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The HawaiiDietÔ : Returning to our Roots

Kristen Thomas


In the past forty years, the average American’s weight has skyrocketed. This can be traced to the introduction of fast food into our everyday lives. Fatty cheeseburgers and grease laden French fries have replaced fresh fish and crisp vegetables. Americans have come to value convenience more highly than personal health and consequently we are paying for what we consume.

Obesity is becoming an increasingly significant health concern in the United States, nearly to the point of epidemic proportions. To be considered obese, one’s body weight must be at least 20% over their ideal body weight; unfortunately with this definition, over 30% of all Americans are obese. Alarmingly, approximately 280,000 annual deaths were attributed to obesity in the United States (Allison, p. 1530). There are significant health concerns that must be addressed with increasing trend towards obesity. The National Center for Health Statistics has identified the leading three causes of death in the United States as heart disease, cancer and stroke. Obesity has been identified as a leading risk factor for each of these diseases as well as adult onset diabetes. Fortunately these killers can be controlled through one’s diet. Dr.Shintani’s HawaiiDietÔ has closely studied trends in weight gain from both past histories and present day to identify a proper diet that will control one’s weight as well as significantly improve their health.



What is the HawaiiDietÔ ?

The HawaiiDietÔ is not merely a diet in the typical sense of the word; rather it is a change of lifestyle. Though it is the goal of many to solely lose weight with a strict diet, Dr. Shintani looks at the larger picture of health. His main goal is for long-term improved health, including reduction in cholesterol levels. His focus is prevention, not reaction that other fad diets elicit.

The HawaiiDietÔ emphasizes not only a change in diet, but also introduces personal wholeness into the program. Dr. Shintani asserts in his book The HawaiiDiet, that optimal health involves all aspects of one’s being: spiritual, mental, emotional and physical, not only one’s relationship with food. A harmony must be achieved within for optimum health, and this includes a life without high levels of internal stress. Saying a prayer, meditating and laughing daily, as well as performing acts of selflessness, and finding a love for life can reduce stress (p. 82).

The program shows one how to replace unhealthy and fatty foods with healthy and natural alternatives so that this diet becomes a way of life. Dr.Shintani’s program looks back to ancient Hawaii beliefs and traditions and has incorporated this into his modern day diet that all Americans can follow. Dr. Shintani’s program is modeled after the Hawaiian ancestors’ diet that consisted of high complex carbohydrate, low fat and moderate protein foods. In contrast to the popular low-carbohydrate, high protein diets of today, Dr. Shintani’s diet is mainly vegan in its composition. With a concentration of vegetables, fruits and whole grains, one is able to eat as much as they like and still lose weight. There is a de-emphasis of protein from animal products because of the relationship associated with meat and saturated fats. Oils, refined sugars and dairy products are also supposed to be minimally consumed on this diet (see Inverted Pyramid).

What is EMI?

EMI stands for the ‘Eat More Index’; it is based upon a mass to calorie ratio of various foods. Basically the EMI number represents the "number of pounds of food it takes to provide 2,500 calories (one day’s worth of calories for an average active woman or average inactive man)". For example, the EMI of lettuce is 39.0. So it would take 39 pounds of lettuce to be consumed in one day to meet the 2,500 calorie mark. Obviously, one could not comfortably eat 39 pounds of lettuce each day- its too bulky- so one would consume less calories and as a result lose weight. In other words, the greater the EMI number, the more one can eat. In contrast, mayonnaise has an EMI value of 0.8; this means that very little mayonnaise can be consumed before reaching the allotted 2,500 calorie mark for the day, thus much less can be consumed in comparison with the lettuce.

The ‘Eat More Index’ is the foundation for Dr. Shintani’s diet. The EMI value helps identify which foods should be eaten most frequently as compared to never or rarely. Unlike many other diets that restrict the amount of food consumed, the HawaiiDietÔ allows one to consume twice as much food than they could before adopting the diet. Bulkier foods such as broccoli, potatoes and onions are the main source of food to be consumed. Foods such as mayonnaise, beef and hard candy have very low EMI numbers and are to be eaten sparingly. With a general understanding of the program and knowing what foods have a high mass to calorie ratio, then one does not have to tediously count calories. Simply follow the daily-recommended servings for each food group and one will remain at or below the 2,500 calorie consumption daily.

Inverted Pyramid:

On the HawaiiDietÔ one should eat 8-13 servings of whole grains and other staples; 3-5 vegetable servings; 2-4 servings of fruit; 2-3 non-dairy calcium foods; as well as 2-3 servings of no-cholesterol protein foods. The inverted pyramid is a diagram that demonstrates visually what foods have a high or low EMI value. The pyramid then serves as a guide which can aid in the selection of food while observing the HawaiiDietÔ . The pyramid demonstrates that foods selected most often should be plant-based foods high in whole complex carbohydrates and low in fat and cholesterol. Foods at the top of the pyramid- vegetables, fruits and whole grains- are to be eaten most frequently; foods at the bottom of the pyramid- oils, red meat, and refined sugars- should be eaten minimally. One should note that calcium is not obtained from cheese and milk while on the diet because dairy products should be consumed sparingly; rather one receives their calcium through dark leafy greens.

