Dining Out with Diabetes: Japanese Restaurants

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Japanese cuisine is extremely popular in the United States. Most people have tried sushi – and love it – or have had an entertaining meal at a hibachi grill. Dining at a Japanese restaurant can definitely be part of a healthy diabetes meal plan. Use the following tips and suggestions to make healthy choices while enjoying dining out at Japanese restaurants.

What’s on the Menu?

Rice, noodles, beans, vegetables, meat and, of course, seafood are the basic staples of Japanese food – so there is lots to choose from. Familiarize yourself with the way entrees are prepared and the style used to prepare your meal. For example, appetizers or entrees that are tempura-based have been deep fried in a light batter. Udon noodles are thicker than soba noodles. Knowing these differences will allow you to determine which foods will fit best into your meal plan.


When eating at a hibachi restaurant ask for either rice or noodles – not both – so you can limit your carb intake, and limit the dipping sauces, which can contain carbs from sugar. To enjoy a lower fat meal ask for extra veggies with less protein, or save part of your meal for the next day.

Eating Inside the Box (or Made to Fit)

Many Japanese menus feature Bento box meals. These are single-portioned meals that consist of rice, meat or fish, and pickled or cooked vegetables served in a sectioned box-like plate. This is a great option for people with diabetes who do not want to over-eat, but still want to enjoy a variety of foods. Traditionally Bento boxes were meals that were packed at home, but recently these creative Bento boxes have become a popular way for people to prepare healthy portion-controlled meals.

Diabetes Eating: How many carbs are in a sushi roll?

It can be hard to know how many carbs are in a typical sushi roll (6 pieces). You have rice, knori (or seaweed), vinegar, and the fish or vegetables in the middle. The rice used to make sushi is short grain, “sticky,” and contains more carbs than regular rice. The vinegar is carb-free, but the knori has about 5-10g of carbs per roll. The table below will give you an idea of the total carbs in a basic sushi roll. Note that sushi with tempura will be higher in carbs than vegetable rolls like avocado and cucumber.

Basic Sushi Rolls (estimated per entire roll, not each piece)

Avocado Roll

  • Calories – 140
  • Fat – 5.7 g
  • Total Carbs – 28 g
  • Fiber – 5.8 g

California Roll

  • Calories – 255
  • Fat –  7.0 g
  • Total Carbs – 38 g
  • Fiber – 5.8 g

Kappa Maki (cucumber roll)

  • Calories – 136
  • Fat – 0 g
  • Total Carbs – 30 g
  • Fiber – 3.5 g

 Spicy Tuna Roll

  • Calories – 290
  • Fat – 11 g
  • Total Carbs – 26 g
  • Fiber – 3.5 g

Shrimp Tempura Roll

  • Calories – 508
  • Fat – 21.0 g
  • Total Carbs – 64 g
  • Fiber – 4.5 g

Salmon & Avocado Roll

  • Calories – 304
  • Fat – 8.7 g
  • Total Carbs – 42 g
  • Fiber – 5.8 g

Tuna (Maguro) Roll

  • Calories – 184
  • Fat – 2.0 g
  • Total Carbs – 27 g
  • Fiber – 3.5 g

Eel (Unagi) and avocado Roll

  • Calories – 372
  • Fat – 17 g
  • Total Carbs – 31 g
  • Fiber – 5.8 g

Note: Estimates based on data collected from various restaurants and supermarkets that make their information publicly available. From website www.sushifaq.com
Note: Fiber is calculated per roll based on information from the USDA Nutritional Database

The Bottom Line

There are plenty of healthy options when dining out at Japanese restaurants. For people with diabetes, portion control is always key – as is knowing how your meal is prepared to avoid hidden carbs from sauces and batter. Here is a list of foods to help guide your dining experience and keep you on track to good diabetes management.

Lighter fare:

  • Edamame (steamed soybeans)
  • Seaweed salad
  • Steamed tofu
  • Miso Soup
  • Ramen (noodle soup)
  • Vegetable gyoza (dumplings – originally Chinese)
  • Avocado sashimi (sliced avocado with ginger sauce)
  • Shumai (steamed dumplings – pick veggie or chicken)
  • Yakitori (grilled chicken)
  • Chicken teriyaki bento box

Items to share:

  • Fried wonton
  • Agedashi tofu (deep fried tofu)
  • Shrimp and vegetable tempura
  • Niku-itame (stir-fried pork)
  • Beef teriyaki (grilled or roasted beef in a sweet sauce)
  • Yaki Soba (meat or fish with stir-fried noodles and cabbage)
  • Sushi samplers
  • Specialty rolls (may have more ingredients than basic rolls)
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