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WORDS Audrey Laur

Over the past 30 years, sushi has become incredibly trendy, marking a turning point in culinary evolution. These traditional Japanese dishes are now available worldwide from restaurants to stores, outdoor markets and even supermarkets. Back in 2011, 116 million pieces of sushi were consumed in Australia alone, with the United States more than doubling that at 250 million - representing US$2 billion in annual revenue. Their popularity is mainly due to their convenience (easy to carry and consume) and healthy components, which makes them a seemingly perfect ally in the health-conscious person’s diet.

There are two traditional types of sushi: nigiri and maki. Nigiri is made of rice with wasabi and a slice of fish, seafood or egg as a topping, while maki is a seaweed-wrapped rice roll with various fillings (fish, vegetables, chicken, etc). It should be mentioned that sushi are different from sashimi, which are slices of raw fish served with soy sauce. In these three cases, the ingredients used provide the necessary nutrients for a healthy meal. However, sushi’s growth in popularity has also led to the creation of new combinations, a fusion of West and East, as rich in fat and calories as any other fast food dish. Therefore, it is important to be reminded of the ideal sushi for a healthy diet.

Nigiri is commonly made with fish such as salmon, tuna or mackerel and is a low-calorie dish and an excellent source of protein, vitamin E and omega-3 (an essential fatty acid) that decreases blood pressure and cholesterol for a better cardiovascular system. Mixed with rice (white or brown) and vegetables (cucumber, mushrooms, avocado, soybeans), they provide a good balance of carbohydrates and therefore the necessary energy after a workout session. Maki provides the same benefits as nigiri but with an added asset. The seaweed wrap, nori, contains essential minerals for the hormonal system, bone and muscle tissues regeneration (magnesium, calcium, iron, folic acid, zinc, selenium, vitamins A, B, C and K). It is recommended to consume sushi with wasabi and ginger as they have antimicrobial properties, neutralise stomach acids and prevent cavities or asthma. Sushi also has vegetarian options. The vegetable rolls are made of rice, tofu and fresh vegetables, which are good sources of vitamins and minerals with very few calories (around 70 calories per roll).

Innovative versions have also emerged such as the rainbow rolls in which the nori has been replaced by colourful slices of fish like tuna, salmon, yellowtail or snapper. Even if nigiri contain less rice than maki, they can both be easily consumed with sashimi, more vegetables and a miso soup as side dishes for a more complete meal. On the other hand, because sushi has become such a huge market worldwide, the variety of rolls offered nowadays is as large as the nutritional values they contain. It is now common to find sushi loaded with mayonnaise, cream cheese or fried seafood (tempura), turning a traditional low-calorie meal into a high-calorie fast food dish.

If sushi lovers find it hard to avoid the high-calorie rolls, they should see them as an occasional treat to keep to a minimum in their diet. It is essential to indulge yourself from time to time with the food we love, to stay motivated. Fitness is not about food deprivation, it is about eating the right nutrients and quantity through a variety of ingredients. It is also about staying positive and exercising. It is finally about living healthy, well and longer through life-long good diet and exercises. Banning some foods will not make you reach your goals. It will turn the opposite as you will think of and crave them more often until you give up on your hard-earned efforts. Eating sushi remains a healthy choice, but it is all about timing and choosing quality to keep on track with your fitness achievements.

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