By Stephanie Saunders

Eating out is ingrained into the American lifestyle. According to Kiplinger's Magazine, the average American eats out 4.2 times a week. While that 0.2 meal might not have much impact, we all know what those other four meals can do to our waistlines and bank accounts, yet it's doubtful we'll alter this behavior in the near future, so how do we continue to enjoy a little fine dining without negating all of that fitness work? Maybe Beachbody can help. Over the next few weeks, we'll take a look at a few of the more popular cuisines around and figure out how to navigate through their menus. This week: Japanese food.

If we consumed Japanese food the way they do in Japan, with the focus on fish, lean meat, vegetables, and rice, we might actually decrease the number of cases of heart disease, colon cancer, and obesity that plague our country. Unfortunately, we've put a big American spin on this international cuisine. So how can we make it healthy again? Let's walk through the options from the beginning of the meal to the last bite.


The most common appetizer offered in a Japanese restaurant is edamame, or steamed soybeans, salted and left in the pod. Edamame is high in protein, low in calories, and very tasty. (Ten pods contain 29 calories, 1.4 grams of fat, 2.2 grams of carbs, 2.6 grams of protein, and 3 milligrams of sodium—before the chef salts them.)

Another common choice is yakatori, skewers of grilled, lean meat and vegetables. Again, they're high in protein, and in most cases, low in fat. Oftentimes, these tasty morsels are heavily salted, so if you're watching your sodium intake, beware. (One chicken skewer contains approximately 158 calories, 1 gram of fat, 11.6 grams of carbs, 20 grams of protein, and 1278 grams of sodium.)

A less nutritionally dense choice is the fried tofu pouch. The title alone should be an indication that these sweet little balls of tofu and rice, deep-fried twice, are not your wisest choice. You'll get most of your calories from fat, and there is not enough tofu to justify that. (One tofu pouch contains 80 calories, 6 grams of fat, 5.5 grams of carbohydrates, 6 grams of protein, and 10 milligrams of sodium.)


Miso soup is a favorite at most Japanese restaurants. It is a light broth created from a miso (soy) paste, often containing scallions and tofu. Many studies have shown that beginning a meal with a broth soup can help you consume less calories during the rest of the meal, so it's not a bad choice. (A cup of miso soup contains approximately 75 calories, 2 grams of fat, 9 grams of carbs, 4 grams of protein, and 721 grams of sodium.)

Another popular soup choice is Udon noodle soup, which can be a meal in itself. A light broth contains noodles, tofu, vegetables, and shiitake mushrooms; it's fairly healthy and extremely filling. (A 5.3-oz. serving of Udon noodle soup contains about 220 calories, 1.5 grams of fat, 40 grams of carbs, 7 grams of protein, and 660 grams of sodium.)


Salads are offered at most Japanese restaurants, but they're often overlooked for the main course. And this would be one of the few times that skipping a salad would be an extremely wise idea. Ginger dressing—although sweet, tangy, and very yummy—isn't exactly the dream diet. Depending on the manufacturer, it can have up to 12 grams of fat in 2 tablespoons. If you can't live without a little iceberg lettuce, ask for the dressing on the side. (Two tablespoons of ginger dressing contain 200 calories, 12 grams of fat, 2 grams of carbs, 1 gram of protein, and 440 grams of sodium.)

A much-healthier, nutrient-rich, and adventuresome choice is seaweed salad. For those who have yet to try this delicacy, it consists of chopped seaweed, ginger, garlic, cilantro, soy sauce, rice vinegar, scallions, and sesame oil. Seaweed is a powerhouse of multivitamins, which makes this low-cal salad worth a try. (Two ounces of seaweed salad contain approximately 70 calories, 4 grams of fat, 10 grams of carbs, 7 grams of protein, and 660 grams of sodium.)

Main Course


Sushi is often thought of as simply raw fish. The term sushi, in Japan, actually refers to the rice, which is white, with rice vinegar and a bit of sugar mixed in. What we think of as sushi is nigiri (fish draped over balls of rice), maki (fish wrapped in seaweed and rice, cut into pieces), temaki (fish and rice wrapped up in a seaweed cone), and sashimi (raw fish served without rice). Let's start with the least dangerous of options, and then move to the sushi pitfalls.

