Hawaii is typically associated with an abundance of seafood and fresh fruits and vegetables that grow all year long, yet, according to a recent study, the number of obese adults in the state has grown dramatically over the past 15 years and is expected to grow even more in the next 20 years. According to Elizabeth Somer, registered dietitian and author of Eat Your Way to Happiness, there are a few things Hawaiians eat, found right in their backyard, that will help curb this issue.
The Cuisine of Hawaii is a fusion of many foods brought by immigrants to the Hawaiian Islands. That cuisine is rich in vegetables, fruits, seafood, and a few starches. For example,
Poi is a thick paste made from taro root (similar to a yam or potato but with a starchy-er flavor) that is either steamed or baked and pounded. While pounding, water is added to the mixture to create a pudding like consistency. Poi is fat and cholesterol-free. It is rich in potassium, a mineral essential for heart rhythm and blood pressure. It also is a good source of the mineral, iron. We don’t have access to poi here on the mainland, but quinoa is a close second.
Women during the childbearing years, from 13 to 50, are at particular risk for iron deficiency. Children and teenagers also are prone to iron deficiency. A woman who has been pregnant in the past 2 years, consumes less than 2000 calories daily, or exercises frequently and vigorously is at particularly high risk. Iron is the key oxygen-carrier in the body. Without ample carriers, the tissues are literally suffocated for oxygen and the signs of deficiency reflect this, including fatigue, feeling sluggish, poor concentration, and increased susceptibility to colds and infections.
1) Poke is the Hawaiian version of Japanese sashimi (raw fish). Hawaiian poke is served in bite sized hearty cubes. The most common type of fish is ahi (tuna), but a number of other kinds of fresh saltwater fish are used.
2) Lomi lomi salmon, named for the Hawaiian words rub, massage, and knead, is not originally native to Hawaii but was brought over from other Pacific islands. The dish is now part of most traditional Hawaiian meals and makes a great addition to poi. Raw salmon is cured with salt and diced up along with tomatoes, onions, and normally some chili peppers. The result is what I’d call a salmon infused Hawaiian style salsa garnish.
The so-called “bad” fats — such as saturated fats in red meat and cheese, or trans fats in processed foods — are major players in heart disease. But some of the “good” fats, such as omega 3s, actually save your heart. Those fats are found in the abundance of seafood in the traditional Hawaiian diet.
There are three types of omega-3s, and the one most important to overall health is DHA. Heart tissue has up to 30 times more DHA than any other omega-3. While all omega-3s lower blood fat such as triglycerides, and raise good cholesterol (HDL) in the blood, the omega-3 DHA also helps regulate heart rate, lowers blood pressure, and improves blood flow through the arteries.
An added benefit is that DHA might help lower risk for both dementia and depression. Sixty percent of brain tissue is fat, which forms the membranes around the 100 billion nerve cells in the brain. The more fluid and flexible those fats, the healthier your brain and the better you think today and down the road. The most fluid fats are the omega-3s, and of those, DHA is preferred, since 97% of the omega-3s in the brain are DHA. Your body can’t make this fat. It must come from the diet. Fatty fish, such as salmon, is a great source of DHA. You need at least two servings a week. However, if you are vegetarian, or if you can’t afford, don’t like, or have concerns about the mercury in fish, then choose foods fortified with an algal- or vegetarian-based DHA. Look for the word “life’sDHA” on the label. Aim for at least two servings of fatty fish a week or 220 milligrams of DHA a day.
A word of caution: Do not deep fat fry your fish! Studies show that the batter, grease, and calories from this form of cooking negate all the healthful factors of the original fish. Bake, steam, broil, BBQ, but don’t fry!
There is only one black and white issue in nutrition and that is: The more colorful fruits and vegetables people eat, the lower their risk for all age-related diseases, from heart disease and cancer to hypertension, diabetes, dementia, and even weight gain. Thousands of studies spanning decades of research repeatedly and consistently confirm that you need at least 8 servings a day, maybe more. The traditional Hawaiian diet is filled with produce. A diet packed with produce lowers inflammation in the body, and boosts the antioxidant defenses to protect the body against infection and disease, as well as macular degeneration and cataracts.
