Are There Toxins in Your Sushi Salad?

By: Phillip Nagler  |  February 18, 2019

By Phillip Nagler, Junior Features Editor

At the beginning of the year, Yeshiva University dining services threw a curveball at its students by raising the price of sushi salads to roughly $16. While it may seem that the main factor in determining whether or not to purchase a sushi salad is for fiscal reasons alone, students should consider the potential health risks as well. As a result of ocean pollution, many types of fish contain trace amounts of metals and plastics.

Before you freak out and stop eating sushi altogether, it is important to realize that the FDA sets regulations for the amount of toxins that can be present. All fish contain trace amounts of mercury; however, mercury poisoning is not a concern for most people. Mercury mainly poses a risk to unborn fetuses, since their brains and other body systems are still developing. Women who are pregnant or plan on becoming pregnant are advised by the FDA to take caution of the specific fish they consume.

There are only a few cases of mercury poisoning in adults. In order to be poisoned by sushi, one would have to eat roughly 3-4 servings of tuna sushi a week, for a few weeks. Tuna tends to contain larger amounts of toxins compared to other fish, specifically albacore tuna. Sascha Nicklish, a postdoctoral researcher at University of California, San Diego, was part of a research study focusing on toxins contained in different species of tuna. On the topic, Nicklish offered some words of comfort: “I don’t want to be the bad guy here. I love to eat fish. I love tuna. It’s good to know most are safe to eat, but we need to make more information available so people can make their own choices.”

In terms of advice, there are a few measures we can all take to avoid mercury consumption from tuna. Eating light tuna, as opposed to white tuna or albacore, greatly decreases the risk of being exposed to high levels of mercury. Women who are pregnant, or are thinking of becoming pregnant should avoid eating all tuna sushi. For other adults, it is best to eat no more than roughly eight pieces of tuna sushi in one month.

Another viable option is to substitute tuna for other fish options, such as salmon. Salmon has very low levels of mercury and other toxins, and is safe to eat in large amounts. This is largely due to the fact that most of the salmon that we eat is farmed and not from the wild. Additionally, salmon is full of many important nutrients that people do not incorporate into their diets otherwise, such as omega-3 fatty acids.       

Imitation crab, also known as kanikama, is another popular sushi salad ingredient. It is essentially composed of a grinded up mixture of fish called surimi. In terms of health risks, there are no deep concerns for mercury levels in kanikama. There are, however, a lot of processed food additives in imitation crab, making it not the best nutritional option. Many have called kanikama the “hot dog of seafood” because of all the questionable ingredients that is is comprised of. Eating a lot of kanikama can also cause an upset stomach and other digestive issues, especially for those with weak stomachs.

Whether you are an avid sushi eater or only have a sushi salad once every blue moon, it is important to be mindful of what you are putting into your body. My motivation for writing this article is not to instill fear into people who eat sushi, but rather to raise awareness of the potential adverse health effects of eating sushi frequently. Ultimately, eating a little bit of raw fish every once in a while never hurt anyone.