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 Naturopathic Medicine: The Wai'anae Diet Program 
Michael Traub ND ©

The Wai'anae Book of Hawaiian Health is an extremely impressive little manual about the Wai'anae Diet. While it is ostensibly written for Native Hawaiians, the principles espoused are just as applicable to anyone.

What makes it so appealing is that the premise of the book is not really just about diet, but about total health on all levels. The back cover states "We believe that when enough individuals make a commitment to create their own lokahi, health will follow. And when enough Hawaiians are lokahi within themselves . . . with the land through the food they eat . . . with all Hawaiians and the Papa (mother earth) and Wakea (sky father) . . . then the health of the people will be restored, and the cultural strengthening of the Hawaiian people will follow." The book is intended as a community building tool, whereby those who follow the program can influence the health of their "family, friends, and ultimately all the Hawaiian people."

The Table of Contents includes short chapters on Hawaiian history and health, early disease, politics, economics, ola lokahi, and recipes for health of the spirit (mana), mind ('ano'ano), emotion (aloha), and body (kino). The book looks at the whole person in the context of his or her environment. "Ola lokahi" is the guiding principle of the program: the idea that all things and all people are connected. Health is seen as not related only to diet, but to physical activity, positive attitude and visualization, harmonious relationships with others and all things, and a faith in a power beyond oneself, connected to by a breath meditation..

In Hawaiian mythology, all things came to be through the mating of Papa and Wakea., and were connected by mana (life force). This is the basis of the meaning of "ola lokahi" (oneness of all life). The first child of Papa and Wakea was Haloa who was stillborn. However, because of the great love of Papa and Wakea, the child had great mana, and when he was buried the taro grew out of his body and spread throughout Hawai'i. The great mana found in taro provided life force to sustain all the descendents of Papa and Wakea. This is why taro has such an importance in the Hawaiian tradition. It is further believed that because it is vital to be "pono" (in harmony) with everything, the loss of pono is the fundamental cause of illness. This implies the loss of harmony with the aina (land), food, or with another person.

The Hawaiian people were once some of the healthiest people on the earth. Western influence has changed the cultural, political and socioeconomic circumstances that have greatly impacted the health status of Native Hawaiians, so that their health is now among the worst in the nation. In contrast, Hawai'i is considered the healthiest state in the union. Poor diet is the biggest threat to the health of Hawaiians today. It is related to obesity, heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke, cancer and diabetes. Many Native Hawaiians consume high-fat, high sugar, low fiber diets including plate lunches, fast food and canned food.

The Waianae Diet is based on the traditional Hawaiian diet which is high in complex carbohydrates and fiber and low in fat. It does not restrict amounts of foods on the diet except for the quantity of animal protein. The principle foods in the diet are taro, poi, sweet potatoes, yams, breadfruit, greens, seaweed, fruit, small amounts of fish and occasionally chicken.

A pilot study of the diet was conducted with 19 Native Hawaiians at the Waianae Coast Comprehensive Health Center and the results published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in June 1991. Weight loss averaged 17.1 pounds over 21 days. Cholesterol fell 14.1% from an average of 222.3 mg/dl to an average of 191 mg/dl, and triglycerides fell from an average of 211.3 to 163 mg/dl. Blood sugar decreased from 161.9 to 123.4 mg/dl. Average systolic blood pressure fell 9% and diastolic 11%. There was no increase in exercise in the pilot study and participants ate more food but fewer calories. The diet contained 7-12% fat. Degree of satisfaction was relatively high throughout the program. It included Hawaiian healers to teach spiritual, mental, and emotional as well as physical health. Modern equivalent foods and recipes were also taught, such as the incorporation of whole grains, pasta, corn, beans, potatoes and other root vegetables.

The researchers concluded that a change in the diet to modern foods rather than "overeating" is the cause of obesity and the high risk of chronic degenerative disease in Native Hawaiians today. This is the same conclusion that many nutritionally oriented health practitioners have been espousing for years about the health problems of modern society in general. In the last 5-10 years we have seen more and more recognition and acceptance of the validity of the high complex carbohydrate, high fiber, low fat diet. The Waianae Diet Program is an exceptionally appropriate way for Native Hawaiians to follow this recommended diet, and people of all cultures would do well to make their healthy diet a part of an overall holistic approach to health care.

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