Heart Health in a Bowl

Whether you call them “power bowls,” “Buddha bowls” or simply “grain bowls,”
bowl-based meals are popping up on casual restaurant menus
around the country.

January/February 2018

By Linda Melone

Their appeal stems from several factors. For one, bowl meals make for an easy way to eat healthy without a lot of muss or fuss. “You also get a mix of flavors and textures with every bite,” says Molly Watson, food blogger and author of Bowls! Recipes and Inspirations for Healthful One-Dish Meals (Chronicle). “Meals in bowls feel more casual and less formal.”

Watson also notes that traditional meals featuring a meat and two side dishes looks great on a plate, but new trends that include a portion of whole grains and vegetables are more visually appealing when arranged in a bowl—an important consideration in the Instagram age.

Bowls also make it easy for family members to assemble their own meals based on food preferences. Watson puts out three bowls with a varying mix of components for her husband and son, and all grab their favorite sauce. “It’s easy to eat out of bowls with a spoon, which has a comforting, easy feel to it,” Watson adds. “As soon as you bring out a knife you lose the spirit of the bowl.”

Bowls for Heart Health

Heart-healthy foods make a perfect match for bowl meals and include many tasty options. The American Heart Association recommends eating a variety of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy products, skinless poultry and fish, nuts, legumes and non-tropical oils. Many fit perfectly into bowl-based recipes.

“Whether in the form of smoothie bowls, salad bowls or burrito bowls, the combinations are endless,” says Lori Zanini, RD, CDE, registered dietitian and creator of ForTheLoveof
Diabetes.com. Zanini recommends adding a couple of the following heart-healthy components to your bowl.

Leafy greens and other non-starchy veggies: Kale, spinach, Swiss chard, and arugula are all rich in phytochemicals that are shown to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, says Zanini. “Additional veggies like bell peppers, tomatoes, zucchini and broccoli add even more nutrients including potassium, which is linked to lower blood pressure.” A recent study in the International Journal of Epidemiology found that getting 10 servings of fruits and veggies each day may lower your risk of cardiovascular disease by 28%.

Healthy fat: Some fats raise cholesterol while others help lower heart disease risk. Avocado, olives or olive oil, nuts, nut butters and seeds are good options to help lower LDL (“bad”) cholesterol and triglycerides, raise HDL (“good”) cholesterol and reduce inflammation, notes Zanini, who adds, “Inflammation contributes to the buildup of plaque in the arteries, leading to a variety of cardiovascular complications.” She recommends a healthy fat at each meal, as this helps keep you full and satisfied for at least three to four hours after you’ve eaten your meal.

Quality protein: Chicken breast, fish such as salmon or tuna, beans, tofu, tempeh, Greek yogurt and eggs are all good sources of quality protein and make good bowl components, says Zanini. One study (Circulation 8/10) found that consuming one serving of poultry is associated with a 19% lower risk of cardiovascular disease than one serving of red meat per day.

Fresh fruits: Berries, mango, kiwi, pineapple, etc. are all rich in potassium and antioxidants. “Antioxidants help prevent disease by fighting free radicals that cause cellular damage, which contributes to heart disease,” says Zanini. Chemicals found in fruit called phytochemicals are responsible for the rich pigments that give fruits such as berries their bright color. So for the highest amount of antioxidants, choose colorful, highly- pigmented fruits. “The darker the color the better,” Zanini adds.

Whole grains: Quinoa, brown rice, barley, oats, farro and even whole-grain pastas are all great sources of fiber, which helps lower total and LDL cholesterol levels. “Regardless of the whole grain you choose, I recommend limiting to two-thirds of a cup (cooked) to keep meals balanced,” says Zanini.

Keep add-ons and dressings simple, such as those made with citrus juice, hummus or tahini for drizzling onto bowls. Other optional add-ons include pickled or fermented vegetables; these contain probiotics, live beneficial bacteria that have been linked to lower blood pressure and reduced cholesterol levels.

Chia, flax, and hemp seeds are also great additions to any bowl due to their fiber and omega-3 fatty acid content, both of which link to reduced cholesterol and inflammation. Top it all off with fresh herbs such as cilantro, mint, dill, basil, rosemary and parsley for antioxidant power for minimal extra calories.

