How healthy is a dragon roll?

What is a dragon roll?

A dragon roll is a popular sushi roll that typically consists of shrimp tempura and avocado or cucumber on the inside, and eel and avocado or other ingredients on the outside. The name comes from the resemblance of the sliced eel on top to dragon scales. Dragon rolls are an American creation, combining classic Japanese sushi ingredients like seaweed, sushi rice, and fresh fish with non-traditional ingredients like tempura shrimp and avocado. They tend to be larger and more ornate than traditional sushi rolls. While they can vary between sushi restaurants, a classic dragon roll includes:

  • A core of shrimp tempura (shrimp coated in tempura batter and fried)
  • Avocado or cucumber
  • Freshwater eel or smoked eel
  • Avocado
  • Eel sauce
  • Sushi rice
  • Nori (dried seaweed)

The rice, shrimp, avocado, and/or cucumber make up the inner roll or core, while the eel and avocado or other topping creates the outer layer. The sliced eel on top is meant to resemble dragon scales. Eel sauce gives the roll a sweet, salty flavor. While traditional sushi chefs may frown upon some of the non-traditional ingredients, dragon rolls have become popular menu items at many North American sushi restaurants.

Are dragon rolls healthy?

Dragon rolls contain a mix of healthy and less healthy ingredients. Here is a breakdown of the nutrition found in each component:

Sushi Rice

The white rice used to make sushi provides carbohydrates, some vitamins and minerals, and not much else nutritionally speaking. About 1/4-1/2 cup of cooked sushi rice contains:

  • 100-150 calories
  • 25-30 grams carbohydrates
  • 2-3 grams protein
  • Virtually no fat
  • Small amounts of B vitamins like thiamine and niacin

So while white rice is not unhealthy per se, it does not offer much nutrition and can spike blood sugar levels since it digests quickly into glucose. Brown rice would be a healthier option with more fiber, vitamins, and minerals.


Nori, or dried seaweed sheets, have some nutritional benefits:

  • Rich in iodine, which supports thyroid function
  • Contains omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA
  • High in vitamin K
  • Good source of vitamin C, folate, and vitamin A
  • Provides fiber, protein, minerals like calcium and iron

Seaweed is a nutritious sea vegetable that offers a range of vitamins and minerals lacking in the rice portion of sushi rolls. About 1 sheet of nori (around 4 grams) contains:

  • 10-15 calories
  • 2-3 grams carbohydrates
  • 1-2 grams protein
  • 1 gram fiber

Shrimp Tempura

The shrimp tempura portion, while tasty, drives up the fat, calorie, and sodium content of dragon rolls significantly. About 2-3 pieces of shrimp tempura contain:

  • 100-150 calories
  • 7-12 grams fat
  • 150-300 milligrams sodium

The light batter contains refined carbs and fat absorbed during the deep frying process. While shrimp provide protein and some minerals like selenium, the coating and high-heat cooking in oil are not the healthiest preparation methods.


Avocado offers a nutrition boost to dragon rolls. About 1/4 avocado (around 25 grams) contains:

  • 50 calories
  • 4 grams fat (mostly healthy monounsaturated fat)
  • 3 grams carbohydrate
  • 1 gram protein
  • 3-4 grams fiber
  • Vitamin K, folate, vitamin C, potassium

So while high in calories and fat for its size, avocado provides heart-healthy fats, fiber, and important vitamins and minerals.


Cucumber is another healthy ingredient that may be used in dragon rolls. 1/4 cucumber (about 25 grams) contains:

  • 5 calories
  • 1 gram carbohydrates
  • Small amounts of vitamin K
  • Hydrating and may aid digestion

So cucumber provides nutrients and hydration with minimal calories or carbs.


Freshwater or smoked eel provides protein, essential fatty acids, vitamin A, calcium, and iron. About 1 ounce of eel contains:

  • 70 calories
  • 4 grams fat
  • 450 milligrams omega-3 fatty acids
  • 15 grams protein

However, eel tends to be high in fat for a protein source and there are some concerns about sustainability of eel fishing practices.

