The Japanese delicacy sushi has become popular in many parts of the world. In the United States in the 1980s, it was favored by young professionals working in the financial markets. Although it has since become nearly mainstream gourmet fare among diners, you might still be uncertain about the health pros and cons of eating sushi.
Generally speaking, sushi is composed of raw fish, typically served with a clump of rice and garnished with vegetables and a dressing. Raw fish served without rice is referred to as sashimi rather than sushi. In some sushi dishes, the fish is cooked. Many mainstream sushi restaurants have expanded their menus to include dishes suitable for vegetarians and to offer other cooked dishes (including chicken and beef) in an effort to widen the appeal of their establishments.
Benefit: Low in fat and high in protein
A sushi diet can be highly beneficial to anybody on a weight-loss, calorie-controlled diet. Fish is a good source of high-quality protein and is low in saturated fats and cholesterol. As such, fish is often recommended as a heart-healthy food. Some fish types are also high in omega-3 fatty acids. These substances can improve cholesterol levels and lower blood pressure.
Benefit: Vitamins and minerals
Many of the vegetables used in sushi, including seaweed, are high in valuable vitamins and minerals. In traditional sushi dishes, thin rolls of seaweed called nori are flattened, wrapped around the fish and then cut to size. Nori is very high in iodine as well as other minerals, including magnesium, calcium and iron.
Eating raw fish of any kind brings with it certain health risks. The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommends that, if you enjoy raw fish, you eat products that have been frozen previously. The process of freezing kills harmful parasites in the fish that would otherwise be killed during cooking.
Risk: Food poisoning
Food poisoning is also a very real risk when eating raw fish, which may contain bacteria that can lead to illness. Bacteria can accumulate in fish to produce toxins, which can cause scombroid poisoning. Scombroid poisoning can occur within an hour of eating raw fish and produces symptoms similar to food poisoning. Raw fish can carry viruses, too, some of which pose a serious threat to human health, such as hepatitis A.
Risk: Mercury contamination
Raw fish often contains high levels of methylmercury. Although mercury occurs naturally, levels in fish can increase as a result of water pollution in lakes and rivers. Methylmercury levels can become concentrated in fish, where the chemical builds up in the fish's bloodstream. This can pose a risk to human health, particularly for pregnant women. High levels of methylmercury in the bloodstream can damage an unborn child and can pose a health risk in adults. Methylmercury is most commonly found in sushi tuna, although the FDA emphasizes that the risk is significant only if you consume a lot of the fish.