Are poke bowls really as healthy as they seem?

trending 28/05/2018

They were the Instagram sensation of the summer and have now become part of mainstream fare, alongside your desk sandwiches and salads. But are poke bowls (prounced poh-keh, not simply as 'poke' as my dad thought) a healthy option, or even healthier than say, your mid-week sushi run?

If, before we get into this, you don't even know what a poke bowl is, let me explain. Poke bowls are of Hawaiian origin; traditionally raw fish (usually ahi tuna) over white or brown rice. Toppings like cucumber, sesame seeds and seaweed salad are placed on top.

Dieticians are split on some of the semantics of poke bowls, (is too much avocado a bad thing?) but one thing they all seem to agree on is that it's how you build your bowl that determines the health factor. While some are a perfect mix of vitamins and omega 3s, others full of sushi rice and fried shallots can top 1000 calories.

The key to a healthy poke bowl is to customise the meal as much as possible, dietician Zannat Reza told The Dish

"For example, go for the scallions (spring onion) instead of the fried onions as a topping, cut back on the crab meat slaw and seaweed salad, add on fruits, tomatoes and avocado."

Swapping in green leafy salad mix or a cabbage slaw mix for half the rice is another easy way to boost the meal's veggie quota, she adds. Swapping out white for brown rice or quinoa is another way to get a serve of wholegrains in, leaving you naturally fuller than white rice.  The rice used to make sushi often contains added sugars to help it stick, so she recommends steering clear of this one on a regular basis.

Vegetables like carrot and beetroot up the nutritional content, and edamame is a great source of protein for vegetarians and vegans. Aussie dieticians Anna-Jane Debenham and Alexandra Parker told Mamamia they also recommend throwing on a serve of Kimchi, fermented cabbage that is thickly cut and often served with a variety of condiments such as chilli, garlic, pepper and fish sauce.

"Kimchi is a source of probiotics (healthy bacteria found in our gut). A diet rich in probiotics can help to improve our health by reducing the number of harmful bacteria that may survive in our gut," they said.

Protein wise, it's hard to go wrong with salmon or tuna sushi, which offer lean protein and heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids. If you're not a seafood fan, poached chicken can be subbed in, or tofu for vegetarians.

Nutritionists recommend keeping to proteins as 'undressed' and natural as possible, with additions like the sauces in spicy tuna etc bumping up the calorie count.

Also to keep to a minimum? The 'extras'.

"Keep in mind that even just a small amount soy can bump up the sodium content. Just one tablespoon contains one third of the upper recommendation for our daily salt intake," Debenham and Parker explained. Also to watch out for were roasted sesame dressings, fried shallots and coconut.

But all dieticians were in agreement that the fish dish is a better option that Friday fish n' chips, so customise away, poke fans!