The Joy of Buddha Bowls

Catherine Lawson

Buddha bowls, also known as nourish bowls, poke bowls, grain bowls and even glow bowls, offer a perfect, nutritionally balanced way of eating. By their very nature the diversity of goodness in every bowl means they are beautiful to look at and beautiful to eat. So where does the term Buddha bowl come from? There are actually several stories out there, some better than others, but the one which appeals to the imagination most is the story of Buddha who, rising at dawn, would travel through streets and villages with an empty bowl into which local people would donate what food they had available. By the end of his travels there would be a full bowl with lots of different foods to nourish him on his way. It’s a legend which brings a spiritual, mindful component to the nutritional benefits of the Buddha bowl and one which is far nicer than the alternative story of Martha Stewart coining the term in 2013.

If you’re new to this way of eating you’re in for endless food joy as you explore all the possibilities and food combinations to create your perfect bowl. The key to a good Buddha bowl is to select a balance of fresh, natural wholefoods from a range of food groups which give you colour, flavour, texture and fragrance in abundance. It’s an easy way to get all your favourite foods from each of the food groups into one delicious bowl and with some planning and a little prep time you can also make enough to keep you well fed for several days, switching up the combinations to create the kind of quick and healthy meals you look forward to eating, and which help you stay on track with your nutrition goals.

If you’re keen to create your own nutritious, delicious Buddha bowls at home here’s a quick look at the different food groups to include and some options to get you started.

Greens: load your bowl with fresh leaves, such as spinach, pak choi, Chinese leaf, chard, kale, watercress, peashoots…

Complex carbs (the good ones!): add some wholegrains such as quinoa, brown rice, buckwheat, barley, spelt…

Veg layer 1: include some heartier, more filling vegetables, such as chargrilled aubergines, oven roasted sweet potato chunks, steamed beetroot, cauliflower, broccoli, Brussels sprouts…

Veg layer 2: include some raw, fresh salad vegetables, such as sugar snap peas, red peppers, cucumber, cherry tomatoes, fennel, radishes, grated carrot, spring onions…

Protein: depending on your dietary preferences you could include any number of different options such as chicken, hummus, falafel, tofu, salmon, cheese, eggs…

Toppings: to finish your bowls with a flourish include as many interesting toppings as you like, such as fresh herbs, nuts, alfalfa sprouts, pomegranate jewels, toasted seeds, olives, savoury granola, salad dressings, guacamole…

To give you an idea of just how nutritious these bowls can be, let’s take a well-balanced, typical Buddha bowl and break down what’s in there.

Spinach: leafy greens are loaded with vitamins and minerals – spinach is one of the best natural sources of iron available. In addition, it’s high in antioxidants, fibre, calcium and it boasts excellent anti-inflammatory properties. Spinach can do some amazing things for your body by helping it to fight disease, lower blood pressure, strengthen bones and support healthy brain and nervous system function.

Quinoa: as with other ancient grains, quinoa has a whole host of health benefits to offer, earning it the label ‘superfood’. Quinoa is one of the few foods on the planet which provides what is called a complete protein source, in other words it contains all nine essential amino acids. In addition, quinoa is an excellent source of key minerals such as iron, potassium, magnesium, zinc, copper, phosphorous and iron. Dating back almost four thousand years, it was known as the ‘gold of the Incas’ on account of its numerous benefits.

Oven roasted sweet potato chunks: aside from being incredibly versatile and tasty, sweet potatoes are renowned for their higher than average beta-carotene content, an antioxidant which converts to vitamin A in the body. We need vitamin A for healthy skin, hair, eye function, brain function and immune system function. Beta carotene is essential in the fight against free radicals, protecting our bodies against cell damage and degeneration.

Steamed beetroot: beetroot is a nutritional powerhouse, often overlooked in favour of more ‘modern’ vegetables. The betacyanin which gives beetroot its magnificent colour has an antioxidant effect in the body which can help protect the heart, protect against strokes, lower blood pressure, improve blood flow and lower cholesterol. In addition, beetroot is said to boost athletic performance, regulate digestion and prevent certain types of cancer.

Cherry tomatoes: particularly high in vitamins A, C and K, cherry tomatoes (like all other tomatoes) also contain B complex vitamins and essential minerals such as calcium, copper, iron, magnesium and zinc. Tomatoes can also increase your serotonin, a neurotransmitter which helps to regulate emotions.

Spring onions: loaded with essential nutrients such as vitamins A, C and B2, and minerals such as magnesium, potassium, sulphur and copper, spring onions assist in strengthening the immune system, preventing colds, controlling blood sugar, maintaining bone strength and aiding digestion.

Salmon: aside from the protein boost in salmon (approx. 25g in a standard fillet) which supports bone and muscle health, its omega 3 fatty acids make it a heart healthy, artery protecting choice which also supports brain function. Its anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant properties help to lower cholesterol, protect the nervous system, reduce the risk of cancers and diabetes and maintain healthy blood pressure.

Avocado: recognised universally for their amazing nutritional value, avocados bring 20 vitamins and minerals to your salad, along with a healthy helping of good fats (the mono-unsaturated fatty acids such as oleic) and dietary fibre. The benefits? This nutritional package helps lower bad cholesterol, raise good cholesterol, prevent heart disease and stroke, support healthy red blood cell production, strengthen bones, aid digestion and lower blood pressure.

Almonds: like avocados, almonds are packed with healthy mono-unsaturated fats which have cardio protective properties. They’re also high in vitamin E, which supports the immune system due to its antioxidant properties, and calcium which helps strengthen our teeth and bones. The magnesium content also helps to reduce the risk of diabetes and increase energy levels.

Alfalfa sprouts: these little guys might be small but they contain a mighty range of vitamins and minerals including vitamins A, C, D, E and K, plus potassium, magnesium, copper and calcium. Together with the secondary plant compounds such as saponins which are found in these sprouts, they help to lower cholesterol, boost the immune system, improve metabolic health and reduce oxidative stress.

That’s a mighty nutritional hit all in one bowl, right? If you keep it clean, leave out any processed foods and select options from each of the food groups listed, it really is a perfect, nutritionally balanced powerhouse of a meal. The possibilities are endless whether you’re a vegan, vegetarian, pescetarian or carnivore, and with so many options in each food group it’s easy to create your perfect bowl. Ready to give it a go?

Happy Buddha bowling!