1. Pineapple: Is rich in vitamin C, fiber, and potassium.
2. Papaya: Is rich in vitamin A, vitamin C, potassium, calcium, magnesium, and more.
3. Watermelon: Watermelon is an excellent source of lycopene, a red pigment that lowers heart disease and heart attack risk. In fact, watermelon has more lycopene than do tomatoes - up to 20 milligrams in each two-cup serving. The lycopene in watermelon helps lower risk for inflammation, prostate cancer, urinary tract infections, skin damage, vision and bone loss, and possibly even weight gain. Watermelon also is low or free of cholesterol, fat, and sodium, and is a good source of arginine and citrulline, amino acids that maintain the blood vessels, increase nitric oxide, and improve blood flow to all tissues. Vitamins A and C in watermelon show promise in lowering risk for cancers of the esophagus, stomach, lungs, liver, cervix, colon, and pancreas. This fruit is a natural hydrator, containing 92% water, and a great source of potassium, magnesium, the antioxidant glutathione, and vitamin B6. .
How Much? 1 cup/day
4. Bananas: Not only are bananas a great source of potassium, they also supply a hefty dose of fiber and vitamin B6. A recent study even found a glass of water and a banana was as good a recovery snack after exercise as highly processed sports drinks. Besides, bananas are the #1 most purchased food in grocery stores across the U.S.
5. Sweet potatoes: A luau wouldn’t be complete without the dark purple sweet potatoes, rich in vitamin A, antioxidants, fiber, vitamin C, folate, calcium, iron, and magnesium.
How Much? 1+ cup a day.
Although, high in fat and calories, any people are much more successful at weight loss when they add a few healthy fats, such as nuts and olive oil, to their weight-loss diets than if they try to stick with very-low-fat diets. There are three reasons why nuts help you stay happy and skinny.
1. Nuts are fiber-rich, so even an ounce is enough to take the edge off hunger.
2. Nuts raise the metabolic rate by up to 11%, thus helping to burn more calories.
3. Nuts help regulate blood sugar. They have a low glycemic index (GI). Compared to potatoes or corn flakes, which rank in the 80s on the GI scale, peanuts and other nuts rank as low as 14, meaning they don’t raise blood sugar levels, so don’t stimulate appetite or fat storage. Peanuts also contain a compound called arginine, that helps regulate the hormone, insulin, which helps maintain normal blood sugar levels. When people keep their blood sugar steady, they typically consume fewer calories, because their energy level and mood are stable and they aren’t as hungry. The more you control blood sugar, the easier time you’ll have managing your weight, which explains why an ounce of nuts a day helps slim waistlines.
How Much? 1 ounce a day.
Lettuce and spinach grown year-around in Hawaii. And, honestly, you can’t get to healthy without adding at least one serving a day of these nutrient-packed foods. These are the very best sources of the B vitamin, folate. Your brain cells won’t turn on without it. It’s no wonder that poor intake of folate increases the risk for depression, fatigue, poor memory, and possibly even more serious mental problems like schizophrenia. People battling the blues who boost their intake of greens say they feel better and happier as a result. People who are clinically depressed only respond to antidepressant therapy if their blood levels of folate are high. Need I say more?
Packed with vitamins and minerals, one serving of dark greens supplies an entire day’s requirement for vitamin A, more than 3 milligrams of iron, almost a third of your daily need for folate, and hefty amounts of calcium and B vitamins, all for about 20 calories. A one-cup serving of cooked Swiss chard supplies more than half of a woman's daily recommendation for magnesium, a mineral that helps her cope with stress, curbs symptoms of PMS, and aids in sleep. Phytonutrients, such as sulforaphane in broccoli and the carotenoids in romaine lettuce, clear toxins from the body and strengthens your resistance to colds and infections.
How Much? 2 servings a day (1 serving is 1 cup raw or ½ cup cooked)