Is teriyaki healthy? It depends on how you make it!

                by Joost Nusselder | Updated:  April 20, 2021

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When you think of teriyaki, two things pop into mind: teriyaki sauce and teriyaki meat dishes, most commonly chicken teriyaki.

Teriyaki is a healthy Japanese style of cooking that involves grilling meat and seafood. However, the meat and seafood are then marinated and covered in a sweet and savory sauce.

Teriyaki sauce, however, is not very healthy because it is high in sodium, sugar, carbs, and processed ingredients. Thus, the combination of protein and sauce, along with the side dishes, is not a diet-friendly or healthy meal.

Is teriyaki healthy

But, teriyaki actually refers to a traditional Japanese dish made by marinating meats and seafood in a teriyaki sauce and grilling it.

The teriyaki sauce is made of soy sauce, sugar, sake, or mirin (here are all the differences), and several other flavoring condiments. Modern teriyaki sauce recipes go beyond the classic umami flavor and incorporate ginger, citrus, garlic, and sesame.

“Teri” means to gleam, and “yaki” means to grill or broil; thus, the origin of the word refers to the cooking method.

In America and Europe, when people think of teriyaki, they immediately think of the tasty sweet and salty sauce that’s used as a glaze and marinade for meat and seafood.

Is teriyaki sauce bad for you?

Teriyaki is one of the tastiest sauces and one of the most beloved in Japanese cuisine. It has that gooey texture and sweet and salty flavor, making it the perfect glaze for all kinds of meats, seafood, vegetables, and even teriyaki tofu.

Teriyaki is not one of Japan’s healthiest sauces, but it’s also not the worst either.

Generally, teriyaki sauce is nowhere near being a healthy food, but it doesn’t harm the body if consumed in moderation.

The problem with teriyaki sauce is that it doesn’t add much nutritional value to a meal and is therefore not a good source of vitamins and minerals.

What makes teriyaki sauce unhealthy is that bottled sauces are usually full of processed ingredients, sugar, and lots of sodium.

Healthier than other sauces and glazes

The reason why teriyaki sauce is considered to be unhealthy is that it contains a lot of salt, sugar, and carbs.

But, when you compare the nutritional value of teriyaki sauce to most Western types of dips and sauces, it’s much healthier.

One tablespoon of teriyaki sauce contains anywhere from 16 to 20 calories. Compared to BBQ sauce, this sauce is actually a low-calorie alternative.

Even when you compare carbs in one tablespoon, teriyaki sauce only has approximately 3 g of carbs, whereas a bbq-style sauce has double the amount.

While teriyaki sauce doesn’t add much nutritional value to your diet, it does contain small amounts of essential nutrients. It has small amounts of iron, potassium, magnesium, phosphorus, and a few of the B-vitamins.

Also read: this is how long you can keep your homemade teriyaki sauce

Sodium is the problem

If you make stir-fry and teriyaki meat dishes using bottled sauce, you can actually be consuming about half of the daily recommended intake of sodium.

One tablespoon of teriyaki sauce contains roughly 690 milligrams of sodium.

That’s quite a lot, so you must be careful about what else you’re eating, especially if you have diabetes, cardiovascular disease, or other illnesses where salt is potentially dangerous.

Consuming too much salty food causes fluid retention in the body and increases blood pressure.

Gluten

If you are gluten intolerant, you should not eat regular teriyaki sauce because it contains soy sauce made from wheat, so it’s not gluten-free.

To make your own gluten-free teriyaki sauce, use liquid aminos, coconut aminos, or tamari (fermented soybean sauce).

Final verdict about teriyaki

If consumed moderately and combined with healthy ingredients like vegetables and lean meats, it is a source of the daily macronutrients the body needs to function properly.

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Since teriyaki sauce is not all that unhealthy, it’s important to combine it with lean protein and lots of veggies that are high in vitamins and minerals.

It’s important to note the difference between store-bought and homemade teriyaki sauce, though, as the latter is much healthier because you can substitute certain ingredients.

Store-bought bottled teriyaki sauce is very high in sodium and sugar.

