Sushi and Diabetes: Best Sushi Options to Avoid Blood Sugar Spikes

November 16,2023 |
friends eating sushi

Sushi presents a culinary dilemma for individuals living with diabetes. While it might seem healthy, sushi is made with a type of rice that can increase blood sugar. However, there are several things you can do to make this Japanese delicacy diabetes-friendly. So, to help you keep sushi healthy, here's everything you need to know about sushi and diabetes.

What is Sushi, and How is it Made?

Sushi is a Japanese dish made from small pieces of raw fish, sushi rice, and seaweed (nori). Added ingredients help make the rice stickier, but this often has added sugar. Sushi is commonly enjoyed with wasabi, pickled ginger, and soy sauce, but several different variations may spike your blood glucose level due to the presence of added sugars or high-carbohydrate ingredients. It's, therefore, important for individuals with diabetes or those managing their blood glucose levels to be mindful of the type and quantity of sushi they consume.

The sushi rice used in traditional sushi recipes is typically made by combining cooked rice with rice vinegar, sugar, and salt. The added sugar in this mixture can contribute to an increase in blood glucose levels. Additionally, certain types of sushi rolls may contain ingredients like tempura batter or sweet sauces that can also raise blood glucose levels. Wasabi, pickled ginger, and soy sauce are commonly served with sushi. While these condiments are generally low in carbohydrates, it is important to note that some versions of soy sauce may contain added sugars. Therefore, it is advisable to use these condiments in moderation or opt for lower-sodium soy sauce alternatives.

Different Types of Sushi

Sushi has evolved over the years, and there are now several variations of traditional sushi. Some of the most common types include the following:

  • Nigiri — This is a thin slice of raw fish on top of rice, held together with dried seaweed. It's often the image that comes to mind when you think of sushi.
  • Sashimi — This is thinly sliced sushi-grade raw fish served on its own. It's not wrapped in rice and likely won't largely impact your blood sugar.
  • Chirashi — This sushi type is made in a bowl, with vinegared short-grain rice and raw fish. It's often topped with slices of nori.
  • Maki — Maki, or maki rolls, is sushi made from fish, rice, and vegetables rolled and sliced into pieces. These are the typical sushi rolls that you often see on the menu.
  • Temaki — This is similar to maki, but instead of sliced, the nori is rolled into a cone shape. It's often referred to as a hand-roll.
  • Uramaki — Often called an inside-out roll, this sushi has rice on the outside (i.e., a California roll).

Sushi can also be vegetarian, filled with avocado and other healthy vegetables. However, vegetarian sushi tends to require rice and dried seaweed to hold it all together.

What to Know About Sushi and Diabetes

While it's important to manage your blood sugar, you can still enjoy your favorite foods. To help, consider some of the following information regarding sushi and diabetes. However, ultimately, it's best to consult with a healthcare professional or a registered dietitian who can provide personalized guidance on managing blood glucose levels while enjoying sushi.

Health Benefits of Sushi

Certain types of raw fish contain high amounts of omega-3 fatty acids, which helps reduce your risk of heart attack and cardiovascular disease. This is especially good for people with diabetes since the condition increases your risk of heart disease. Certain types of sushi are also high in protein, filled with plenty of vitamins and minerals, and available in low-carb options. In fact, the American Diabetes Association recommends that people with diabetes eat four ounces of fish at least two times per week.

Risk of Sushi on Blood Sugar Levels

Certain sushi spikes blood sugar levels, primarily with types of maki or rolls with added sauce or deep-fried elements. Blood glucose levels may rise with one type, but other types can actually improve your blood sugar stability. If you love sushi and want to indulge in different kinds, just make sure that you regularly check your blood sugar levels and take diabetes medications to get your blood glucose back on track.

Can You Enjoy Sushi with Type 2 Diabetes?

Simply put, yes. You can eat sushi if you have diabetes as long as you take a few precautions along the way. The type of sushi you eat makes a difference, though, so it's important to be mindful of the rice and other ingredients. Also, consider consulting with a healthcare professional or a registered dietitian for personalized advice on managing your diabetes and incorporating sushi into your diet.

How to Make Sushi More Diabetes-Friendly

When you order sushi, there are a few tips to help keep your blood sugar levels stable. Not all ingredients in sushi are the same, so always read the menu thoroughly and ask your server if you have any questions. Otherwise, consider some of the following tips for enjoying sushi with diabetes.

Select High-Quality Seafood

Usually, the fish served in sushi restaurants is high quality and safe to eat. Still, it's important to do your research and make sure that you choose a restaurant with good food safety ratings. If you're going to make your own sushi at home, only buy sushi-grade fish or consider cooking it beforehand. Making sushi at home can be a great way to keep things healthy, but it's still important to make sure the sushi is safe.

Count Carbs

Certain carbs spike your blood sugar, so it's important to keep track of how much you're consuming. Blood sugar levels may rise if you have too much, so keep a limit on how much sushi you consume (unless it's sashimi). Sushi rice has a glycemic index of about 89, which is considered quite high, so be mindful.

Avoid Tempura

Tempura can have a negative effect on your blood sugar, as it's made from white flour and then deep-fried in refined oils. These types of greasy and fatty foods can cause an increase in insulin resistance, which can make it even more difficult to manage blood glucose levels in the future. Tempura rolls can also have added sugar, leading to a blood sugar spike.

Choose Brown Rice Over White Rice

In some restaurants, you can ask for sushi to be made with brown rice or quinoa. If this is an option, it can ensure the type of sushi you're eating is a bit healthier—at least in regard to carbohydrates.

Limit the Extra Sauce

Sushi usually comes dry, without any added sauce. However, some types of rolls or bowls can be loaded with extra sauce that's high in sugar. To keep sushi safe for people with diabetes, forego the unagi sauce.

Opt for Sashimi

The best sushi options for people with diabetes are sashimi. Many people enjoy tuna and salmon sashimi, but there are options for any type of sushi to be served on its own. This reduces the amount of vinegared rice, which can be better for diabetes management. If you want more than fish, ask what the restaurant's sushi rice is made of or add a side of steamed vegetables.

Add an Order of Miso Soup

Miso soup is made from seaweed, miso, and fermented soybean paste. It's a probiotic and can help aid in digestion, making it a great complement to the sushi you're eating. Plus, it's low in carbohydrates and won't affect blood sugar too much.

Start with Edamame

Edamame is steamed soybeans that sometimes have added salt or other spices. They're eaten straight from the pod and filled with plenty of healthy, dietary fiber that can fill you up without too many carbohydrates. Plus, edamame is low on the glycemic index, so it can help with blood sugar management.

Drink Green Tea

Green tea is served in Japanese restaurants and is a great option to pair with sushi when you have diabetes. Green tea can even lower your risk of developing type 2 diabetes and is filled with anti-inflammatory properties. Just make sure you opt for the tea only, as alternatives may be high in sugar.

To help simplify your diabetes management and reduce the risk of complications, consider using continuous blood glucose monitors from Byram Healthcare. We also provide diabetes support and educational resources for comprehensive care.