Is sushi fattening or good for weight loss?

If like myself you are a fan of Asian cuisine, you will undoubtedly have indulged in Japanese cuisine and in particular, tried sushi. It is my second favourite type of food, falling slightly short of the Thai green curry.

For those of you who don’t know, sushi is simply vinegared rice (aka rice prepared with vinegar) that is then eaten with other ingredients like fish and vegetables. Many people mistake Sashimi for sushi, however this is not the case; sashimi is only raw slices of fish, without any rice.

Traditional Japanese sushi is quite different from Westernized sushi, the main difference being that it is much simpler and contains fewer ingredients. For example avocado and mayonnaise are not found in traditional sushi. However, more likely than not, the sushi you will be eating has a plethora of ingredients.

There are many different types of sushi, here are the most common ones:

Makizushi (rolled sushi) – these are cylinder shaped pieces of vinegared rice and other ingredients that are wrapped in seaweed, thin omelette skin or cucumber. Makizushi is made by rolling all of the ingredients with a bamboo mat and then cutting the roll into smaller pieces. There are different types of Makizushi, such as Hosomaki which is rice on the inside and seaweed on the outside, and Uramaki which is rice on the outside and seaweed on the inside.

Nigirizushi (hand pressed sushi) – this consists of an oblong piece of vinegared rice that has been molded by hand. It is topped with a little bit of wasabi and another ingredients such as a vegetable or a slice of raw fish.

Chirashizushi (scattered sushi) – served in a bowl and made up of sushi rice covered in various toppings.

Inarizushi – a pouch of fried tofu that is filled with sushi rice.

Oshizushi (pressed sushi) – made by filling a wooden mold with toppings and rice and then covering with a lid and pressing down. This creates a firm rectangular box which is then cut into squares.

Makizushi and Nigirizushi are the main types of sushi that I usually eat.

If you have eaten sushi before, you will have noticed that many different ingredients can be used, which makes answering the question about whether it is fattening or helps weight loss slightly less straightforward.

It all comes down to calories

In the end, all that weight loss and weight gain comes down to is a simple equation: calories in – calories out.

A calorie is a unit of energy and different foods have different amounts of calories. For example, using our healthy food finder tool you will see that 100 g of brown rice (around half a cup) contains 362 calories, 100 g of cucumber contains 95 calories and 100 g of tuna contains 144 calories. All 3 of these are used when preparing sushi, yet equal weighted amounts of each food vary greatly in the calories they contain. They also differ vastly in terms of nutrition; the rice is mainly made up of carbohydrate, tuna is protein and cucumber is water.

Getting back to weight gain and weight loss – if you want to gain weight you need to be consuming more calories (through food) than your body is using up (via exercise & daily activities). To lose weight you need to do the opposite.

You can use our calorie calculator here to estimate the number of calories you should be eating to lose weight. For example, a 50 year old woman who weighs 80 kgs, is 145 cm tall and exercises 4 times a week will need to consume roughly 1600 calories to lose weight. If she eats more than 2000 calories, she will begin to gain weight.

Is sushi high in calories?

As mentioned above, many different ingredients can be used to make sushi and this greatly influences the amount of calories a given type of sushi can contain. Below we will compare 3 different types of sushi rolls and their nutritional values:

Avocado roll

This roll contains seaweed (nori), rice and avocado. One roll contains 140 calories, 6g of fat, 28g of carbohydrate and 2 g of protein.

California roll

This roll contains seaweed, rice, avocado and ground up meat. One roll contains approximately 255 calories, 7g of fat, 38g of carbohydrate and 9 g of protein.

Shrimp tempura roll

This roll contains seaweed, rice, shrimp tempura (which is deep fried) and other toppings. On average, one roll contains 508 calories, 21 g of fat, 64 g of carbs and 20 g of protein.

Even though each roll differed only slightly in the ingredients used, they vary greatly in the number of calories they contain. If you eat a shrimp tempura roll, you will consume 3 and a half times more calories than if you eat an avocado roll!

The point I am trying to make here is to choose your sushi ingredients wisely, and find out their nutritional values whenever possible.

If you are going to be eating store bought sushi, this should be easy as most food packages are required to show nutritional information.

If you are going to be eating at a restaurant, this might prove to be a bit more difficult, however you can always do a quick online search to find out how many calories the type of sushi you are going to be eating contains. The restaurant staff may also be able to assist you.

Some tips when eating sushi and also trying to control your weight

Stay away from tempura and crunchy varieties – these types of sushi are deep fried and therefore pack on a lot of additional calories. Shrimp when eaten on its own in reasonable amounts is a healthy food; however tempura contains way too much excess fat and cholesterol, making it very unhealthy.

You should opt for sushi that contains ingredients that are raw or have been steamed / grilled.

Avoid certain toppings and sauces – without realising it, you may be racking up calories by eating sushi together with certain addons. Mayonnaise and cream cheese in particular are chock full of calories. Instead, eat more ginger, a little wasabi and plenty of veggies. Also limit the amount of soy sauce you consume, as it is very high in sodium and sodium intake has been associated with obesity.

Opt for brown rice – brown rice is much healthier than white rice as it contains more fiber, is broken down slower and is rich in nutrients such as selenium and manganese. Whenever possible, opt for brown rice versions of sushi.

Get rid of the rice – sushi without rice is known as sashimi and this is a healthier option. Sashimi contains less carbohydrate and more protein than sushi. Scientific studies have shown that protein is more filling and can promote weight loss. Also, this study showed that overweight men who included lean or fatty fish as part of a low calorie diet lost approximately 1 kg more weight than those who did not include it.

You can replace the rice with crunchy vegetables. These will fill you up and save you quite a few calories.

Control your portions – since sushi is eaten almost like a snack, it can be very easy to overeat. If you are trying to control your weight, monitor your portions closely and have a soup or salad if you still feel hungry.


So is sushi good for weight loss? Well, it all comes down to the type of sushi you eat and the sides that you eat it with. You don’t need to be afraid of sushi, it is a perfectly healthy food, just as long as it contains the right ingredients.

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