I’m a strong believer that everyone has a different body chemistry or “type”, inferring that there isn’t any diet that is right for everyone. It’s each person’s individual responsibility to find the diet that works for them from both a nutrient standpoint and one that gives them a good sense of wellbeing and balance. The macrobiotic diet is by no means the perfect diet, but there are many great attributes of this way of eating and lifestyle that are worthy of consideration for good health and disease prevention.
The macrobiotic system, which translates to “long life” or “great life” was originally founded by a Japanese philosopher named George Oshawa. He believed that the key to health and happiness was simplicity, based on a Zen Buddhism approach to living. Although his original diet consisted of 10 stages, moving towards a very restrictive diet of only brown rice that was later deemed unhealthy and unsupported by subsequent macrobiotic teachers, his diet/lifestyle approach has developed over time into a balanced way of living that works for many people.
So what does the diet consist of? This high-quality, organic, plant-based diet is low in fat and high in fiber, ideal for the vegetarian who would like to eat some occasional fish. It’s considered a way of life rather than a diet and supports spiritual and physical wellbeing. Below are some general guidelines, however variations exist depending on climate, age, activity level, gender, etc.
-Grains (50-60%): Includes whole grains as a "staple" such as brown rice, quinoa, millet, barley, oats, spelt, rye and teff. The diet does not include any refined carbohydrates (bread, pasta, crackers, etc.), however buckwheat noodles (soba) are considered ok.
-Vegetables (25-30%): Includes all vegetables except nightshade vegetables, which should only be used sparingly (tomato, bell pepper, potato and eggplant). It also discourages consuming too much spinach, beets and avocado as they are considered very yin, which I’ll explain the philosophy behind later. Vegetables should be local and organic, which only allows for those vegetables that are in season and most aligned with the body’s needs year round.
-Beans (5-10%): All types of beans can be consumed daily, which is great for protein needs.
-Sea Vegetables (5%): Extremely high in calcium (10x that of milk) and rich in minerals, sea vegetables are to be eaten daily.
-Other Foods (5-20%): This includes miso as well as nuts, seeds, fruits and fish. Fish is typically only consumed 2-3x per week. Like vegetables, only local fruits should be consumed. The macrobiotic diet discourages the consumption of dairy, fatty meats and refined sugars, as they can be toxic to the body. The same goes for coffee, caffeinated tea, alcohol, chocolate, hot spices and any foods that contain artificial chemicals and/or preservatives. You will however see a lot of recipes using ingredients such as sea salt, shoyu, brown rice vinegar, umeboshi vinegar and plums, fermented pickles and gomashio (roasted sesame seeds) to flavor food.
In addition to the foods themselves, someone following a macrobiotic diet also pays close attention to the yin/yang nature of the foods they eat. This is based on the Chinese philosophy that polar opposites are actually interconnected and come together to create a whole. Yin foods are light, cool, passive and expansive in nature. Yang foods are the opposite, dense, hot aggressive and contractive in nature. The macrobiotic system recognizes that food acts as energy in the body and that it’s important to create balance between these opposing energies to achieve internal healing. There are many resources online to inform you which foods fall into each category so that you can utilize that information for meal planning.
Beyond the diet itself, there are also guidelines for the pots, pans and eating cookware used. The macrobiotic way is to only use wood, glass, ceramic and stainless steel to avoid ingesting toxins from other types of materials. Microwaves and even the use of electricity to prepare food are also frowned upon. Enjoying your food in a peaceful setting, where you can chew properly to avoid overeating is another Zen practice that is part of the macrobiotic lifestyle.
Since its introduction in the 1960’s, many people have improved their health by following a macrobiotic diet. Although it’s important to carefully plan meals to avoid nutritional deficiencies, some of the guidelines and practices are useful for those looking to obtain optimal wellbeing for both the body and soul.
The diet has also received a lot of attention for claims stating it can prevent or cure cancer. Although, there has not been any research to date that proves its role in cancer, it can be said that a low-fat and high-fiber diet consisting of mostly good wholesome plant foods is far better then the Standard American Diet and a great approach to disease prevention and healing. Again, and I can’t stress this enough, an ideal diet for everyone does not exist. Use your internal guidance system to determine what’s best for you and don’t be afraid to get regular blood and urine tests to ensure that you are absorbing all of the nutrients your body needs.
 Cancer.org (No date). Macrobiotic diet. Retrieved from http://www.cancer.org/treatment/treatmentsandsideeffects/complementaryandalternativemedicine/dietandnutrition/macrobiotic-diet
 Zelman, K. (No date). Macrobiotic diet. (Retrieved from http://www.webmd.com/diet/features/macrobiotic-diet
 Hoy, J. (No date). Yin and yang: an introduction. Retrieved from http://macrobiotic.about.com/od/gettingstarted/a/YinYang.htm
Published On: November 26, 2012