If you are what you eat . . .

Idako (baby octopus). . . better know what you’re eating, yeah?!

One of the trickiest issues I’ve come across while researching the management of a gout-friendly kitchen is the lack of resources when it comes to the nutritional values of less common Asian vegetables and fruits, and prepared ethnic foods. While some, like konnyaku and kelp (kombu) have made in-roads into the US and other Western markets as health foods, many others remain on the fringe. One resource I’ve found is not related to gout in particular, but is enlightening nonetheless about the nutrition content of foods common in Hawaii.

The “Hawai’i Foods: Nutrition with Aloha” website, sponsored by the College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources (CTAHR) at the University of Hawaii, provides a breakdown of the total calories, protein, carbohydrate, fat, cholesterol, and vitamin & mineral content of popular fruits, vegetables, and cooked foods in the Islands. One recipe that was featured earlier here on ThreeTastes, Chicken and Green Papaya Soup (Chicken Tinola), is one of the cooked dishes listed on the site: a 1-cup serving of Chicken Tinola has 97 calories, 7g of protein, 4g of carbohydrates, 1g of fiber, 6g of total fat (only 1g is saturated), 23mg cholesterol, as well as Vitamins A & C, niacin, folate, calcium, magnesium, zinc, potassium and phosphorus; and 363mg sodium. Pretty healthy, all things considered, and the sodium content can be controlled by the amount of fish sauce (patis) you add while cooking.

Other dishes include ahi poke, kim chee, spam musubi, macaroni salad (included with almost every plate lunch in the Islands), char siu pork, chicken katsu, guinataan, pinakbet, mochi, laulau, kalua pork, poi, teriyaki beef, and chap chae. If you’re familiar with these dishes, it’s kind of fun — and sometimes scary — to see the actual nutritional breakdown of these foods. (I have to seriously re-think how much poke we eat . . . too sad)

Also on the site are less common fruits and vegetables, such as apple banana, watercress, taro, string beans, Okinawan sweet potato, tamarind, soursop, mustard cabbage, mountain apple, papaya, marunggay leaves, lychee, jackfruit, guava, wing beans (listed as”goa bean”), bok choy, choi sum, and bittermelon.

Another great asset is the Recipe page which features more modern recipes using local ingredients: Watercress & Pork (saute), Pineapple Chicken, Apple Banana Bread, Daikon & Potato Soup, Chicken Noodle Choi Sum, and Okinawan Sweet Potato Hash, among many others. The nutrition breakdown for each recipe is also provided. Go there, or click “Discover” on the main page. I’d like to sample some of these recipes for this site, so stay tuned.

Also on the site is a tool called “My Diet, or PacTrac (short for Pacific Tracker)” which is supposed to allow the user to gauge the nutrition content of their actual diet. It allows you to enter the foods you’ve eaten in the last 24 hours and receive back a report on how healthy that one-day diet was. The first problem I encountered was that when I entered “oatmeal” as the first item, I was given a list of 6 dry or instant oatmeal cereals to choose from, but no cooked oatmeals, so I could not proceed. It’s a great idea, but it may need a little more work on that score. To see PacTrac for yourself, go there now, or click “Learn” on the “Hawai’i Foods” main page.

Finally, you can access and download (as PDF files) quite a few different UH publications that look at the history and nutrition of local foods, as well as guides on how to choose a more healthy diet among foods available locally (Go there). One guide in particular seemed very practical and helpful: Hawaiian Food Choices for Healthful Living. This 39-page booklet breaks down the US government’s recommended foods pyramid (Starch, Calcium/Milk, Fruit, Vegetable, Meat, and Fat), and includes local foods in each food group, including saloon crackers, arare (listed as mochi crunch), coconut, soba noodles, ramen, breadfruit, lotus root, pigeon peas, lychee, poha berries, ume, parrotfish (ulu), milkfish (bangus), skipjack tuna (aku), fish sauce, and Tabasco.

However, my favorite sections begin at page 28 (to page 33) of the booklet: these sections detail how some local favorites make up the total servings from each of the food groups the USDA recommends (2 servings of Calcium/Milk, 3 Vegetables, 4 Fruit, 8 Starch, 5 Meat, 4 Fat). For example, 1 cup of Portuguese Bean Soup (see photo) provides 1/2 of one Vegetable serving, and 2 Meat; 1/2 cup of Halo-Halo (Filipino mixed fruit and ice dessert) has 1/2 Fruit serving, 1 Starch, and 1 fat; and 1 cup of Bibimbap (Korean rice topped with vegetables and beef) has 1 Starch, 1-1/2 Vegetable, 1/2 Meat, 1/2 Fat. But ask yourself, do you really have only 1 cup of Portuguese Bean Soup or Bibimbap? Portion sizes in the Islands are very generous so calculate that in as well. I know my soup bowl probably holds about 2 cups of soup — and don’t forget about the cornbread you might have on the side, too!

The CTAHR at the University launched this site last year, and I’ve enjoyed using these tools and have learned a lot about the foods we eat here in Hawaii. I can’t say we’ve banished anything from our table because of something we’ve learned on this site — moderation is saner than total denial (especially when there are so many ono foods). But if knowledge is power, then the CTAHR has certainly empowered us to make intelligent choices about what we can enjoy in the Islands.

So “Mahalo nui loa” to all the researchers and staff at CTAHR who made this site possible!

For information on how to choose seafood and fish in Hawaii and around the world that are safe for both you and the environment, read more here.