The Health Risks And Benefits Of Sushi: Is Raw Fish Safe To Eat?

By Matthew Cenzon. May 7th 2016

The word "sushi" is often synonymous with "raw fish", which is true for the most part (some sushi dishes are cooked, while others contain no fish or seafood at all). This Japanese delicacy has grown to be quite popular all over the world as more and more people discover the unique textures and powerful flavors of sushi. However, there are still many people who are skeptical about eating seafood that is entirely raw.

Read on to discover the health benefits and possible dangers of eating sushi and raw fish in general.

What is Sushi?

To put it into simple terms, sushi is indeed raw fish over a clump of rice. Sushi is one of the most popular dishes in Japanese cuisine, and is probably the most famous throughout the world. When the raw fish is served without the rice, the dish is referred to as sashimi. However, it should be noted that not all sushi is served raw.

Certain sushi dishes, like unagi (eel) or ebi (shrimp), are actually cooked in some form. Popular, Westernized sushi rolls like the California Roll or Crunchy Roll found in many restaurants also feature cooked seafood. Sushi can also include dishes that contain no seafood at all, where the main ingredient might be vegetables or even egg.

Dangers of Raw Fish

According to the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA), seafood should be cooked thoroughly to minimize the risk of foodborne illness. Possible health complications you may face if you ingest a parasite found inside the raw fish you're eating include:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Tapeworm (roundworm, flatworm, etc.)
  • Symptoms of food poisoning

Parasites, like roundworms, can burrow in your stomach lining and cause further discomfort, pain and inflammation. If you experience severe symptoms after eating raw fish, like sushi, you should seek medical assistance immediately.

Is it Safe to Eat Sushi?

As scary as eating raw fish may sound, one must understand that the fish used at a reputable sushi establishment is of the highest quality. A reputable sushi establishment will also follow the highest of food safety standards to ensure that their dining guests do not fall ill from their food. Industrial freezers, proper fish freezing and storage, and the use of sushi-grade seafood are important factors for protecting patrons against foodborne illness. So, if it's a trusted establishment with reputable safety standards, feel free to happily enjoy your sushi.

Health Benefits of Eating Sushi

If you can get over your fears and the discomfort of eating raw fish, there are numerous health benefits to eating sushi, mainly because it includes such a diverse array of seafood that are packed with nutrients and beneficial fatty acids. Here are some of the health benefits of sushi, just to name a few:

  • Many sushi dishes contain omega-3 fatty acids. From tuna to mackerel, the various types of fish served as sushi dishes are loaded with omega-3, which carries numerous health benefits like reducing the risk of cancer, an improved cardiovascular system and lower cholesterol.
  • Sushi is a great source of protein. Most sushi dishes, depending on the type of seafood being eaten, are great sources of protein that are low in saturated fat.
  • Most sushi dishes are loaded with vitamins and minerals. Calcium and vitamin D are just two examples of the many vitamins and nutrients found in typical sushi dishes.

Aside from the rice and perhaps adding too much soy sauce, sushi is a very healthy dish that can be very beneficial for one's health.

Other Precautions

Due to the levels of mercury found in some seafood, and the potential health complications from foodborne illnesses, the FDA recommends that certain people should avoid the consumption of raw fish:

  • Pregnant women
  • Women who are still nursing
  • Older adults
  • People with weakened immune systems
  • Anyone with low stomach acidity
  • Those who may suffer an allergic reaction to certain seafood, like shellfish

Before consuming sushi or any type of seafood, cooked or uncooked, make sure you consult your physician beforehand.

The Bottom Line

Sushi is an excellent way of enjoying seafood that comes with numerous health benefits. When served and stored properly, sushi can be considered relatively safe for human consumption. However, that is not to say that there aren't any health risks that accompany eating raw fish, sushi or not. If you suffer any type of pain, discomfort or any of the health complications listed above after consuming any form of raw fish, consult your physician immediately.


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