Monday, August 11, 2014

Our caffeine story

We have been caffeine users and coffee lovers for over 40 years.  Though we moved to Hawaii for the laid-back lifestyle and to reduce our stress, giving up coffee was never on our list of things to improve our health.   A couple of months ago, we started reading some disturbing studies about caffeine and how it keeps the body from losing weight and degrades health.

We knew that too much caffeine can cause anxiety, sleep problems, spasms, dehydration, and stomach upset. But we didn’t know that just 200 mg of caffeine increases the cortisol levels in the blood by 30% within an hour (*).  Cortisol reduces metabolism, increases belly fat, and causes the body to breakdown muscle tissue. Cortisol also reduces leptin, the hormone that regulates hunger, so you feel hungry no matter how much food you have eaten.  

A cup of coffee once had less than 100 mg of caffeine (according to, Folgers has about 70 mg in a 6 oz cup) but times have changed.  A Grande size of plain brewed coffee at Starbucks has 330 mg of caffeine.  Rockstar Energy drink has 240 mg per can and other super energy potions have double that.  Caffeine is not only in coffee, teas, energy drinks, soft drinks, and chocolate, it is also in mints, ice-cream, chewing gums, pain-relievers, and cold remedies (**).

When we added up all the caffeine we were getting through our multiple pots of coffee, daily dark chocolate, additional afternoon coffee, we realized we were going to have caffeine withdrawal.  We  started by gradually reducing the amount of coffee grounds in our morning brew.  After a couple of weeks we were able to get down to one cup of coffee a day.  Although we didn’t have severe headaches, we felt lethargic and missed our morning adrenal jolt.  After two more weeks, we cut out coffee entirely and then the caffeine headaches started. Caffeine causes the blood vessels to be constricted; one study showed that just 250 mg of caffeine reduced blood flow to the brain by 30% (***).  This is scary since caffeine also increases blood pressure, a combination that increases the risk of stroke. Without caffeine the blood flow increases to the brain and causes headaches.  On the upside the additional blood and oxygen to the brain increases concentration and memory, but it also helped us to remember how much we loved our morning coffee.  Taking painkillers for the headache is not helpful as many painkillers contain caffeine.

Although a challenging process, the effects of getting off caffeine have been dramatic.  We no longer drink a bottle of wine every night to get to sleep. We sleep more and much deeper.  We have less appetite and are eating less. The best part is that we both lost about 5 pounds in three weeks.  These were the last 5 pounds (after our weight leveled out on our low-carb diet) to get under our normal BMI weights.

Though we often miss drinking coffee in the morning, we are delighted to find another way to lose fat, improve our concentration, and get even more laid back.  Now, we are hoping for other health benefits promised by being off caffeine over a long period of time.

* “Stress-like adrenocorticotropin responses to caffeine in young healthy men” by Lovallo W., et al. published in Parmacol Biochem Behav 55, 1996

** (caffeine content in drinks and foods)

*** Caffeine Blues:  Wake up to the Hidden Dangers of America’s #1 Drug by Stephen Cherniske

The Decaf Diet: Is Caffeine Making you Fat? by Eugene Wells  

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Forest bathing “Shinrin-Yoku” on Hawaii Island

Forest bathing in Volcano, Hawaii
We love our daily walks through fruit and palm trees and along the coast.  We recently read about Shinrin-Yoku or “forest bathing, which may explain the rejuvenating effects we get from our walks. When we stroll along tree lined paths, the sights, smells, and sounds drains away our stress and improves our mood.

In 1982, the Forest Agency of Japan started the Shrinrin-Yoku program to encourage people to get into nature to improve their health.  Dr. Yoshifumi Miyazaki of Chiba University found that after walks in the forest people had lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol as compared to those after the same walk in a laboratory.  Research showed lower blood pressure and pulse rate in addition to lower levels of cortisol.  Additional studies showed that spending time in a forest reduced psychological stress, depression, and hostility while improving sleep and increasing vigor and liveliness.

