When you forget to bring a packed lunch, it can be difficult to make a conscious decision when you’re faced with a handful of sandwich shops and coffee chains. In comparison to BLTs, paninis and wraps, packaged sushi seems like a fairly angelic choice. And that’s without the sides. This could explain the rising popularity of sushi chain Itsu, which last year sold a whopping 7.5 million boxes of the stuff.
But is this kind of packaged sushi as healthy as it seems? The latest episode of Channel 4’s The Tricks of the Restaurant Trade has investigated, and nutritionist Amanda Ursell is now revealing the surprising findings.
High Sugar & Carb Content
According to Amanda, a solution containing sugar is added to the rice used for sushi to make it sticky. For instance, in a Pret a Mangersalmon, prawn and crab sushi set, there is a huge 10.8 grams of sugar. To contextualise, this is “almost the equivalent of two Jammie Dodgers.”
On top of the hidden sugar content, there is also an unhealthy amount of carbohydrates contained in such packs. In Wasabi’s Hana box, Amanda reveals that there is a huge 132g of carbohydrates – the equivalent of 7 1/2 slices of white bread. Hardly health-conscious!
Most sushi kits also come with a sachet of wasabi. But presenter of the show Kate Quilton claims that many high street brands include only a tiny extract from the wasabi plant in their so-called ‘wasabi paste’. Instead the green mixture is made from horseradish (not exactly traditional), mustard and artificial colours to make it green.
This kind of deceptive practise is not uncommon, though, and “In the trade it’s known as label padding. That’s when ingredients are added in miniscule proportions to add a veneer of authenticity or goodness. It’s not illegal, but I think it’s misleading,” Quilton says.
Is It Really A Problem?
In response to the channel’s claims, a spokesperson for Itsu said that, “It’s normal practice for ‘wasabi’ to contain just a small portion of the actual wasabi plant. This is because wasabi itself rapidly loses flavour once it’s been grated and is best served within five minutes. Even we’re not that fast!”
Itsu also added that, in their opinion, the Channel 4 show contains “several misleading statistics about the nutritional information of some of [its] dishes, including a comparison of Itsu’s Health and Happiness sushi box (372g) to a McDonald’s Big Mac (192g).”
Of course, not everything is about the numbers, but this latest exposé is a welcome reminder that it’s always worth reading the label of what you’re eating – particularly when buying pre-made, packaged food. Low-salt soy sauce options are always available and certain sushi chains offer the Japanese cuisine made with more ‘whole’ ingredients, such as brown rice.
READ MORE: Best And Worst High Street Lunches
It’s so easy, though, to make your own lunches ahead of time – just spend an hour on a Sunday throwing together a vegetable soup or roasting a chicken breast and tossing together some grains and veggies. Not only will you save money, you will also save on the unhealthy carbs, salt and sugar found in most high-street options.
READ MORE: The Healthiest High Street Lunches