Sashimi and nigiri are very similar; the difference being that nigiri has a small tuft of rice beneath it, adding about 24 calories and 5.5 grams of carbs to the option. The following nutritional breakdown is before rice balls and soy sauce are added, so take that into consideration. Here are a few of the most popular choices in the U.S., in 1-oz. increments:
  • Salmon: 40 calories, 2 grams of fat, no carbs, 6 grams of protein
  • Albacore: 49 calories, 2 grams of fat, no carbs, 7 grams of protein
  • Bluefin tuna: 40 calories, 1 gram of fat, no carbs, 7 grams of protein
  • King crab: 27 calories, no fat or carbs, 5 grams of protein
  • Yellowtail: 31 calories, no fat or carbs, 7 grams of protein
Maki and temaki are the same, except one (maki) is cut into smaller pieces. This is where sushi can get tricky. A lot of extra ingredients can obviously add calories and fat, and make your healthy dining experience akin to a trip to a burger joint. Sauces are often mixed into the roll. This may add flavor, but it's not worth the price. Also, anything called "spicy" or "crunchy" usually means mayonnaise, cream cheese, and tempura batter—not what you would consider heart healthy alternatives. The following are a few roll options, in one-roll (6-piece) increments, from the healthiest to the least healthy. Remember that every sushi chef can add his or her own pizzazz to the dish, so these are approximate breakdowns:
  • Avocado roll: 140 calories, 5.5 grams of fat, 28 grams of carbs, 2 grams of protein
  • Tuna roll: 184 calories, 2 grams of fat, 27 grams of carbs, 24 grams of protein
  • California roll: 255 calories, 7 grams of fat, 38 grams of carbs, 9 grams of protein
  • Spicy tuna roll: 290 calories, 11 grams of fat, 26 grams of carbs, 24 grams of protein
  • Rainbow roll: 476 calories, 16 grams of fat, 50 grams of carbs, 33 grams of protein
  • Shrimp tempura roll: 508 calories, 21 grams of fat, 64 grams of carbs, 20 grams of protein

Teppanyaki was popular a couple of decades ago, with restaurants like Benihana® and Kabuki popping up all over the place. Skilled chefs cooked vegetables and meats on very hot surfaces in front of you, doing crazy knife tricks in the process. In Japan, they often make you cook your own meal on a small hot grill at your table. Luckily, they don't give you giant knives to work with, so the danger is lessened. As meat, vegetables, and even rice preparation would vary per location, it would be difficult to break this down calorically. Just remember to lean towards veggies, seafood, and chicken; ask the chefs to go very light on the oil; season with light soy sauce; and avoid the fried rice.


What happens when you take a perfectly innocent zucchini and fry it in oil? Well, besides losing a good portion of its nutrients, it becomes bad for you. Five small pieces of tempura can have up to 400 calories and 10 grams of fat. Yes, I get that tempura is extremely tasty, as are all things saturated in oil. Unfortunately, they also make your fitness goals that much harder to attain. Just say no to the tempura.


Sake and sushi seem to be like peanut butter and jelly for many people; and as they do complement one another, it makes perfect sense. The 16-percent alcohol content in sake makes it a very potent rice wine, so you don't need to consume a lot of it to feel the effect. There's also Japanese beer, which is similar in content to its European counterpart. Again, watching your intake can keep your calorie count down, so, perhaps, you can have one more piece of sushi. Some alcohol choices include:
  • Sake, 1 oz.: 39 calories, no fat, 1.5 grams of carbs, 0.1 gram of protein
  • Asahi® beer, 12 oz.: 146 calories, no fat, 12.6 grams of carbs, 1.6 grams of protein
  • Sapporo® beer, 12 oz.: 140 calories, no fat, 10.3 grams of carbs, 1.4 grams of protein
In Japan, the variety of meal choices is endless. The Japanese tend to save restaurant dining and things like sushi and teppanyaki for very special occasions. Meals for the traditional Japanese tend to be miso soup, rice, pickled vegetables, and a piece of fish—at least until McDonald's® and KFC® invaded the lovely island. Japan still has the third highest life expectancy in the world, but as Western culture continues to impart its fried, fatty food eating habits, the youth of Japan seem to be facing a different kind of health in the future. If you lean toward simplicity with your Japanese meals, you will gain all of the added health benefits, and keep your waistline in check. Suki desu ka?