this one. Simply atrocious.
- Tempura rolls – tempura is the more sophisticate/ exotic name for deep fried. It is literally speaking as if you ate a full portion of french fries when you order any kind of Tempura roll. Chicken, shrimp or whatever, is being in the deep frier bathing in canola, corn, soybean oil or cottonseed oil. All of them GMO. Simply no alternative for that either.
- Other rolls:
California Roll – almost everyone’s first time trying sushi goes for the Cali roll because it doesn’t have any raw fish in it. Also this roll’s NORI is well covered in rice to please most unadventurous Americans who are not willing to try other countries cuisines as they really are. That means more refined rice to your blood stream. Most likely this roll has fake crab meat which has a very long list of ingredients. There is nothing crabby in the fake crab but crap. There is mayonnaise in there too…filled with GMO ingredients, mostly all of them to be exact.
Alternatives: Ask for real crab meat and omit the mayo + brown rice, always. A lot of high end places have all this in stock but they only will serve it upon request for additional cost. Totally worthy!
Chicken/Beef Teriyaki rolls – as in other restaurants if the chicken/beef is raised conventionally, it has been fed GMO feed of corn and soy which it’ll go into your body and not without it’s consequences. Teriyaki sauce is loaded with sodium, MSG and GMO as well. No dice here.
Philadelphia roll – I am thorn between the California and the Phily roll, but that’s got be the most ridiculous and Americanized name one could come up with. Philadelphia is where the cream cheese comes from, we get it. But to poop the name on top of the roll, it is rather unappealing. This roll is made of smoked salmon and obviously Philadelphia cream cheese. Salmon, unless marked as wild caught or Alaskan (which is always wild caught), is farmed. That is not really a salmon anymore but a Frankenfish, which has been Genetically Modified and fed with load of antibiotics, GMO grain and other disgusting things “to enhance color” as they state in the supermarket’s fish window, in front of the Atlantic salmon. Also, I have never heard of Japanese using dairy in their cuisine. Cream cheese, mayonnaise ? Really???
Wasabi – that is personally my favorite condiment when eating Japanese food. Japanese horseradish is actually really good for you. Think of it as combination of mustard and turmeric root. It has antimicrobial properties and it is anti- carcinogenic. However, most sushi places are using mass production by Big Food wasabi that is far from the real deal. It has mostly anything, added colorants and additives but horseradish in it.
Alternatives: Ask the owner or manager for real horseradish.
Ginger: Ginger help digestion, boost the immune system and is inflammatory. It is a great root. High-end restaurants make their own pickled ginger which is great! The average sushi joint uses the one that has aspartame, Red#40, potassium sorbate and other disturbing neurotoxins.
Alternatives: Ask if they pickle their own ginger, otherwise don’t use it.
Soy Sauce – no matter which sushi place I go to, I always bring my own organic fermented Tamari sauce with me, which is made from fermented organic soy beans. Conventional soy sauce does have GMO and MSG, on top of the high sodium content. In general, in Japan, soy sauce is used in very little amounts and always fermented.
Alternative: Bring your own bottle of organic Tamari sauce made from fermented soy beans and use small amounts.
With this in mind:
There has been many scandals and news of restaurants in United States and Canada, using pink slime to keep the tuna’s color nicely red for longer and using a lower quality fish claiming it was something else. So, really, you get what you pay for. The fresher the ingredients and the higher the quality, the better your experience and health will be. With that in mind, don’t be shy to ask question even in the highest end restaurant about any of the ingredients they are using. Don’t be shy to ask for sushi without the sauces and even creating your own rolls substituting rice with a vegetable of your choice. Another wonderful option is to learn how to make your own sushi at home and do that weekly or on occasion. See how to make easy sushi at home here.