Salads versus Power Bowls
Recently my girlfriend and I were discussing what we were going to eat for our respective dinners. She’s a meat-eater and I’m a fish-but-no-other-meat-eater, so we were going to make our own meals that night. She suggested I have a salad, which made me crinkle my nose in disgust. She said, “A power bowl?” I laughed and said, “Yes! A power bowl!” Now, I recognize the ridiculousness of crinkling my nose at a salad and rejoicing at a power bowl. After all, at its most basic, a power bowl is a glorified salad.
What’s the difference between a salad and a power bowl? As I see it, a salad is a meal usually found in a bowl and based around a bed of greens, often with some sort of toppings and dressing. (Of course, there are also tuna salads, egg salads, etc., but those are beyond the scope of this post.) A power bowl is a meal usually found in a bowl that may or may not be based around a bed of greens and with a variety of toppings and optional dressing. A salad can be a power bowl, but a power bowl is more than a salad: a power bowl is a complete meal.
Let me explain. You can have a Caesar salad, which has romaine lettuce (vegetable), Caesar dressing (fat), croutons (carb), and possibly anchovies (protein). At first glance, a Caesar salad has all of the ingredients you’d need in a healthy, balanced meal. But let’s break it down.
Veggies: Vegetables are important because they offer you dietary fiber, keeping you full longer and ... well ... regular. They also provide important micronutrients (vitamins and minerals), which keep your body functioning well. In a traditional Caesar salad, your only vegetable is romaine lettuce, which limits you to one set of nutrients. Of lettuces, romaine is a perfectly respectable choice, beating out iceberg but lagging behind spinach in terms of nutrient density. (Anecdotally, the darker the color of the vegetable, the more nutrients it possesses. The lighter the color, the more water it possesses.)
Fats: Caesar dressing is usually made from egg yolks, oil (or mayonnaise), parmesan cheese, vinegar, and spices. Like most dressings, it serves as your fat in a salad. Fats are good for you. They help you absorb the micronutrients in your vegetables, help you feel more satisfied, and regulate your hormones. Fats are also very energy-dense, which means a little goes a long way. Caesar salads have an excellent blend of saturated, monounsaturated, and polyunsaturated fats, however, they also have a 68:9 ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids. As I explained a few weeks ago, we want to try to get our fatty acid ratio as even as possible. [[Link to article]] Caesar salad dressing doesn’t help us do that.
Carbs: Croutons are dried out pieces of bread, usually made from white flour, and they are delicious. Because they are usually made from white flour, they tend not to be the healthiest choice in the carb department. When you choose your carbs, as often as possible, you want to choose carbs that are complex, like quinoa, or that have a lot of fiber, like fruit. Whole grains help deter a blood-sugar spike, help you stay full longer, and provide you with energy to burn. White flour and foods made from white flour often have the opposite effect, making your blood sugar spike and leaving you shaky and hungry a few hour later.
Protein: Finally, anchovies have some protein and healthy fats, but there are probably not enough anchovies in your Caesar salad to be a full serving of protein (which is 1-2 palm-sized portions).
Keep in mind, all of your food choices happen on a continuum. If your choice is Caesar salad or no veggies at all, eat the Caesar salad. If your choice is Caesar salad or a power bowl, pick the power bowl.
Unlike a salad, a power bowl is (usually) an intentionally balanced meal. It consists of 1-2 (or more) servings of veggies, 1-2 servings of nutrient-dense carbs, 1-2 servings of healthy fats, and 1-2 servings of protein. You can choose between a number of options to create a power bowl. For example, you can choose any vegetable you’d like, aiming to get as much color into your bowl as possible. I often use a dark leafy greens mixture, along with cabbage, carrots, and beets. For a nutrient-dense carb, you might choose a portion of baked sweet potato, a grain like quinoa or farro, black beans, or sliced apple. For a fat, you could use olive oil, avocado, or a bit of cheese. For protein, you can use meat (like chicken, salmon, or tuna), hard-boiled eggs, or beans or legumes if you’re a vegetarian.
Next week, I’ll share one of my favorite power bowl recipe, along with some tips to make it as easy to throw together as possible. Until then, eat your veggies!!!
I'm accepting a limited number of new nutrition clients for my fall cohort, which starts Monday, September 17. For more information, contact me at email@example.com.