Sushi Precautions: Navigating Potential Drawbacks (Bacteria, Mercury,…)

Sushi is seen by some as one of the healthiest foods you can eat. But inside those rolls are several reasons you should only eat sushi as an occasional treat instead of your primary food. 

Raw fish used in sushi rolls may have parasites that can cause illnesses that might be fatal, depending on other health conditions. If the fish used comes from poor sources, it could contain high levels of mercury. Grocery store sushi, even when stored properly, can be a breeding ground for bacteria.

Keep reading to discover more about the potential dangers and drawbacks that come with consuming sushi.

These 14 disadvantages and drawbacks of eating sushi:

1. Parasites in Raw Fish Can Cause Illness.

Raw fish may be healthy in some ways, but several parasites come with eating uncooked fish that can cause severe illness. A disease called anisakiasis comes from the parasites that are in raw fish. The illness is caused by a worm that gets into the stomach and intestine walls. 

Symptoms may include abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, and mild fever. 

To minimize the risk of parasites in raw fish, purchase sushi-grade fish and freeze it to a minimum of -4℉ (-20℃) for at least seven days before using it. Keep the fish refrigerated after that until you are ready to consume it.

2. Sushi Is High in Carbohydrates.

If you’re watching your carb intake, you should know that while it may seem sushi wouldn’t have that many carbs, it has many more carbs than you think. Usually, one serving contains between 28 and 64 grams of carbs. The average low carb diets recommend taking in no more than 50 to 150 to grams of carbs per day.

The number of carbohydrates comes from sushi rice, sugar-laden sauces, and other ingredients that make sushi taste good. If you want a lower-carb option, try asking for extra vegetables and skip the rice in your rolls.

3. Sushi Is Higher in Calories.

Naturally, if sushi is higher in carbs, it would also be higher in calories. While some rolls contain fewer calories, for instance, the tempura rolls contain more calories due to the tempura batter used and the oil it is fried in. While many rolls have around 200-250 calories, they are empty as they come from white rice and sugar.

4. High Mercury Levels Might Be Present

Mercury is a known neurotoxin that affects your brain’s health. Much of today’s water sources contain high levels of mercury, of which the fish are exposed to. Many times, the fish from those waters then end up in the sushi rolls you love to eat. The more sushi you eat with ‘contaminated’ fish, the more mercury builds up in your body.

5. There Might Be a Higher Risk of Man-Made Toxins.

It’s no secret that oceans, lakes, and rivers are contaminated through years of corporate and consumer dumping. Oil spills, gas leakages, and regular trash have damaged the waters the fish and other sea life live in, creating a new set of problems with eating sushi. Eating raw fish means that you are also consuming the human-made toxins the fish may have absorbed. 

6. Tapeworms Could Be Lurking in Raw Fish.

Here is an interesting story. In 2018, a man from California pulled a 5-foot tapeworm out of his body, put it in a bag, and went straight to the emergency room. He got it by eating raw salmon sushi almost every day. Raw fish is the perfect breeding ground for tapeworms and other parasites. If you must eat raw fish, eat it only occasionally as a treat to minimize getting tapeworms.

7. Hidden Sugars Are in Many Ingredients.

Sushi rice is typically made with sugar and rice wine vinegar. Many of the sauces also contain sugar and other sweeteners. Altogether, your sushi roll may contain up to three or four teaspoons of added sugar from the known ingredients, while sugar may be used in other ingredients.

8. Unhealthy Fish Is Sometimes Used.

Wild-caught salmon or other fish are high in Omega-3 fatty acids, which is good for you, but you are probably getting more than that with your sushi. Many restaurant suppliers source their fish from fish farms where there is a higher level of pesticides, antibiotics, and other chemicals in the water. 

9. Too Many Sushi Options Might Be Intimidating.

When you enter a sushi restaurant and look at all the delicious options, you may feel intimidated because you have no idea what to choose or what would be good. Plus, if you have any food allergies, the menus might be even more intimidating. 

If you’re new to sushi, you could get lost in all the options. There are the Avocado Rolls, Tempura Rolls, California Rolls, and Cucumber Rolls, to name a few. Then, there are sushi and sashimi rolls and whole food items–these choices then have further options under those categories. It can be confusing to the beginner sushi lover. 

10. Grocery Store Sushi Is a Breeding Ground for Bacteria.

Even if sushi is held at the proper temperature and conditions once in the store, large amounts of bacteria may be present. Poor temperature control during transportation helps bacteria breed and grow. Once it’s there, no amount of chilling or freezing it will make it healthier again.

11. Sauces Contain Too Much MSG.

Monosodium Glutamate (MSG) is another neurotoxin that creates several problems, such as migraine headaches, chest pain, nausea, and a numbing or tingling sensation in the limbs and fingers. Many sauces that come with your favorite sushi roll, such as soy sauce, are loaded with MSG. 

MSG is a flavoring additive that brings out the flavor of the other ingredients, making it a go-to sauce for many restaurants, especially Asian ones. 

12. Fried Rolls Are Usually Fried in Canola Oil.

Canola oil is unhealthy and can cause several health problems, such as inflammation, which is at the root of many diseases. Most fried foods in many restaurants, including sushi restaurants, are fried in canola oil, which negates any health benefits that may exist with the rest of the roll’s ingredients. Plus, anything fried is going to have a thick batter that adds calories and carbohydrates to the final product.

13. American Wasabi Is Not Genuine Wasabi.

Genuine wasabi is healthy and has many health benefits. Unfortunately, many times, the wasabi you get in the United States is not authentic. It is made from horseradish and green food coloring. While horseradish is not bad for you, the dye used to make it green can be quite unhealthy.

14. Portion Sizes Are Hard to Control.

Most restaurants in the United States serve large portions, and sushi restaurants are no exception. Sushi rolls are getting larger, and while they are meant to share, most people don’t, and leftovers are not usually worth saving as the ingredients in the sushi go bad rather quickly.

An average sushi roll is cut into 6 – 8 small pieces, so while you might think that ordering 3 different types of sushi might be fine, you’re actually eating to 18 – 24 pieces

Last Word

Sushi can be a healthy treat once in a while if properly handled, and you know where the fish came from. 

You can include more vegetables in your sushi if you’re concerned about the calorie or carb count. If you like rice, you can ask for brown rice instead of white; however, keep in mind that it might not be as tasty as it’s healthy. To lower the sodium or MSG, coconut aminos is a good substitute for soy sauce. And order sashimi, which is just raw fish, instead of sushi. 

Finally, if you must have the sauces with your sushi rolls, ask for the sauce on the side so you can dip the roll for a slight taste without overindulging.

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This article was co-authored by our team of writers and editors who share one thing in common: their passion for food and drinks!

JC Franco
Editor | + posts

JC Franco works as a New York-based editor at Foodrinke, driven by his lifelong love for food. His culinary journey began in childhood, as he eagerly assisted his mother with her local sandwich and bakery business, relishing every opportunity to sample her creations. Known among family and friends as an easy eater, JC has a particular affinity for Chinese, Italian, Mexican, and Peruvian cuisine. At Foodrinke, he channels his passion for food into his work, sharing his enthusiasm and knowledge with readers.