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Take It In: Latest craze may just bowl you over with its benefits

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Take It In: by Carol Bareuther

What’s old is new again when it comes to eating out of a bowl. Last year, New York City-based culinary consultants Baum & Whiteman named “bowls” as one of the 13 Hottest Food and Beverage Trends in Restaurant & Hotel Dining.

Forking into food served in a bowl is certainly nothing new. After all, bowls have been part of mankind’s meals for thousands of years, as proved by archaeological evidence of these utensils existing in places like ancient Greece. What is new is the perceived health benefits of these catchy containers over plain plates, and the trendy combination of ingredients inside.

Is eating out of a bowl better for you? Yes – if it’s smaller than your usual plate, especially if portion control and maintaining a healthful weight is a goal. In fact, research on plate size published in 2016 in the Journal of the Association for Consumer Research reveals that participants ate 30 percent less food on a plate that was half the diameter of their usual dinner plate.

What’s more, the researchers made two other interesting discoveries: First, this smaller-utensil effect works best when someone fills their own plate, such as in a home setting, rather than having someone fill it for them, like at a restaurant. Secondly, small serving utensils work their magic best if someone doesn’t think they are being watched to see how much they dish up. In a nutshell, simply switching to smaller plates – or bowls – can help to prevent overeating.

The recent culinary trend started with acai bowls. Served as a hip breakfast and  popular with millennials, who literally want to eat and run rather than sit and eat, the basis is acai fruit pureed to the consistency of ice cream. The acai is then topped with fresh berries, dried nuts and granola or oatmeal. It’s the acai that lends a superfood cache to this dish. Found on trees in the Brazilian rainforest, acai berries are low in calories and rich in dietary fiber, antioxidant nutrients and heart healthy fats. Though the berries aren’t available in the U.S., the puree is, hence the popular format as a base for bowl food.

Next, came poke bowls. Poke means “to cut” in Hawaiian, where this traditional dish is made from cuts of lesser popular fish parts, such as the head or tail.

Today, the bowl craze has expanded to everything from ordinary rice, burrito and quinoa bowls to fashionable ethnic favorites like the banh mi bowl, which has all the fixings for this classic Vietnamese sandwich – roast pork, pickled cucumbers, fresh cilantro and jalapenos – but without the bread.

The beauty of bowl food is that there is no right or wrong way to prepare it. However, to be on trend, ingredients should be healthful. Here are a few ideas for building your own bowl.

Start with a base. This can be grains, cooked beans or peas, or leafy greens. Good grain selections include brown rice, quinoa, and whole-grain noodles and pasta – or for breakfast, oatmeal and granola. For beans, choose high-nutrient types such as chickpeas (also known as garbanzo beans), pinto beans, red beans, black beans, kidney beans and lentils. Leafy greens are an especially good base. Consider that according to an article published in 2014 in the journal Preventing Chronic Disease, the 11 most nutrient-dense fruits and vegetables are greens: watercress, Chinese cabbage, chard, beet greens, spinach, chicory, leaf lettuce, parsley, romaine lettuce, collards and kale.

Add the meat. Satisfying, satiating protein is perhaps a better choice of words than “meat,” since vegetable-based protein such as tofu and tempeh fit in this category. This also includes lean beef, pork, chicken, turkey, fish or hard-cooked eggs. All you need is 2 to 3 ounces.

Sprinkle on the extras. Make sure these “extras” are packed with nutrients. Good examples are shredded cheese, nuts and nut butter, seeds, flax, wheat germ and sliced avocado.

Eating out of a bowl might not offer any magical benefit, but using a small bowl instead of a large plate and filling it with nutritious ingredients can help with weight control and disease prevention.

Carol Bareuther is a registered dietitian and freelance health and nutrition writer. Comments are welcome at editor@the-triton.com.

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