When you make the sauce at home, you can substitute low-sodium soy sauce for the regular high sodium version. As well, you can use maple syrup instead of lots of sugar.

Teriyaki sauce is one of the 9 sushi sauces experts use to get the amazing Japanese flavor right

Is chicken teriyaki healthy?

Chicken teriyaki can be healthy or unhealthy depending on how it’s prepared and what ingredients are used.

Chicken is a great source of lean protein but combined with teriyaki sauce; the dish becomes high in calories, sodium, and fat.

Overall, chicken teriyaki as a meal is high in fat and calories, so it’s not recommended for diet or weight loss.

The lean chicken is not the culprit. Usually, chicken teriyaki is made with dark meat and chicken breast. These are relatively low in fat and calories.

As well, chicken is a lean source of protein, iron, selenium, phosphorus, magnesium, and B-vitamins. One serving of chicken breast (3 oz) contains 166 calories, 25 grams of protein, and 7 grams of total fat.

To make chicken teriyaki healthier, you must add wholesome ingredients like vegetables and substitute some ingredients.

The other ingredients in a chicken teriyaki bowl should be nutrient-rich to make up for the fatty and salty sauce. Try to pair chicken teriyaki with brown rice, quinoa, bulgur wheat, and other seeds or grains to reduce carbs and calories.

If you were to have a chicken stir-fry with noodles or rice, it would still not be the healthiest meal, but the addition of the teriyaki sauce takes the dish from a relatively healthy meal choice to a kind of “fast-food” with minimal nutritional benefits.

For a healthier Asian chicken dish, try this Honey soy sauce chicken recipe | The perfect family oven dish

Is chicken teriyaki from Panda Express healthy?

Panda Express is no doubt a fast-food type of Chinese food restaurant. Many of their foods are high in calories and fat.

Their chicken teriyaki is a serving of grilled chicken thigh, hand-sliced and served with their famous teriyaki sauce. Sure, there is the sauce, but this dish is still pretty healthy to eat in moderation.

According to the Panda Express website, a serving of teriyaki chicken contains:

What makes this teriyaki healthier than many other fast-food restaurants is that the sodium content is still lower than many other recipes.

When it comes to other chicken dishes on their menu, the teriyaki chicken has less sodium than their Kung Pao chicken, for example, which has 970 mg of sodium per serving (yikes!).

Is teriyaki beef jerky healthy?

Teriyaki beef jerky is one of the most beloved meaty snacks. Whether you’ve enjoyed the jerky while watching a baseball game or in front of the TV, there’s no doubt it’s easy to eat too many jerky strips, so let’s discuss the nutritional value.

As far as snacks go, teriyaki beef jerky is kind of healthy because it’s a good source of protein (11g) and only about 50-80 calories, depending on the brand.

The jerky doesn’t raise the body’s insulin levels and doesn’t force the body to start storing fat because it’s mostly protein.

The jerky is good for weight loss also because it’s the kind of snack that makes you feel full for longer, so you end up eating and snacking less between meals.

It’s not all good news, though. Teriyaki beef jerky has that sweet flavor, and that’s because it contains a lot of added sugar. It also contains about 15 mg of cholesterol, and it lacks any substantial vitamins and mineral content.

Thus, I wouldn’t really categorize this snack as nutritious, yet it’s acceptable as a low-calorie snack.

Most teriyaki jerky is not gluten-free, although some brands like Jack Link’s claim to be gluten-free. What I noticed is that their jerky contains traces of wheat-based soy sauce, so I wouldn’t recommend it if you follow a gluten-free diet.

If you’re interested in keto-friendly teriyaki jerky, I recommend checking out brands that specifically state their keto-friendly status.

Most teriyaki beef jerky is NOT keto-friendly, and keto diet approved. The jerky is highly processed and full of added sugars.

How about trying this Amazing and Easy Keto Stir Fry Sauce instead?

Is Teriyaki Madness healthy?

Teriyaki Madness has some very delicious teriyaki chicken dishes. They’re flavorful and one of the most beloved menu items.

However, you’re probably wondering if the chicken is actually healthy to eat?

