3 Easy Ways To Make Poke Bowls Even Healthier
When I lived in Barcelona, my flatmates would query all my food choices with the question “Is it typical?”
Their curiosity over what’s considered typical food in New Zealand went into overload when I opened a fresh jar of pre packed marmite.
Now, whenever I travel somewhere new, I find myself asking the same question of the locals.
Is that cheese jelly jam snack at the Colombian markets typical? Yep. Is that spreadeagled Guinea Pig on the table in Ecuador typical? Sure is. Is fruit with magical names like golden berry and starfruit typical all over South America? You bet.
Typical is relative. Typical is fascinating. Typical is the reason most of our eating habits vary according to geography.
When I discovered poke on a recent trip to Hawaii, I was sold at first bowl. (I also discovered shaved ice was typical there, something I hadn’t known before I went. The nutritional value of flavoured syrup poured over crushed ice is pretty limited, but those fun cones of colour sure do cool you down fast).
Poke, which means ‘slice’ or ‘cut’ in Hawaiian, is a raw fish salad served over rice and topped with soy sauce, scallions and sesame oil. Other toppings include wasabi, seaweed, chilli, avocado, pineapple or pickled vegetables.
A few conscious tweaks will rev up the nutritional value of these bowls, which overall, are a healthy, high protein, meal choice full of good fats, fibre, vitamins and antioxidants.
1. Amp up the protein and good fats
Traditional poke bowls are served with raw fish. Raw fish is low in saturated fats, packed with protein, omega 3 and omega 6. Vegetarian bowls can be made with plant based proteins such as tofu. Adding in edamame beans will bump up the protein and boost fibre content. Avocado is a quick - and delcious! - way to increase the amount of heart, skin and mood boosting healthy fats.
2. Lay a strong foundation
Poke bowls are traditionally made with white rice. White rice is a good source of carbohydrates and fibre, but it is what’s known as a high GI (glycemic index) food. High GI foods, like white bread, pasta and shaved ice, are broken down fast in the body. This causes a quick rise in blood sugar levels that drop off soon after, resulting in what many people know as a post sugar energy slump.
Food with low GI levels, like brown rice and wholegrains, take more time to be broken down by the body, causing even, sustainable energy levels over a longer period of time.
If it’s possible, swap out white rice for brown, or ask to swap half the rice out for extra veges. Any vegetables’ a good choice. Options such as beetroot, carrots and radishes add colour, fibre and antioxidants.
If your making your own bowl, you can substitute rice for other whole grains such as quinoa. Quinoa's a complete source of protein which makes it a great choice for vegetarians.
3. Top it off wisely
The nutritional deal breakers of poke bowls come in the more adventurous toppings. Stick to the traditional soy sauce and skip the creamy toppings, which can be high in calories and saturated fats.
Pineapple’s a nutritious and delicious choice, as it contains an enzyme named bromelain, that helps break down protein.
Sesame seeds, often found in poke bowls, provide a healthy hit of zinc.
Seaweed contains iodine, while pickled vegetables like kimchi (fermented cabbage) provide healthy gut bacteria.
Much like the foundation, any and all vegetables are a nutritional powerhouse. As a general rule, the more colour the better, so top off your poke bowl with as much green, red, yellow and orange as you like.
As an added bonus, every place I went to in Hawaii served poke bowls that nourished the planet as well as the body. The fish was sustainably caught, and plastic straws have been replaced with paper ones, so if you were caught short without your metal straw (guilty), you were covered.