Though many of the hikes on Hawaii Island have no trees, there are some great forest trails that we know about if you want to try “forest bathing”.  Below is a list of our favorite forest walks around the island:

Volcano- Within Volcanoes National Park we love the cool, refreshing, forest walk from Kilauea Iki Crater parking lot to Thurston Lava tube parking lot.  Outside the national park gate, the Kipuka Puaulu Bird Park is a loop trail through an old growth forest of koa and ohia trees.  The trailhead is at the end of Mauna Loa Road (off Highway 11) in Volcano.
Canopy of trees in Lava Tree State Park
Puna – Lava Tree State Monument, on Highway 132, has a canopy of trees along pathways through the stunning park.

Hilo -  Liliuokalani Gardens on Hilo Bay has trees with grassy expanses along pathways with gorgeous views every direction.  The  sidewalk along Banyan Drive has a canopy of  trees above.  Hilo’s Zoo, on Stainback Drive,  is away from the crowds with tree lined paths and colorful flowers. 

Honomu - Akaka Falls State Park has a nature walk with trees and waterfalls, perfect for a forest walk. 
Trails through the forest in the Bond Estate, North Kohala

North Kohala – Near Hawi, the 54 acre Bond Estate on Iole Road has hiking trails through lush forests, perfect for meditative walks. 
Paths in Waimea Nature Park

Waimea - Ulu La`au, which means “garden of trees” is a 10 acre park in central Waimea (Kamuela), a place to bathe in the forest.

Puako Petroglyph Trail under Kiawe trees

South Kohala - The path within the Puako Petroglyph Reserve (accessible from Holoholokai Beach Park) meanders through a forest of Kiawe (Mesquite) trees.  

Kailua-Kona - The Walua Trail is a wonderful place to escape from Kona’s traffic and walk among the trees and foliage. The trailhead for Walua begins at Lako Street (off Highway 11) just below the Kona Vista Subdivision.

Let us know your favorite place for “Forest Bathing” on the Big Island of Hawaii.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Hawaii’s wonderful tropical tree nut

When we first visited Hawaii, we were surprised to find macadamia nuts on everything: fish, pancakes, pastries, and sugar coated like a candy. The rich buttery flavor was delicious and we could not get enough of them until all the fiber and oil in the nuts had an effect on our lower intestines.

On subsequent visits we made sure to eat them in moderation. Now living on Hawaii Island, macadamia nuts are an enjoyable part of our diet.  Though macadamia nuts are relatively high in calories (200 calories per ounce ) we find just a handful is satisfying, perhaps because of the fiber content (2 grams per ounce).

Since we are  focused on our diet, we were delighted to find that macadamia nuts are very nutritious. The nuts contain Vitamin B-6, thiamin, riboflavin, and niacin. They also have moderate amounts of zinc, copper, iron, calcium, phosphorus, potassium, manganese, and magnesium as well as small amounts of fat-soluble vitamin-A, and vitamin E. Macadamia nuts even have antioxidants like polyphenols, Amino acids, flavones and selenium.

Another great thing about the tropical macadamia nut is that it has one of the best Omega 3 to Omega 6 fatty acid ratio of any tree nut.  Most tree nuts and vegetable oils have primarily Omega 6 fatty acids, which causes inflammation if eaten in too great a quantity.

The macadamia nut is also a great source of healthy mono-unsaturated fatty acids, notably oleic and palmitoleic fatty acids. These oils are great for your skin and your lungs.

On Hawaii Island, macadamia nut plantations are plentiful and the nuts are sold all over the island.  We get them from local farms without salt or sugar.  The oil is a tasty replacement for olive oil on salads and macadamia nut butter is a great alternative to almond butter.  We grind the nuts into a flour to use in crusts and biscuits.

The tropical macadamia nut is another amazing food grown in Hawaii with high nutritional value and great taste that helps keep us healthy and happy.