Trendy bowl foods. What are they? Are they healthy?

Written by Catherine Saxelby on Wednesday, 23 May 2018.
Tagged: food trends, health, healthy eating, healthy lifestyle, nutrition, trends

Trendy bowl foods. What are they? Are they healthy?

A quick tour of the food court or the local cafés will alert you to the rise of ‘bowl foods’. Buddha Bowls, Acai Bowls, Poké Bowls, Smoothie Bowls and more. So, what are they and are they healthy? Let’s take a look.

Why a bowl?

Truthfully? Who knows? It’s just become trendy. Some items need to be in a bowl because they’re more like a hearty semi-liquid soup but others? Well it’s currently cool to serve food in a bowl instead of on a plate. Also, I guess it means that if you’re going to serve it all stacked up in a bowl you can do the same in a take-away container and it sort-of looks the same.

So, what’s available?

There are many different foods available in bowls and, of course, the celebrity chefs are all over it. Jamie Oliver for instance has “15 delicious and healthy one bowl recipes” pretty much all of which seem to fall into one of five categories – soups, salads, Asian noodle dishes, Asian rice dishes and cereal based dishes.

Here are a few you can try for yourself which are healthy and make for a good office lunch.

Buddha Bowl

So, what is it and how did it get its name? This is harder to ascertain than you might think and theories abound. The Buddha, himself, ate little and didn’t focus much on food at all. However, he did eat from a bowl and, like the Buddhist monks in traditional societies, ate what was placed in that bowl by villagers and followers out of charity. Today there is a ‘mindfulness’ and ‘Zen trend’ and this has spilled over into food and nutrition. For ideal digestion and weight loss success, we are advised to eat mindfully; to pay attention to what we eat; what it tastes likes; and to chew it well and listen to our body’s signal about when it’s had enough. All of which makes good sense to me.  

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What’s in a Buddha Bowl?

Contents vary. Originally these bowls were Vegan and so contained no animal products. Think any of the following: cooked grains – rice, quinoa, farro etc., tofu, lentils, chickpeas, noodles and, vegetables – grilled, steamed or raw plus some sort of dressing. It’s usually a pretty healthy lunch and if the grains are whole grains then it will keep you feeling satisfied through to dinner and boost your fibre. You can make your own quite easily. There are literally thousands of recipes out there on the net. So why not give it a go? 

Acai Bowl

Acai is a trendy ingredient  and has been for a few years now.

One suspects that creating an Acai Bowl is a way of maintaining its popular appeal. The fruit itself is a berry that grows on palm trees in South America. It’s main claim to fame is that it is super-rich in antioxidants but you’ll find many other health claims made by its proponents.

It’s most usually sold as a freeze-dried powder or a frozen puree.

Acai can have side effects so you should be aware that it can cause bloating, cramping and diarrhoea in some people. These are alleged to diminish as your body becomes used to the food. However, Acai berries are high in potassium so not suitable if you are on a low potassium diet and as they can reduce blood sugar they are not advised for those taking diabetic medications.

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How do you make an Acai Bowl?

Take your powder or frozen puree and add either yoghurt or milk, and often banana (to give it thickness) and blitz it all up in a blender. Pour the thickish blended Acai into a bowl and then layer with whatever takes your fancy for breakfast – muesli, blueberries, raspberries, sliced banana, shredded coconut, slivered almonds, chopped hazelnuts – it’s only limited by your budget and your imagination. With its fruitiness and sweetness, this is more of breakfast bowl to my way of thinking.

Poké Bowl

Poké Bowls originated in Hawaii. Traditionally they contain cubes of raw fish, rice and vegetables. We recently posted a recipe here on the Foodwatch site if you’d like to have a go at making your own. Poké Bowls, depending on the dressing and grains used, can be a very healthy and satisfying lunch or dinner.

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Smoothie Bowl

Smoothie bowls are similar to Acai bowls but use other bases as the smoothie part. They are usually sweet and so more suited as a breakfast bowl. Make up any of your favourite smoothies as a base and then layer up with fruits, nuts and cereals as before.

Small smoothieBowls

Other bowl foods

Bibimbap smalliStock 493066234 highThere are many Asian foods that are natural bowl foods such as Korean Bibimbap, noodle bowls, rice bowls and noodle salads.

Not all are healthy -  it just depends on the ingredients. If you’re looking for  a healthy Asian food fix, pick a bowl that has less salt, less salty sauces such as teriyaki or soy, more raw ingredients and preferably wholegrain rice or noodles.

My take

The positives

  • Bowl foods can be healthy meals. If you make them yourself, then you have total control over what goes into your bowl and, ultimately, into your body.
  • They’re convenient, easy to carry if you have bowls with sealable lids, fun to eat and can be healthy. And take a bite out of Buddha’s Bowl and eat mindfully.
  • Most bowl foods have few cooked ingredients so you’re getting fresh fruits and vegetables which is always good!

The negatives

  • If you buy ready prepared bowls, take a good look at the ingredients. Look for wholegrains and healthy dressings without too much salt or sugar. Make sure it’s not wilted or days old. If you’re buying a breakfast bowl check that there’s no added sugar (and that means honey and rice malt syrup too).
  • Bought bowls may have more sugar and/or salt than is healthy
  • There’s a tendency to feel you should eat the whole bowl. If you eat mindfully and feel full, then stop. Put the bowl in the fridge and if you feel hungry later, come back to it.
  • Portion control is difficult. It’s hard to see exactly how much food you’re getting.
  • Smoothie bowls that have little in the way of solid food, i.e. cereals, nuts, fruit, may not be very satisfying. Smoothies themselves, while convenient, don’t keep you feeling satisfied for long, so choose one that has a reasonable quantity of solid components. Skip those liquid Calories.

The bottom line

There’s no doubt bowl foods are trendy and fun to eat. If you want to eat healthily though, check the ingredients, and don’t feel you have to eat the whole bowl.

 

Catherine Saxelby

About the Author

Catherine Saxelby knows nutrition! She is an accredited nutritionist, food commentator, blogger and award-winning author. Her latest book Catherine Saxelby's Food and Nutrition Companion answers all those tricky questions on healthy eating, diets and supplements. It draws together a lifetime of advice and gives you all you need to know to eat right! It's a complete A to Z. A handy desk go-to reference.