Eel sauce

The eel sauce drizzled over dragon rolls is essentially a teriyaki sauce made from:

  • Soy sauce
  • Mirin (sweet rice wine)
  • Sake (rice wine)
  • Sugar

It adds a boost of salty, sweet flavor but also drives up the sodium content significantly. About 1 tablespoon eel sauce contains around 150-200 milligrams sodium.

Nutrition summary

Looking at the nutrition numbers, here is an overview of the key components in a typical dragon roll:

  • Carbohydrates: Mainly coming from white rice, providing 25-40 grams per roll
  • Protein: Around 10-15 grams from the shrimp, eel, and small amounts from rice and nori
  • Fat: Around 10-15 grams coming mostly from avocado, shrimp tempura, eel
  • Sodium: 300-500 milligrams from shrimp tempura, soy sauce, eel sauce
  • Sugar: 5-10 grams from rice, eel sauce

So while dragon rolls provide some protein, healthy fats from avocado, and micronutrients from the nori, they are also high in refined carbs, sodium, and calories if you eat a whole roll. The ideal healthy meal balances protein, carbs, fats, and limits sugar and sodium.

Healthier options

You can make some modifications to dragon rolls to make them healthier:

  • Ask for brown rice instead of white sushi rice
  • Limit high-sodium sauces like eel sauce
  • Replace tempura shrimp with grilled shrimp or tuna
  • Add extra vegetables like carrots, spinach, asparagus
  • Use just one piece of eel to top the roll
  • Opt for a dragon roll with just avocado and cucumber inside
  • Eat just half a roll and pair with a salad or miso soup for a balanced meal

Choosing rolls made with sashimi or raw fish instead of tempura is also a healthier route. Some good lower calorie, lower carb options are:

  • Tuna roll
  • Salmon avocado roll
  • Yellowtail scallion roll
  • Cucumber avocado roll

Nutritional benefits

Despite some unhealthy aspects, dragon rolls do provide some important nutrients:

  • Protein from fish and shrimp for muscle repair, hair, skin and nail health
  • Omega-3 fatty acids from seafood, avocado, and nori promote heart health and brain function
  • Fiber from nori and avocado for digestive health
  • Vitamin K from seaweed, eel, avocado for healthy bones and blood clotting
  • B vitamins like B12 from fish support energy levels and metabolism
  • Potassium from avocado helps maintain fluid balance and nerve transmission
  • Antioxidants from fish and avocado combat cellular damage from free radicals

Potential downsides

There are also some potential downsides of eating dragon rolls regularly:

  • High in sodium, especially with salty sauces
  • Refined carbs and sugar from white rice and eel sauce
  • High calorie density, with most of the calories coming from fat
  • Lack of fiber relative to nutrients
  • Heavy processing of oils in tempura batter
  • Sustainability issues around some seafood like eel

Consuming high amounts of salty, fatty, or sugary foods may increase risk for conditions like high blood pressure, obesity, diabetes, and heart disease when eaten in excess.

The bottom line

Dragon rolls certainly qualify as an indulgence meal given their high calorie, carb, and fat contents. But thanks to their fresh fish, avocado, and seaweed components, they also sneak in some important nutrients and healthy fats when enjoyed in moderation. By balancing out your dragon roll with more veggies, fiber, and lean protein, and avoiding excessive salty sauces, you can make this restaurant favorite work within the context of an overall healthy diet. Stick to just half a roll along with miso soup or salad, and dragon rolls can be part of a well-rounded nutrition plan.


  1. U.S. Department of Agriculture, FoodData Central. FDC ID: 1694666, sushi, dragon roll, with eel, shrimp and avocado.
  2. Mycotoxin Research. (2019). Nutritional characterisation of edible seaweeds.
  3. BBC Good Food. Japanese dragon sushi roll recipe.
  4. Healthline. 8 Nutrition Benefits of Eating Avocado.
  5. Medical News Today. What are the health benefits of eel?

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