To make the dietary transition from the USDA Food Guide Pyramid to the Inverted HawaiiDietÔ pyramid smoother, Dr. Shintani has created three different, three- week menus for one to choose from and follow as a guide. The first is the "Hawaii/Pacific style, middle-American version". The dishes off of the first menu are familiar and are a mixture of the two other menus, with a strong emphasis on familiar foods such as potatoes. The second menu is "the Hawaii/Pacific style". This menu plan has a distinctly Hawaiian and Asian flair and is more difficult to follow because of hard to find ingredients in the recipes. The third is the "Mediterranean style" menu. This plan includes somewhat higher fat dishes and allows dairy on occasion. This diet is not ideal for individual trying to lose weight rather it is geared more towards the individual who is concerned about physical health. These three menu plans are highlighted in his book The HawaiiDiet. A sample of his menu can be found on the HawaiiDietÔ web site.

Dr. Shintani’s Foundation:

Dr. Shintani claims that his diet is "scientifically valid and medically proven to treat obesity and the illnesses associated with obesity". He asserts that it is an effective means to lose weight because one is still able eat as much as they want and fill up on bulky foods but consume fewer calories. This is what he calls the ‘Hawaiian Paradox’. In his own studies he has found that the average overweight individual lost seventeen pounds in a three-week period. Dr. Shintani not only looked at the average individual’s weight loss but also reductions in cholesterol levels. Cholesterol levels dropped an average of 24% after the initial three- weeks of the diet were completed (Shintani, p.5). Dr. Shintani asserts that the elevated cholesterol levels and weight gain are the product of consuming too much animal fat and protein. These foods need to be eliminated from one’s diet much like the Hawaiian ancestors’ diet years ago. Dr. Shintain believes that because ancient Hawaiians and other ancient cultures survived with minimal consumption of animal flesh and dairy. Dr. Shintani also found it important to note that ancient cultures did not have obesity as a health concern; only after the modernization of culture that obesity has become so common. Dr. Shintani has made the association between animal products and obesity, and asserts that we must return to our roots and eliminate the modern day convenience of fast food from our lives.


          The HawaiiDietÔ can be easily compared to the vegan diet in that the focus of the menu is on fruits, vegetables and whole oats, and animal products are excluded. Studies have shown that there are significant benefits from a vegan diet- namely a lower incidence of chronic disease, such as heart disease (Hadden et al, p. 587). Studies have also found that the consumption of protein was sufficient although animal products are shunned. Though the vegan diet is sufficient in providing most of our daily vitamins, some deficiencies of vitamins and these cause concern.

          Deficiencies that must be addressed when rigorously following the HawaiiDietÔ or similar vegan diet are the loss of iron, vitamin B-12 and calcium. Iron is of important concern for vegans because fruits and vegetables lack iron that is available in meat. A lack of iron in the body often can cause anemia; a reduction of the hemoglobin of the red blood cells. One physical sign of anemia is the marked lack of energy and sluggishness. It is recommended that vegans should take supplements to prevent the onset of anemia. Another concern of vegans should be the low levels of the vitamin B-12. B-12 is found only in animal products and the rigid diet of fruits and vegetables that the vegan follows is thus void of this important vitamin. B-12 is important because it is, "required for DNA synthesis and erythropoiesis and a deficiency may result in higher proportions of immature, enlarged red blood cells" (Haddad et al, p. 590). In other words, a vitamin supplement for B-12 must be taken to avoid a deficiency. Finally, calcium deficiencies are a concern for those whose previous primary source of calcium was from dairy products. It is difficult to replace an adequate amount of calcium daily when eliminating dairy products from one’s diet. Some plants such as broccoli, cabbage and mustard greens do provide calcium however it has been found that, "the quantity of vegetables required to reach sufficient calcium intake make an exclusively plant-based diet impractical for most individuals unless fortified foods or supplements are included" (Weaver et al, p.543).

          When embarking on a strict diet of mainly vegetables, fruits and whole grains one must be well educated in not only the health benefits but risks as well. One should be aware of the deficiencies that arise when restricting their diet, especially when eliminating the consumption of animal products. One must make conscientious decisions as to what foods to include in their daily meals so that the proper nutrients and vitamins that are not being fed to the body are made up for with vitamin supplements.


Allison, D.B. et al. (1999). Annual deaths attributable to obesity in the United States.

          JAMA, 282, 1530-1538.

Dwyer, J. (1999). Convergence of plant-rich and plant-only diets. The American Journal

          of Clinical Nutrition, 70, 620-622.

Haddad, E. et al. (1999). Dietary intake and biochemical, hematologic, and immune

Status of vegans compared with nonvegetarians. The American Journal of

Clinical Nutrition, 70, 586-593.

Shintani, T. (1999). The HawaiiDietÔ . New York: Pocket Books.

Weaver, C.M., Proulx, W.R., and Heaney, R. (1999). Choices for achieving adequate

          Dietary calcium with a vegetarian diet. The American Journal of Clinical

          Nutrition, 70, 543-548.


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