Why Sushi Could Make You Fat — And What to Do About It
By: Julie Hand
Sushi might seem like a nutritious option. After all, how can you go wrong with rice, seaweed, fish, and vegetables? For those reasons, sushi is a Bulletproof Diet staple. But a recent Time Magazine story argues that sushi can be bad for your waistline, depending on what’s in the sushi roll. Here’s what you need to know to ensure your sushi doesn’t impede your performance or tip your scale.
What lurks in your sushi roll?
“Sushi has this halo of being healthy,” Katherine Zeratsky, a registered dietitian, nutritionist, and associate professor of nutrition at Mayo Clinic, told Time. However, a few ordering missteps can tarnish that glow, she asserts. Here’s what the magazine gets right — and wrong — about your sushi’s nutrition profile.
Too many calories: According to Time, you should be careful with portion size, since sushi rolls can quickly add up — one roll can contain more than 500 calories (a spicy shrimp roll, for instance, contains about 550 calories, according to the United States Department of Agriculture). This, they say, can add padding to your waistline. However, research shows that weight gain doesn’t come down to a simple “calories in, calories out” equation. It’s the quality of your food that matters.
Sticky rice: To that end, the real problem is the rice. According to Time, sushi rice isn’t just made with vinegar. Most chefs add sugar to the mix to make the rice sticky and adhesive. The added sugar spikes insulin levels to regulate blood sugar levels, leaving you groggy, cranky and with serious cravings — especially when there’s little to no fat in the meal to slow down its digestion. And since the rice is patted down during the assembly process, you end up eating up to a cup of rice per roll, without even realizing it. This can affect the numbers on your scale.
That doesn’t mean you have to give up on sushi entirely. With a few tweaks, you can have that salmon roll without the guilt. The easiest solution: pick simple rolls without sauces, and — if your favorite sushi joint uses sugar in their rice — choose sashimi instead of rolls.
How to make your sushi Bulletproof
The basics of a good roll
White Rice: White rice lands in the green zone on the Bulletproof Diet Roadmap. It’s a good form of starch, particularly for carb refeed days, because it’s one of the lowest sugar starches. It’s also free of anti-nutrients that will sap your energy and mess with your gut. If you want to make your own rice more Bulletproof, forgo the sugar and add coconut oil. Read this for ways to hack your rice recipes with coconut oil.
Fish: The most common types of fish used in sushi are salmon and tuna. Both are high in lean protein, nutrients, and healthy fats like omega 3s. Make sure the fish is wild-caught where possible — farmed seafood contains dangerous levels of pesticides, toxins, heavy metals, and even parasites, which offset the nutritional value.
Vegetables: Sushi is typically made with Bulletproof green zone goodies like avocado and cucumber. Watch out for sushi that includes raw spinach and kale, mushrooms, or peppers. Raw vegetables can leave you with muscle cramps due to oxalates, while mushrooms and peppers, in particular, have a high risk of mold contamination.
Soy and Dipping Sauces: Dipping sauces can also make or break your roll. Soy sauce and tamari are high in histamines and most brands of soy sauce also contain wheat. There are also spicy sushi sauces that contain mayonnaise made of oxidized soybean oil. These are unstable omega 6 oils that when oxidized, or heated at high temperatures, damage your DNA, inflame your heart, and increase your cancer risk. Many mayo brands are also loaded with sugar, additives, and preservatives like calcium disodium EDTA, which is considered an environmental pollutant. All of these condiments are considered toxic by Bulletproof standards. If you are making your own sushi and still want a spicy mayo-based sauce, make it with this avocado mayo instead.
Bottom line: Start by going for the simplest and cleanest list of sushi ingredients you can get, particularly when you are purchasing it at the supermarket. The plainer, the better. A salmon avocado roll is a smarter choice than one loaded with cream cheese and deep fried fish. If you’re eating out, ask your server what’s in the mix. Avoid adding excess sauces that add contaminants to your plate. Once you’re clear on what you’re starting with, you can focus on how to spice up your sushi to be even more Bulletproof.
How MCT oil can upgrade your sushi order
Add a dash of Brain Octane Oil to your white rice. BOO, a pure form of medium-chain triglyceride (MCT) oil — provides satiating, long-term energy. In this Bulletproof Radio (iTunes) podcast, Dave and Dominic D’Agostino, PhD, assistant professor at the College Of Medicine Molecular Pharmacology & Physiology at the University of South Florida, shared stories of how they got hooked on adding MCT oil to sushi as a means to stay in ketosis (a high fat-burning state), even when consuming starchy white rice.
“I was given this suggestion by a fellow that used to work for NASA, actually was one of the directors at NASA, and jumped on the ketogenic diet and it literally changed his life,” says Agostino. “He’s like ‘You’ve got try sushi with MCT,’ so I brought my MCT to the sushi place and I got some strange looks but it was delicious.”
MCT and BOO oils are also flavor carriers that will amplify the flavor of your fish and rice. Combined with sea salt, they bring out the flavors of the ingredients and you won’t yearn for soy sauce. You can also sprinkle pink Himalayan sea salt on top. For a Mexican-Japanese fusion, load your sushi with extra Bulletproof Guacamole.
Related Recipe: Purple Sweet Potato Salmon Sushi
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