You’re trying out the keto diet (you know, that high fat, moderate protein, low-carb eating plan that promises to kickstart weight loss by burning fat), and you need a break from all the meat and cheese you’ve been noshing on. Sushi for dinner sounds amazing—but wait, is sushi keto? We hate to break the bad news…but no, traditional sushi is not keto, because it’s made with rice. But you might still be able to find a low-carb alternative that satisfies your craving without throwing you off track.
Is Sushi Keto? Here’s the Scoop on Your Favorite Fish Dish
Is Sushi Keto?
In general, most sushi is not keto, because rice is not keto, and rice is a huge part of what makes it sushi. In fact, the word “sushi” literally means rice—the Japanese dish is composed of rice seasoned with vinegar and sugar and accompanied by a variety of ingredients, like raw or cooked seafood and vegetables.
That delicious sticky rice is the biggest part of what makes sushi off-limits for a keto diet. According to the USDA, a one-cup serving of cooked medium-grain white rice contains about 53 grams of carbohydrates—excellent news if you’re training for a marathon, not so much if your goal is to consume as few carbs as possible.
Aside from the obvious, many sushi rolls (especially in the western style) contain other carb-heavy elements in the form of sweetened sauces, tempura-battered ingredients and crunchy toppings. While tasty, they’re also not keto diet friendly.
But what about sashimi, you ask? That’s another Japanese raw fish preparation that is often confused with sushi, consisting of delicate slices of raw fish or meat. Since sashimi doesn’t contain rice, it can be a keto-friendly alternative to satisfy your seafood craving (provided it’s not dressed with a sauce), but it’s not sushi.
How to Request Keto Sushi Rolls:
Whether you’re eating out at a casual sushi restaurant or ordering omakase at a high-end establishment, we don’t necessarily recommend requesting a specially made “keto” dish, purely because ordering off-menu or trying to “hack” an existing dish adds undue stress to a kitchen staff that’s prepared to make the items offered on the menu. Instead, we suggest either ordering an item on the menu that doesn’t contain a lot of carbs to begin with (like any of the options below).
Keto Dishes to Order at a Sushi Restaurant:
If you’re eating at a sushi restaurant but stumped on what’s keto-friendly, don’t fret. There are plenty of options to order. Here are a few low-carb dishes you can try:
- Chirashi: Chirashizushi, which translates to “scattered sushi,” is essentially a bowl of vinegared sushi rice and raw fish that’s served with assorted garnishes, like nori, salmon roe and shredded egg. If you have the willpower to avoid the rice while you eat it, this dish can be keto.
- Edamame: This soybean snack is a popular side dish at Japanese restaurants, where it’s blanched in saltwater and served in its pod. Edamame is low in carbs and high in protein, making it a filling and nutritious keto side dish.
- Miso soup: Miso soup—made by melting miso paste into hot dashi—is low in calories and relatively low in carbs, so it’s a great keto starter at any sushi restaurant.
- Sashimi: Like we mentioned before, sashimi can be an excellent food to order while eating keto, since it’s just raw fish. Some restaurants will season the sashimi with a sauce, so ask ahead of time if you’re concerned.
- Tamagoyaki: This Japanese omelet is made by rolling together many thin layers of fried, beaten egg. While it’s usually seasoned with mirin and/or sugar, tamagoyaki is relatively low in carbs and a better keto option than other rice-based dishes.
- Yakitori: While it depends on the sauces being used, yakitori (aka a type of skewered chicken), is relatively low carb.
- Fish and meat entrees: If there’s a fish or meat entrée on the menu, it might be a good keto option, provided it’s not served in a sweetened sauce or tempura batter.
- Steamed vegetables: Skip the side of sticky rice in favor of a side of steamed vegetables, which are totally keto-approved.
But what if you really can’t resist biting into a chewy maki roll? Consider this: According to Keri Glassman, MS, RD, CDN, a truly ketogenic diet is too difficult for most people to stick to in the long run. You’re already making every effort to eat keto at home, so if you’re at a sushi restaurant and really want that rainbow roll, we say treat yourself.
Katherine Gillen is PureWow’s senior food editor. She’s a writer, recipe developer and food stylist with a degree in culinary arts and professional experience in New York City restaurants. She used to sling sugary desserts in a pastry kitchen, but now she’s an avid home cook and fanatic baker.