Sushi is a popular Japanese dish that typically consists of vinegared rice topped with raw seafood like fish or shellfish. While sushi is often thought of as a relatively healthy meal option, those on the keto diet may wonder if the rice used in sushi is keto-friendly.
What is sushi rice?
Sushi rice, also known as shari, is the starchy, gluten-free rice used to make sushi. It’s a short-grain white rice that has been seasoned with rice vinegar, sugar, and salt. This gives the rice its sticky, glossy texture and slightly sweet flavor.
To make sushi rice, the raw rice is rinsed, soaked, and then cooked. Once cooked, the warm rice is mixed with a seasoned vinegar solution. This causes the rice grains to absorb the vinegar flavor while also helping the rice hold together when formed into sushi rolls or nigiri (fingers of rice topped with fish or other ingredients).
Is rice allowed on the keto diet?
The ketogenic or “keto” diet is a very low-carbohydrate, high-fat diet. It’s designed to put the body into a metabolic state called ketosis, where the body switches from primarily burning carbs for energy to burning fats. This can promote fat loss and provide other health benefits.
To achieve this, the keto diet typically restricts net carb intake to 20-50 grams per day. Net carbs are calculated by subtracting fiber from total carbs, as fiber does not significantly impact blood sugar levels.
Since rice is high in carbohydrates with very little fiber, rice is heavily restricted on keto. A 1/4 cup serving of cooked sushi rice contains about 15 grams of net carbs – nearly an entire day’s worth of carbs on stricter keto diets.
Can you make sushi rice keto-friendly?
There are a few methods that can be used to make sushi rice lower in carbs and suitable for the keto diet:
Use cauliflower rice
Replacing regular rice with cauliflower rice or “riced cauliflower” is a popular keto swap. Cauliflower rice provides the rice-like texture but with far fewer carbs. To make keto sushi rice, pulse raw cauliflower florets in a food processor until ricelike, then cook until tender. Mix in the seasoned sushi vinegar just as you would with regular rice.
Lower the rice ratio
Using a combination of cauliflower rice and a smaller amount of regular sushi rice can lower the carb count. Aim for a ratio of about 1/4 cup sushi rice to 1 cup riced cauliflower. This reduces the total carb content while still providing some authentic rice flavor and texture.
Use keto-friendly sweeteners
The sugar in traditional sushi rice seasoning boosts the carb count. Swapping it out for keto-approved zero-calorie sweeteners like erythritol or stevia allows you to make properly seasoned and flavored sushi rice that’s lower in carbs.
Rinse rice before cooking
Rinsing sushi rice several times before cooking can reduce its starchiness and lower the final carb count. Rinsing helps remove the rice’s exterior starch. Be sure to account for any reduced cooking time when rinsing rice.
Skip the rice coating
Using just a small amount of rice or cauliflower rice in the roll filling instead of a rice coating around the entire roll can also decrease carbs. This technique provides rice flavor without it being the main component.
Sample recipe for keto sushi rice
Here is one method for making lower-carb sushi rice at home:
- 2 cups riced cauliflower
- 1/4 cup sushi rice
- 1/4 cup rice vinegar
- 1 tsp erythritol or stevia
- 1/2 tsp salt
- Rinse sushi rice several times until water runs clear. Cook rice according to package directions.
- Pulse cauliflower in food processor until rice-like consistency is achieved. Steam or cook cauliflower rice until tender.
- In a small saucepan, combine vinegar, erythritol or stevia, and salt. Heat until sweetener and salt dissolve.
- Place cooked sushi rice and cauliflower rice in a large mixing bowl. Pour vinegar mixture over rice and mix well until liquid is fully absorbed.
- Use in sushi rolls or nigiri as you would regular sushi rice. Top with raw fish, avocado, etc.
This lower-carb sushi rice alternative provides roughly 7-8 grams of net carbs per 1/2 cup serving. Be sure to factor this into your daily keto macros.
Keto-friendly sushi fillings
In addition to modifying the sushi rice, you can create keto-friendly sushi rolls or sashimi bowls by choosing low-carb fillings and toppings:
Fresh raw fish and seafood are naturally keto-friendly. Opt for fattier fish like salmon, tuna, mackerel or trout for more omegas-3s. Shellfish like shrimp and crab also make great fillings.
Avocado adds creaminess plus fiber and healthy fats. It pairs well with both meat and seafood.
Cucumbers are very low in carbs and provide crunch.
Lettuce, cabbage, spinach and other greens can be used in wraps or as fillings to add volume and nutrients.
Cilantro, chives and thinly sliced scallions not only add flavor but also make it easy to go lighter on high-carb sauces.
A sprinkling of sesame seeds boosts flavor and crunch with minimal carbs. Other keto-friendly seeds like chia and hemp seeds can also be used.
Small amounts of regular mayo, sriracha, mustard and tamari (soy sauce) can provide flavor. Be mindful of added sugars in prepared wasabi and eel sauce.
What about sushi restaurant orders?
You have a few options for ordering low-carb sushi from restaurants:
Sashimi is sliced raw fish or seafood without any rice. Load up on your favorite fish or shellfish with a side of greens instead of rice.
Hand rolls or temaki contain the fillings of a traditional roll wrapped in a sheet of seaweed. Ask for no rice or only a very small amount.
Salmon and avocado rolls
Salmon and avocado rolls are a popular low-carb choice. Opt for rolls that are light on rice and ask for extra veggies.
Some sushi restaurants offer whole grain brown rice, which is slightly lower in carbs. It’s not as low-carb as cauliflower rice but can be used in moderation.
Don’t be afraid to ask for modifications like no rice, reduced rice, added veggies, no sweet sauces, etc. Many sushi chefs are happy to accommodate requests.
Is sushi rice keto: The verdict
Traditional white sushi rice is too high in carbohydrates to be included in keto diets. However, sushi can still be enjoyed on keto by making modifications:
- Use part cauliflower rice or try rinsed sushi rice in very small portions
- Skip the rice coating and use rice only in the fillings
- Season rice with keto-friendly sweeteners instead of sugar
- Load up on keto fillings like fish, avocado, cucumbers, and greens
- When dining out, order sashimi or modified rolls with minimal rice
With a few carb-cutting tweaks, you can still enjoy the flavors of sushi without kicking yourself out of ketosis. Sushi rice alternatives paired with low-carb fillings can make for winning keto-friendly meals.