Is Sushi Keto?

Sushi is becoming very popular across North America in recent years.  This Southeast Asian delicacy has been taking the Western world by storm, and with good reason.  However, if you’re on Keto or you’re thinking of beginning the Keto diet you might be wondering if you can still enjoy sushi while remaining true to your low-carb meal plan. 

The answer is, yes, you can still eat sushi.  Before you rush off to your favorite sushi restaurant you need to know that there are a lot of restrictions as to the types of sushi allowed on Keto.  The following article will help you understand what types of sushi are Keto-friendly and which you should avoid.

Keto and Carbs

In order to understand which types of sushi are Keto-friendly and which types are not you need to first understand the role that carbohydrates play in the Keto diet. 

Traditional diets are often made up of roughly 50% carbs.  This is a lot of bread and pasta and your body gobbles it up, turning it into energy that you use to power the various functions of your body.  This process involves the creation of glucose in the liver from the carbs that you eat.  The glucose is then moved throughout the body using insulin to power your cells.

It’s easy for your body to convert carbohydrates into glucose and this means that glucose is your body’s primary energy source.  Very shortly after you eat a high carb meal your body has glucose made available.  Any glucose that you don’t use immediately is stored in the body as fat to be used later if there’s a shortage of carbohydrates.  The rest of the glucose is burned through as quickly as it was created.  Your body then sends out hunger signals in order to let you know that it’s run low on its favorite energy source and could you please send it some more?

The issue with this is that the energy isn’t consistent.  You receive a rush of energy shortly after eating that is followed an hour or so later by a crash.  You might have experienced this yourself and heard it referred to as “sugar highs” and “sugar lows”. 

In addition to the inconsistent energy, there’s also an issue with the way your body stores glucose for emergency situations.  The problem here is that those emergencies never occur.  We no longer live in a time period where food is scarce and the majority of us have enough food that we can satisfy our hunger cravings when they occur.  This means that the glucose that’s stored as fat continues to accumulate and you never burn it away.  This explains why it’s so difficult at times to get rid of stubborn stored body fat through exercise alone.  

How Keto is different

Keto seeks to change this and remedy these issues by switching your primary energy source from glucose to ketones.  Ketones are also created in your liver; however, they aren’t created from carbohydrates.  Instead, ketones are created from stored body fat.  This change occurs when your body is restricted from carbs to the point that it feels it’s necessary to switch to an alternate energy source in order to survive.  Now you know that you’re not in any danger of starving while on Keto; however, your body reacts to the lack of carbohydrates in a similar way.  This process is called ketosis and it’s where the Keto diet got its name.

The advantage of ketones is that they offer you a more stable form of energy.  Stored body fat takes longer to produce and burn; however, it’s always available.  You can think of it in terms of burning wood.  Carbohydrates are like the twigs that you throw on the fire while fat is similar to a large log.  Twigs spark up and burn very quickly, but it would take a constant supply of them in order to keep your fire going.  Logs on the other hand take a little bit of time to get burning but once they do, they provide fuel for a much longer fire.

In addition to the constant supply of energy, the Keto diet is also one of the only ways of accessing that stored body fat.  You’re literally burning this fat as fuel for your body.  This is why the Keto diet is so high in fats.  Roughly 70% of your calories should come from fats while on Keto with 20-25% coming from protein sources and only 5-10% coming from carbohydrates. This amounts to 20-25g of net carbs per day. 

What is sushi?

Sushi was created back in ancient China, around the 5th and 3rd century BC.  In order to preserve fish that had been caught fresh, the Chinese mixed it with rice and fermented the mixture in rice vinegar and sake.  The Japanese started creating sushi in the 8th century and after the fish had been fermented in the rice, the rice was thrown away.  This method of preservation kept the fish for upwards of a year.

The more modern form of sushi that we know today was developed around the 16th century.  The difference with this form of sushi is that the vinegar rice was eaten alongside the fish.  In fact, the term sushi doesn’t refer to raw fish at all as a lot of people think it does.  Instead, it refers to the vinegar rice that the fish is served on.

In fact, sushi doesn’t even have to contain any fish.  The rice is the main component of sushi and it serves as a bed for a variety of other foods including eggs, vegetables and raw fish.

Is sushi Keto?

So, if sushi isn’t raw fish, but is instead the rice that the fish is served on, then is sushi Keto?  No, sushi in the traditional sense of the word is not Keto because rice is too high in carbs to fit into your Keto meal plan.  That doesn’t mean that you can’t eat sushi on the Keto diet.  You just have to look for sushi that doesn’t rely on a bed of vinegar rice. 

What type of sushi is Keto?

Although traditional sushi with its bed of rice is a no-go while on Keto, there are a few Keto friendly sushi options.  If you’re looking to eat sushi on Keto, then Sashimi is your most Keto-friendly option. This type of sushi foregoes the bed of rice and features raw fish on its own or served with wasabi, ginger and some grated daikon.

It’s important to note that the ginger that may be served with the sashimi in restaurants is often pickled or sugared and therefore it’s best to avoid it when you can.  Of course, if you’re making homemade sashimi then you can stick with the daikon and wasabi without worries about carbs. 

What type of sushi should you avoid?

While on Keto there are some traditional sushi dishes that you’re going to want to avoid due to how many net carbs they contain.  Nigiri is one of the worst offenders.  This type of sushi uses a ball of vinegar rice as its base with a topping of raw fish, vegetables or eggs.  You usually get two rice balls with a serving of Nigiri; although, you can get only one at certain restaurants or if you make it yourself.

A typical two ball serving of Nigiri has 17-20g of carbohydrates.  You can see how even half of a serving could blow your net carb budget out of the water!  However, if you’re doing an alternate form of Keto such as cyclical Keto you could indulge in some Nigiri on your high carb days. 

Homemade sushi on the Keto diet

Making sushi at home allows you to carefully control the ingredients in your meal and avoid any sneaky carbohydrates and sugars. Keto sushi rolls are some of the easiest ones to make.  The same way you’d use cauliflower as a substitution for regular rice you can use it as a substitution for the rice that’s found in sushi. 

Other popular ingredients in homemade sushi are cucumber, avocado, red peppers, raw fish (especially salmon) and seaweed sheets.  The fish that is in homemade sushi is a great option for healthy fats on Keto.  The same goes for the avocado.  As long as you can keep the sugars and carbs to a minimum, sushi can be a nice addition to your Keto, especially when made at home.

Ordering sushi at restaurants while on Keto

The key with ordering sushi from a restaurant is clarity.  You have to make sure that you either know all of the ingredients that go into your meal, or you order a different one.  Restaurants in general are notorious for adding seasonings and sauces that make a Keto-friendly food too high in carbs or sugar to eat.   This is why sticking with plain foods without any additional sauces or seasonings is a good rule of thumb.

When it comes to sushi, avoid any meals that include rice, teriyaki or imitation crab meat.  The rest is up to your discretion.  The following dishes can be Keto-friendly if you’re sure that they don’t contain any carb loaded sauces.

  • Miso soup
  • Satay
  • Oshinko
  • Edamame
  • Sashimi
  • Negimaki
  • Sushi rolls (that don’t have rice, teriyaki or imitation crab)
  • Cucumber roll
  • Soy roll

Conclusion

Although traditional sushi isn’t allowed on the Keto diet, there are several varieties of sushi that you can eat both in a restaurant and in the comfort of your own home.  As long as there is no rice, and the sauces are kept to a minimum you should be able to continue to enjoy sushi while on Keto

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