Is the Hawaiian poke bowl the wellness industry’s answer to fast food?

Written by Roberta Nelson | 16 November, 2017

Move over acai bowls, there’s a new guy in town and he’s come all the way from Hawaii. Introducing the poke bowl (pronounced poh-keh), the latest healthy food trend to hit our shores. But just how healthy are they?

Move over acai bowls, there’s a new guy in town and he’s come all the way from Hawaii. Introducing the poke bowl (pronounced poh-keh), the latest healthy food trend to hit our shores. But just how healthy are they? I dedicated some time to get into the nitty gritty of the nutrition this popular dish actually offers to ensure it stacks up and isn’t just a fleeting trend.

Firstly, you might be wondering what poke is? It’s a mixed bowl of raw and cooked ingredients that has been a staple part of the Hawaiin diet long before trends were reported on. It usually consists of a base of rice, a topping of raw fish, a light dressing made from soy sauce and a couple of garnishes like avocado, sesame seeds and seaweed. It’s delicious, light and simple to put together and by the sounds of things, hits all the marks for a well-rounded healthy meal. With more people eating out these days but being more discerning about what they nourish themselves with, it’s no wonder so many foodies have jumped on board.

Melbourne’s food scene doesn’t really miss a beat so when poke bowls took first rank, a number of restaurants jumped on board. I opted for a popular Japanese-fusion restaurant in Windsor, Melbourne to carry out my research. They have two kinds of poke on their menu – avocado salmon poke and pineapple snapper poke. Both are served on rice and topped with an array of exciting toppings from mango to wasabi as well as jalapeño and coconut.

We opted for the snapper bowl but we hear that both are delicious and come highly recommended by the staff. The poke bowl was a generous portion. Enough for two people to share since we had eaten starters but it would be the perfect amount for one person needing a healthy lunch option or a quick nighttime fix.

The bowl was made up of a base of dressed white rice and topped with pickled and raw red onion, cubes of zingy pineapple, creamy avocado, freshly cut raw snapper, coriander, pickled cucumber and mixed sesame seeds. It also came with a side of lime that we were told to drizzle on top before we mixed the bowl together. If we are talking flavour, this bowl was up there as one of the most delicious, vibrant, interesting and fresh tasting dishes I have had in a long time. All the ingredients combined together well to make it zingy, crunchy, cooked, salty and sweet all at the same time. Now let’s get down to the nutrition side.

Firstly, the base of white rice is good but it could be better for you if it was made with brown rice. Brown rice is less refined and has a lower glycemic index (GI) meaning it breaks down more slowly in your system and sustains you for longer. This bowl was dressed with a light vinegar dressing however some poke bowls feature creamy mayonnaises and heavy dressings which are best to steer clear of if you’re looking for a healthy meal.

The garnishes of pineapple, avocado, onion and cucumber all stand up as nutritious and wholesome ingredients packed full of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and fibre. Pineapple is a great addition to the bowl as it not only provides a ‘zing’ but also contains enzymes called bromelains that help break down proteins for absorption during digestion. The raw snapper is a great choice as it is high in protein, low in saturated fats and high in healthy omega 3s and omega 6s.

Some poke bowls let you choose other proteins such as fried chicken that, like the addition of sauces, make the dish less of a balanced meal and more of an indulgence. The topping of mixed sesame seeds added a nuttiness to the dish and provided an extra hit of zinc. As a naturopath, I am always recommending my patients add nuts and seeds to everything so this gets a big tick from me. All together, the snapper poke bowl ticked almost every nutritional box there is for a well-rounded healthy meal.

The verdict?

I found the poke bowl to well and truly live up to its health promises. Some variations are less nutritious than others but if you keep your wits about you, ordering a poke bowl for your next healthy meal will nourish you from the inside out. If there is an option for brown rice or other whole, unrefined grains, you should take it. If you can add things like avocado or extra greens, do so. Skip the creamy dressings and sauces and opt for the traditional soy sauce dressing or vinegar. And, don’t be tempted by other proteins such as fried chicken or heavier meats.

Instead, follow tradition and stick to the sashimi style fish or other plant-based proteins because tradition rarely fails us and this particular poke bowl was made with the addition of that fresh and delicate snapper. So, when you’re on the hunt for a healthy meal that is also exciting and vibrant, source yourself a poke bowl and be sure in yourself that you’re giving your body the fuel and nutrition it needs.

Roberta Nelson

Roberta Nelson is a naturopath making her mark on the health industry as an accomplished practitioner, writer and recipe creator for leading Australian wellness brands. She has a Masters in Public Health under her belt and plans to cement her place as a reproductive and mental health specialist. 

Read more by Roberta Nelson

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