Here's our guide for ordering keto sushi rolls at Japanese restaurants. See what ingredients to avoid and how to order no-rice sushi!
Sushi on keto? You might think your sushi options at Japanese restaurants may be limited while on a low-carb or keto diet. But that’s changing as more and more Japanese restaurants are willing to make no-rice sushi rolls upon request. And if you love sushi rolls as much as us, this is such a blessing!
Of course, you can always order sashimi as a keto or low-carb sushi option, but, as you may find, you don’t need to stop there.
Sushi rolls, also known as a maki rolls, are not low-carb or keto friendly since they include a generous amount of sweetened white rice, which is high in carbs. According to the USDA, a salmon roll has 24 grams of carbs, which is nearly half of the roll’s calories! It’s best to think of the layer of rice in a maki roll as a slice of bread which is wrapped around a small piece of fish.
However, sushi chefs can make no-rice sushi (maki) rolls. When you order no-rice sushi rolls, they typically include the same stuffing and simply use nori sheets (keto-friendly seaweed), soy wrappers (also low in carbs and keto friendly), or even sliced cucumber as an outside wrapping (traditionally referred to as naruto-style rolls).
But, even when you order no-rice sushi rolls, you need to be aware of hidden carbs in certain ingredients such as imitation crab or sauces.
To make the ordering process easier, we’ve created a guide to help you order keto and low-carb sushi rolls when at a Japanese restaurant.
ORDERING GUIDE FOR KETO & LOW CARB SUSHI ROLLS
Sushi and Ingredients to Avoid
Before ordering, you should be aware of ingredients or sushi you need to avoid. The following ingredients and/or sushi are in high in carbs:
- Nigiri sushi includes a slice of raw fish or seafood over a bed of sweetened rice. This type of sushi is high in carbs — roughly 10 to 15 carbs per piece. It's better to order sashimi for a simple serving of raw fish.
- Eel: Eel is typically paired with a sugary sauce that is high in carbs, so it’s best to avoid it all together.
- Imitation crab meat: Imitation crab is fairly common, but unfortunately it's high in carbs and not keto friendly. It's basically made from fish that's turned into a paste that includes high-carb fillers. Note that if you ask your server to substitute imitation crab for real crab it will likely incur an additional charge.
- Tempura: Tempura is high in carbs since it's typically made with flour and other starches. Some sushi rolls include tempura shrimp or veggies, which should be avoided. Or, you may request plain shrimp and veggies (with no tempura) instead.
- Teriyaki sauce: Teriyaki sauce is high in carbs and sugar and is sometimes used as topping on sushi rolls. Anything with teriyaki sauce should be avoided.
- Other sauces: Some rolls include a sauce or topping and if you don’t know what's in it, then you should ask your server. Often times, these sauces are sweetened.
How to request no-rice, keto sushi rolls
Here are things you'll want to ask your server when ordering no-rice keto rolls:
- Politely ask your server which rolls they can make without rice. Be aware that not all sushi rolls can be made without rice since rice is important to a sushi roll’s structure (in fact the term sushi originally referred to the rice).
- In making no-rice rolls, ask your server if they can use nori, soy paper or cucumber as an outside wrapper. Although rice paper is not typically used in sushi, you'll want to confirm that it will not be used as a substitute since it's high in carbs.
- If you’re unsure which rolls to order, here are common rolls that can typically be made without rice:
- California Roll with real crab (without imitation crab): California roll is a type of maki roll that contains cucumber, crab or imitation crab, and avocado. Be sure to request real crab when ordering!
- Salmon Roll: Salmon roll is a type of maki roll that contains raw salmon and avocado. This is different from a spicy salmon roll, which is made with spicy mayo.
- Philadelphia roll: A Philadelphia roll is a type of maki roll made with smoked salmon, cream cheese and cucumber.
- Rainbow Roll with real crab (no imitation crab): A rainbow roll is filled with cucumber, avocado and imitation crab or crab and usually topped with various types of fish like tuna, salmon, white fish, yellowtail, snapper or eel. If ordering, be sure to request real crab and confirm that it does not include eel (and if so, to remove it).
- Boston Roll with poached shrimp (no tempura shrimp): This roll is typically made with poached shrimp and Japanese cucumbers. If the restaurant uses tempura shrimp, ask if you can substitute for poached shrimp.
- Alaska Roll with real crab: Alaska rolls typically include cucumber, imitation crab or crab, and avocado (like a California roll) with salmon on top. If ordering, be sure to request real crab.
- Always be sure to ask for real crab (no imitation crab) and to leave off any sauces. These are often sources of hidden carbs!
What to request when they can’t make keto sushi rolls
Occasionally, a Japanese restaurant may reject making no-rice sushi rolls. We find that larger Japanese restaurants tend to be more accommodating to these requests as opposed to smaller restaurants that may not have as much capacity to do so.
If the restaurant cannot make sushi rolls without rice, there are still some low-carb and keto-friendly options to explore:
- No-rice temaki hand rolls: A temaki hand roll is basically sushi fillings and rice served in a seaweed cone. It's easier to make hand rolls without rice as opposed to sushi rolls. Just be sure to ask for real crab (if included) and to remove any sauces.
- Naruto: Naruto is a type of roll in which cucumber replaces the rice. Although there is no rice, you'll need to ask for real crab (if included) and to remove any sauces. Sometimes this is referred to as a "lollipop" roll.
- Sashimi: Sashimi is raw fish served without rice and is the lowest-carb item on a traditional sushi menu. You really can't go wrong with sashimi.
- Poke: Poke is chunks of raw fish that have been mixed with oils, sauces, and veggies. Poke may be an option, but there are so many varieties of poke it's hard to generalize. You'll likely have to read the ingredients in the menu carefully (or even ask the server) to make sure there aren't any sweeteners or starches.
Keto Sushi FAQ
Generally, most sushi is not keto friendly aside from sashimi (essentially just fish without rice). Therefore, you'll need to ask your server to make modifications to sushi rolls or hand rolls (such as removing the rice and other substitutions) to make them low-carb and keto friendly.
No. Imitation crab is made from fish that is turned into a paste and then has high-carb fillers added to it (like cornstarch). According to the USDA, a 3 ounce serving of imitation crab has 2.8 grams of carbs and more than 60% of the calories are from carbohydrates, which makes it high in carbs. Ask your server if the restaurant uses imitation crab, and if you can substitute it with real crab for an additional charge.
Nori wrappers are dried sheets of seaweed made from algae. They're the most common type of sushi wrapper and are keto-friendly at roughly 1 gram of net carbs per sheet.
Soy wrappers are similar to nori wrappers (although not quite as study and, therefore, a little harder to work with), except they're made from compressed soy beans. Soy wrappers are keto friendly at roughly 1 gram of net carbs per sheet.