HONOLULU - One out of two people living in Hawaii either has diabetes or is at risk of developing it, according to experts. Ekahi Health, a hoslitic wellness center that helps people manage chronic diseases, says there's hope. 

Food is a big part of our lives, so eating healthy is important for overall well-being. Kristen Salles' job is to teach people how to eat right. She is a registered dietitian at 'Ekahi Health, and her clients suffer from chronic conditions like diabetes, hypertension, and high cholesterol. "We teach skills like label reading, how to navigate grocery stores, what foods have a glycemic index and should be minimized, and what foods can help keep a more steady blood glucose- all with the goal of making these changes sustainable," she says.

Salles points out how she works with people in their kitchen. "We like to empower our participants to learn to build a balanced meal. We focus on plant-based proteins, non-starchy produce, and high fiber carbohydrates."

Proteins that come from plants tend to be lower in calories and fat than animal proteins. She points to an entree she prepared and explains, "We're serving tofu, and soy foods are complete proteins, so they contain all nine essential amino acids."

Non-starchy vegetables are low in carbohydrates, so you can eat more of them, which is why she also included "a salad with some cucumbers, purple cabbage, then low-sodium soy sauce sauteed vegetables."

High fiber carbohydrates help you feel fuller longer, and can improve cholesterol and blood sugar levels. "This is the ultimate way of eating for all age groups- specifically seniors, but also those who may have a chronic condition."

Diet is just one part of the picture at Ekahi Health, which offers programs that supplement a patient's medical regime. 

Robert Walker, program director, cautions, "Without paying attention to emotional well-being, stress management, exercise, proper medical management, [diet] is just a drop in the bucket."

Ekahi Health works with a patient's doctors to refine that person's overall lifestyle. "All of these lifestyle skills are ways to live a happier, healthier life- no matter your age," encourages Walker. "At 'Ekahi Health we have our 'Ekahi Ornish program and our 'Ekahi Wellness program that focus on enhancing their current healthcare with lifestyle skills that empower our participants to take control of their health and avoid the serious long-term complications including chronic kidney disease, heart disease, etc. Our team works with our participants and their physicians to help our participants better understand how chronic conditions like diabetes, hypertension, high cholesterol affect them and what they can do to help minimize the effects of these chronic conditions. Thirteen percent of the population in Hawaii have diabetes and 80% of the population is at risk of developing heart disease. So we are helping our participants change their health trajectory and have happier, healthier lives."

Diet, exercise, stress-management: Ekahi Health reminds people, if you change your lifestyle, you can change your life.