Sushi or sandwich: how healthy is your worker's lunch?

woman eating sushi, man eating burger
Is your sushi really any better than a meal from McDonalds? Credit: Serge Krouglikoff /Getty

Swapping sandwiches for sushi in a bid to eat a healthier lunch might be pointless according to a new Channel 4 investigation.

In the latest episode of 'Trick's of the Restaurant Trade', nutritionist Amanda Ursell analysed the contents of sushi products available at a range of popular lunchtime restaurant chains such as Itsu, Pret A Manger, and Wasabi.

Ursell explained that people are often unaware a solution containing high amounts of sugar is added to the rice used for sushi. She found the Pret A Manger 'salmon, prawn and crab' sushi contained 10.8 grams of sugar, which is "almost the equivalent of two Jammie Dodgers."

Pret's salmon, prawn and crab sushi

Wasabi's 'Hana box' - containing salmon, avocado, seafood sticks, egg, cucumber, tuna, eel, soy sauce, and wasabi - was found to have a total of 132g in carbohydrates.

In the trade it's known as label padding. That's when ingredients are added in minuscule proportions to add a veneer of authenticity or goodness. It's not illegal, but I think it's misleadingKate Quilton

Presenter, Kate Quilton, said: "You might go for sushi and think it is a healthier alternative to the bog standard slices of bread sandwich, and yet what you are eating is the equivalent in carbs of seven and a half slices of bread."

Ursell agreed, adding that most people tend not to consider carbohydrate content like they do with bread when eating sushi. 

Itsu's 'Health and Happiness' sushi box, marketed as "line caught tuna and salmon sushi, salmon sashimi, crab California and salmon & avocado maki, wakame" was found to have a higher than expected calorie and fat content, putting it on par with a McDonald's Big Mac. This is due to a "wasabi" paste that contains only a small extract from the actual wasabi plant. The rest of the paste is made using horseradish, mustard and other colourings.

Quilton said: "In the trade it's known as label padding. That's when ingredients are added in minuscule proportions to add a veneer of authenticity or goodness. It's not illegal, but I think it's misleading."

Sushi from your favourite restaurants might not be as healthy as you think Credit: Alamy

A spokesman for Itsu told the Mail Online: "Whilst the calories and fat content for the Health and Happiness box and a Big Mac are roughly the same, the Health and Happiness box is almost double the weight of a Big Mac (372g vs 192g).

"A more realistic and fairer comparison would be a meal consisting of a Big Mac and a large portion of French fries, for a total weight of 317g, 952 kcal, 47g fat and 11g saturated fat."

Speaking to the The Huffington Post, they added: "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."

Lunch meals from Asda and M&S were found to unhealthier than expected

If the calorific content of sushi is making you rethink your trusted office worker's lunch destination, then you might struggle to find healthier options elsewhere. A recent investigation from consumer group Which? found that many allegedly healthy lunchtime options are, in fact, "no better than a burger or pizza" and called for manufacturers to start using 'traffic light' nutrition labelling.

People will be surprised to find some foods that many of us perceive to be a healthier choice are no better than a burgerRichard Lloyd

The 2015 investigation saw Which? test eight popular lunch meals, such as sandwiches, pastas and salads, from various high street supermarkets and restaurants to find that many contained surprisingly high amounts of fat, salt and sugar.

Marks and Spencer's chicken and smoked bacon salad on soft multigrain contained 694 calories and 37.1 gram of fat - more than a Pizza Express classic Margherita containing 683 calories and 22.5g of fat - while Asda's 290g piri piri chicken pasta salad contained two thirds of the recommended daily fat intake at 46.5g and had more fat than a Burger King bacon and cheese whopper.

Pret's "posh" cheddar and pickle on artisan, Caffe Nero's brie and bacon panini and Gregg's Mexican chicken baguette were all found to contain more than three teaspoons of sugar - half of our recommended daily allowance of six teaspoons.

They also found many labels contained unrealistic expectations of how much food the consumer would eat in a single sitting. The packaging for Asda's 290g piri piri chicken pasta salad (containing two thirds of the recommended daily fat intake at 46.5g) said the pot contained three servings. Which? expects said it was very likely someone would eat it by themselves in on sitting.

Which? executive director Richard Lloyd said: "People will be surprised to find some foods that many of us perceive to be a healthier choice are no better than a burger.

"We want all manufacturers to adopt traffic light nutrition labelling and restaurants to display information about calorie content of food, so consumers can see exactly what products contain."

A documentary earlier this year claimed that Nandos isn't a healthier alternative to KFC, after comparing the KFC Toasted Twister wrap with a Nandos equivalent. The KFC wrap contains 480 calories and 4.7g of sugar while the Nandos version  has 594 calories and more than three times the sugar at 16.2g.

Some Christmas sandwiches can contain more calories than a Big Mac Credit: Andrew Crowley

Even Christmas sandwiches aren't exempt from containing more calories or sugar than expected.

Last year, every Christmas sandwich was found to contain more calories than a McDonald's Big Mac. Sainsbury's Triple Christmas sandwich topped the list with 646 calories (compared to the Big Mac's 508), followed by Pret's Brie and Cranberry sandwich with 613 calories, and the Festive Full Works Bloomer from Eat with 599 calories.

Many of the sandwiches also contained nearly half the recommended daily salt intake for an adult (6g), while the sandwiches from Greggs and Eat contained almost half the amount of sugar found in can of Coca-Cola (35g).