Traditional Japanese sushi is a dieter's dream, thanks to its heart-friendly, low-fat ingredients. But leave it to Americans to supersize it. What started out as truly lean cuisine now arrives on platters for one that could easily feed a family of four. Likewise, Japanese sushi kitchens don't use oil or mayo, says Hiroko Shimbo, chef and author of The Sushi Experience. Yet, chances are your favorite sushi bar serves fried shrimp and spicy tuna plumped up with the bad stuff. What's a calorie-counting sushi lover to do? For starters, don't tackle a 20-piece sushi boat yourself! And follow our lead: Get the skinny on the four fattest and leanest choices right here.
Meshi-agare (Japanese for bon appetit)!
The Chubbiest Choices
1. Tempura rolls: Any tempura dish -- read deep-fried -- is a big-time diet buster. A shrimp tempura roll, for example, can deliver 500 calories and 20 grams of fat. Plus, breading and deep-frying boost the cholesterol, too.
2. Spicy tuna and other mayo-based rolls: Before you order, ask if the minced fish is mixed with mayonnaise. If so, that delicate roll may harbor as many as 450 calories and 11 grams of artery-clogging fat.
3. Philadelphia rolls: Unheard of in Japan, this salmon-and-avocado wonder is schmeared with something a sushi purist wouldn't even consider -- cream cheese. Calories for a roll start at 300 and rise, depending on how much cheese is used. A clue: Two tablespoons of cream cheese add 10 grams of fat (6 saturated), and some recipes use four times that amount.
4. Dragon rolls and pretty much anything else made with eel and/or toro: Just 1 ounce of raw eel has 3 grams fat, and toro -- sliced from the fatty belly of tuna -- packs a shocking 7 grams per ounce. Even though the fat is the heart-healthy omega-3 kind, all fat is still loaded with calories, and the trade-off here is too high.
The Skinniest Sushi
1. Assorted sashimi: Sashimi is sliced fish a la carte, and by omitting the rice that would make it sushi, you save 30 calories per piece. Plus, says Shimbo, eating an assortment of fish -- white, red, oily -- creates delicious synergies: You get the flavors and benefits of each. For instance, delicate white fish has fewer calories, while richer mackerel and salmon have more omega-3s.
2. Veggie rolls: Cucumber rolls and tangy pickled vegetable rolls are free of fat and provide a pleasantly crunchy contrast to the soft texture of fish sushi -- and at only about 150 calories a roll. For a vegetarian entree that packs heart-friendly fat as well as some iron and protein, try a shiitake, avocado, and pickled-ginger roll. That little sheet of seaweed that holds it all together? It gives you calcium, vitamins C and K, and folate.
3. Edamame (soybeans): Okay, okay, they're not sushi. But they're a staple at sushi bars and one of the healthiest menu choices you can make, brimming with fiber, folate, iron, and protein. Half a cup of steamed edamame has 127 calories and a whopping 11 grams of protein -- hence its nickname: "meat from the vegetable garden."
4. Tako (octopus) or ika (squid): Though high in cholesterol, both are even higher in protein, B vitamins, iron, selenium, and taurine, an amino acid that helps keep your arteries, heart, and eyes healthy -- for almost no fat and only 25 calories an ounce.
There you have it -- sushi on a diet. But, actually, it's just sushi the way it ought to be: naturally healthy. So don't hesitate to indulge. Eating at least one serving of fish per week can make your RealAge as much as 2.7 years younger.
Worried about mercury? Here's the fish to pick or skip.