The chicken teriyaki bowl is made with skinless grilled chicken seasoned with a good glaze of teriyaki sauce. It is served with a side of white rice.

The chicken teriyaki plate is also made with skinless grilled chicken and teriyaki sauce, but you get two sides, white rice, and a salad.

A regular-sized serving of chicken teriyaki has 361 calories, 12 g of fat, and 43 g of protein which is not bad, considering you’re getting 6 oz of chicken and 1 oz of teriyaki sauce. The base (rice or noodles) is where the extra calories and carbs come in.

The additional nutritional statistics reveal that the teriyaki is quite unhealthy overall because it contains 20 g of sugar, 1040 mg of sodium which is quite a lot, and there’s lots of cholesterol.

Now, once you add the rice or noodles, the meal has 656 calories and a whole lot of carbs.

According to the restaurant’s website, you can modify these menu items to make them healthier. Simply ask for a light soy sauce instead of their regular sauce, choose the dressing on the side, and don’t order any rice if you want a low-carb option.

You can also opt for brown rice, yakisoba noodles, or regular stir-fried veggies, the healthiest and lowest calorie option.

Is salmon teriyaki healthy?

My healthiest teriyaki food pick goes to salmon teriyaki.

Since it’s made with fish, it is healthier than the chicken version. As well, salmon teriyaki is usually glazed with a smaller quantity of teriyaki sauce, so it has fewer calories.

The fish is sticky, sweet, savory, and all-around delicious. And the good news is, it’s a healthy lunch and dinner option for the whole family.

The key to making this meal as healthy as possible, it’s best to make your own teriyaki sauce at home with soy sauce, mirin, maple syrup, and some freshly grated ginger to add that extra pop of flavor.

Salmon is a healthy fish with a high omega-3 fatty acid content, one of the healthy fats. It is also a good protein source, low in saturated fat and high in vitamin B12.

A serving of salmon (without sauce) only has about 200 calories – that’s less than chicken. In terms of other nutrients, salmon is also an excellent source of iron, potassium, and vitamin D.

A homemade serving of teriyaki salmon only has about 290 calories, 30 grams of protein, and 14 grams of fat. Therefore, it’s a light and healthy dish perfect for weight loss.

Soy sauce vs. teriyaki sauce

Many people mistake soy sauce and teriyaki sauce because they both have a dark brown color. However, the truth is that soy sauce is healthier than teriyaki sauce.

While it’s made with wheat, it is still far less processed than teriyaki sauce and contains less sugar.

In terms of nutritional value, soy sauce also contains some minerals like iron, manganese, and magnesium. But, just like teriyaki sauce, soy sauce is also high in sodium.

It’s up to you which of these you want to use when cooking. I’ll admit teriyaki sauce is more flavorful and has that hint of sweetness to it, and works well as a sticky glaze.

Also read: 12 best soy sauce substitutes you might already have

Takeaway

As I’ve shared, it’s the teriyaki sauce, not the teriyaki cooking method that’s unhealthy. Grilled meat, seafood, tofu, and veggies are healthy.

But, once glazed with high sodium, high sugar, and high-fat teriyaki sauce, the dish becomes less nutritious and less healthy.

However, consumed in moderation, it’s not the worst “fast-food” type meals you can find.

Many restaurants offer alternatives like low-sodium soy sauce or healthier sides, like brown rice or stir-fried veggies, making teriyaki chicken more nutritious and healthier.

So, suppose you’re worried about teriyaki sauce being unhealthy and bad for you. In that case, I recommend you make your own homemade sauce and skip the bottled store-bought teriyaki sauce, which is full of sugar and processed ingredients.

Read next: Chinese Hoisin sauce vs Teriyaki: are they alike?

Ever had trouble finding Japanese recipes that were easy to make?

We now have "cooking Japanese with ease", our full recipe book and video course with step-by-step tutorials on your favorite recipes.

Joost Nusselder, the founder of Bite My Bun is a content marketer, dad and loves trying out new food with Japanese food at the heart of his passion, and together with his team he's been creating in-depth blog articles since 2016 to help loyal readers with recipes and cooking tips.