Building Your Bowl

Assembling a healthy bowl is open to interpretation and creativity, but a few simple rules can help you get the most nutrition out of your efforts. “Start with a base layer, which provides the bulk of the bowl, usually a whole grain like quinoa or brown rice or beans or a veg like shredded kale,” says Watson. “Then go about adding other elements. Top it off with your favorite salad dressing, soy sauce—even hot chili oil—or sauces such as pesto to make it a meal.”  

Starting with a layer of greens like spinach, arugula or kale works best to get your veggies for the day and add volume to your meal without a lot of calories, says Tracy Lockwood, RD, celebrity registered dietitian and founder of Tracy Lockwood Nutrition in New York City. “Make a peace sign on top of the greens with ingredients such as a whole grain or complex carbohydrate (chickpeas, farro, quinoa), protein (shredded chicken, tofu or edamame) and then some healthy fat (avocado, pumpkin seeds or walnuts),” she says. Then top it all off with balsamic vinegar and olive oil before mixing it all up.

The following food pairings are especially bowl-worthy:

Edamame and purple cabbage: Edamame adds protein and fiber to your meal while the purple cabbage is overflowing with anthocyanins, a highly concentrated source of antioxidants, says Lockwood.

Nuts and tomatoes: Tomatoes contain the antioxidant lycopene, which dilates blood vessels, allowing for increased blood flow. Pistachios, macadamia nuts and walnuts are loaded with vitamin E, which lowers bad cholesterol.

Legumes and broccoli: Legumes are not only high in protein but they also contain fiber, which stabilizes blood sugar levels. “Plus, research has shown that people who ate legumes at least four times a week had a 22% lower risk of heart disease compared to those who consumed legumes less than once a week,” says Lockwood.

Lastly, Lockwood warns against putting too much dressing on top of your bowl. “It will not only drown your precious ingredients but will add unnecessary calories, sodium and fat to your meal,” she says. “And don’t overdo the carbohydrate portions. Stick to one fist-sized portion of whole grains such as quinoa, sorghum or farro to keep your blood sugar stable and balanced throughout the day.”

 

ET RECIPE

Dark Berry

Dark fruits like the ones in this recipe contain anthocyanins, compounds that may not only protect against heart disease but also cancer as well. And as Carissa Bonham, author of Beautiful Smoothie Bowls (Skyhorse) puts it, “Did I mention they are delicious?”

Smoothie Bowl
1 small banana, peeled
1/2 cup frozen raspberries
1/2 cup frozen strawberries
1/2 cup frozen blackberries
1 (3.5-oz) pack frozen açaí
3/4 cup coconut water

Toppings
1/3 cup dry coconut pieces
1/4 cup fresh or frozen pomegranate arils
1/4 cup raw cashews
3 fresh strawberries, halved

1. Combine all smoothie bowl ingredients in a blender jar and blend until smooth and no chunks remain.
2. Pour into a bowl and add toppings in rows on top of smoothie.

Yield: 1 bowl

Reprinted with permission from Beautiful Smoothie Bowls: 80 Delicious and Colorful Superfood Recipes to Nourish and Satisfy by Carissa Bonham
(Skyhorse, skyhorsepublishing.com), Copyright 2017 by Carissa Bonham,
photograph by Carissa Bonham

 

Taking Superfruits to Heart

Many fruits contain phytonutrients; a number of these compounds have shown benefits in terms of quelling inflammation, helping arteries relax and other cardiac-friendly actions. These nutritional superstars include:

Açai: This Brazilian rainforest native doesn’t travel well, and so is only available as frozen purée and juice in the US.

Blueberry: Fresh blueberries should be firm, plump and dry, and can be held in the fridge for up to 10 days (don’t rinse until just before use); also available canned dried and frozen.

Cranberry: Fresh cranberries are only available in the fall, but a bag will keep in the fridge for up to a month (and can be frozen); also available frozen and canned, and as juice.

Goji: Also known as wolfberry, it can be found in dried form; in China it is used as a medicinal food or boiled into an herbal tea.

Mangosteen: This Indonesian native is known as the “queen of fruits,” especially prized for its delicate sweet-sour flavor; available fresh, canned, freeze-dried or dehydrated.

Pomegranate: Known for its multitude of ruby-red arils, or seed casings, it’s available fresh or as juice and syrup.

 

 

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