Is Poke Good for Me?

Poke (alternatively, poké and poki) is a seafood cuisine from Hawai'i that features sliced raw fish on top of hot rice.Traditional Hawai'ian poke includes aku tuna and he'e (octopus, sometimes known by its Japanese name, tako), but toppings like ahi tuna, salmon and scallops have become popular in recent years as well.

Poke in its present form has been capturing the hearts and stomachs of consumers for decades in Hawai'i and California, but it's made a big splash in the rest of the US for the past five years - according to an Eater article from 2016, showed that between 2014 - 2016 alone, the number of poke restaurants on discovery app Foursquare doubled. Wherever you live, it's likely you've at least heard of this trendy dish.

The fast-casual style of poke that became popular in the mainland US tastes a lot like deconstructed sushi and is vaguely reminiscent of Chipotle restaurants, offering customers a plethora of options as they move down a long assembly line of toppings. Ingredients can include savory fish flakes or furikake, edamame, seaweed salad, and kimchi. Consumers are often offered a choice of brown rice, white rice or a leafy salad as the base and sauces range from traditional shoyu to house-made mayonnaise concoctions.

But as delicious as this fishy dish is, everyone from fitness boards to Quora is wondering, "Is poke good for me?" The answer, as always: it depends.

Things to Consider

Fish such as tuna and salmon are full of nutrients and omega-3 oils, which can help prevent disease and aid in growth and development, especially in children. They're a lean, low-calorie source of protein, which is vital in a healthy diet. They're also delicious! However, before you dive into that poke dish, there are a few things you'll want to keep in mind:

Poke features raw fish, so if you're pregnant, elderly or a constant fish consumer, you will definitely want to take this into consideration. Certain types of tuna are considered high-mercury fish, so checking for advisories about fish caught in your area is always a good idea. Chemicals and pesticides can also make their way through the food chain into the fish you eat, especially if you prefer predatory fish such as swordfish. Additionally, raw fish is also at a higher risk of carrying parasites, so make sure the restaurant preparing your food or the market selling your sushi-grade fish is clean and carries an inspection grade from the Department of Public Health in your area. The FDA has several tips for safe purchasing and preparation of seafood if you prefer to make your own meals.

This all can sound scary, but they key to protecting your health when consuming fish, especially raw fish, is to arm yourself with information. Being aware of your dietary needs, discussing your health and fitness levels with your doctor and knowing which fish you shouldn't eat will go a long way to keeping you safe and healthy.

Another thing to think about is the ingredients you add to your fish. Poke in its original form had hardly more than fish, salt and seaweed, but the options available today look a lot more like deconstructed sushi rolls. If you have any food restrictions it's best to let the restaurant employees know before they start preparing your dish. Shellfish in the form of crab meat is a common additive to poke bowls. Non-creamy sauces are often a better option since they contain fewer calories, but if you're trying to go gluten-free make sure you know which soy-based sauces contain gluten. Often poke restaurants make their own house sauce blends, so don't be afraid to ask what allergens they contain.


One final thing to consider when deciding whether or not to eat poke is sustainability. Protecting the health of the fish populations we eat and the overall health of the ocean ensures that our favorite fish dishes will continue to be available for years to come. The Monterey Bay Aquarium in Monterey, Calif., has a database on their website where you can search for your favorite fish and find alternatives for over-fished species, like some species of tuna.

If consumed mindfully, poke can be a deliciously healthy way to get essential nutrients into your diet. As always, talk to your doctor about any questions or concerns you may have regarding your health.