A macrobiotic diet is a type of diet that consists primarily of whole grains, cereals, and vegetables. Early versions of a macrobiotic diet encouraged eating only cooked whole grains, but these more extreme regimens are no longer used because of their potentially dangerous health effects.
The new approach? The macrobiotic diet “promotes whole foods vs. processed foods.
Japanese macrobiotics emphasizes locally grown whole grain cereals, pulses (legumes), vegetables, seaweed, fermented soy products and fruit, combined into meals according to the ancient Chinese principle of balance known as yin and yang. Whole grains and whole-grain products such as brown rice and buckwheat pasta (soba), a variety of cooked and raw vegetables, beans and bean products, mild natural seasonings, fish, nuts and seeds, mild (non-stimulating) beverages such as bancha twig tea and fruit are recommended.
Some Japanese macrobiotic theorists, including George Ohsawa, stress the fact that yin and yang are relative qualities that can only be determined in a comparison. All food is considered to have both properties, with one dominating. Foods with yang qualities are considered compact, dense, heavy, hot, whereas those with yin qualities are considered expansive, light, cold, and diffuse.
Most macrobiotic diets include elements of Buddhism, along with a simple eating plan that eliminates dairy products, meats, and fatty foods due to their so-called toxic effects on your body. On a macrobiotic diet, about half of your calories will come from whole grains, and the rest from fruits, vegetables, and soups. In addition, white fish, nuts, seeds, pickles, Asian condiments, and certain teas can be consumed on occasion. Certain vegetables, including potatoes, tomatoes, asparagus, and avocados, are restricted. Also, the foods you eat on a macrobiotic diet should be organic.
When it comes to cooking on a macrobiotic diet, foods are considered sacred, so you should prepare your meals in a peaceful environment. Your pots, pans, and utensils should be made of specific materials, like wood, glass, and stainless steel, and you should not use the microwave or electricity.
A macrobiotic diet consists almost exclusively of cooked foods. Raw foods are felt to be difficult to digest and too cooling for our system. A minimum of fruits is consumed, less than 5 percent of the diet, and most of those should be cooked. Dairy foods and eggs are usually avoided; the only animal products recommended are whitefish such as halibut, trout, and sole, and these are also kept to less than 5 percent of the diet.
The macrobiotic meal includes between 50 and 60 percent whole cereal grains, such as brown rice, whole oats, millet, barley, corn, wheat berries, rye, and buckwheat. Flour products and baked goodies are avoided, and pastas and breads are eaten only occasionally.
Vegetables make up about 20–25 percent of the meal; members of the nightshade family, such as potatoes, peppers, tomatoes, and eggplant, as well as avocados, spinach, yams, and sweet potatoes, are all avoided. Beans and sea vegetables (seaweeds) are suggested to complement the meal, making up 5–10 percent of its quantity. The primary beans eaten are azukis, lentils, and garbanzos, along with fermented soybean products such as tofu, tempeh, and miso. Most other beans can be eaten occasionally in this diet. Some seeds, nuts, and vegetable oils may be used. Soups and salads can also be eaten, constituting about 5 percent of the meal. Such other exotic foods as umeboshi plums (and other pickled foods, such as daikon radish and ginger, usually eaten at the end of a meal to aid digestion), tamari soy sauce, sesame salt (gomasio), and bancha twig tea are also included.
On the positive side, this diet is considered to be very balanced. It provides a lot of vitamins and minerals and is very good in complex carbohydrates and fiber. The protein content is usually adequate, and the fat content is low. By balanced, I mean that a majority of the foods are from the center of the food spectrum, such as vegetables and whole grains, with a minimum of foods from the extremes, such as fruits and sugars, which are more cooling, and the meat and dairy foods, more stimulating.
Also, herbs and spices, such as garlic, onions, and cayenne are considered too stimulating. From the viewpoint of Eastern philosophy, this diet is felt to be a good balance of yin and yang and to be stabilizing, nourishing, and healing. With the avoidances of chemicals, sugars, refined foods, and high-fat foods, it is a good step, I believe, toward a more balanced and healthful diet for many Americans.
Macrobiotic Diet: The Cons
Whole grains and vegetables, I feel, are the mainstay of a healthy diet. They provide wholesome fuel without being too rich and clogging for our finely tuned body machine. But I think that fruits, salads, and more raw foods can be tolerated well and these are often richer in many nutrients that might be lost during cooking and other preparations. Also, many of the special foods recommended are not available locally, and this, I think, is a weakness in suggesting that macrobiotic practitioners everywhere eat a similar diet.
Another drawback to macrobiotics, especially for Americans, is that it is served with a whole philosophy—near religion, if you will—but at the least a way of life that goes along with the diet.
One red flag of a macrobiotic diet is that it restricts or limits a number of healthful foods, like avocados, dairy products, and eggs.
A whole avocado is only 220 calories; it is mostly fat, but it is heart-healthy fat. And we know that dairy products lower blood pressure and they have the calcium for bone. As far as the effects of eating eggs, the longest-living people on Earth (the Japanese) are the biggest egg-eaters in the world.
Macrobiotic Diet: The Pros
Improvement in dietary intake. Macrobiotic diets consist primarily of whole grains, fruits, and vegetables, which are an important part of a healthful diet. There is plenty of evidence that incorporating these foods into your diet can improve your health.
Reduced risk of certain diseases. Eating a low-fat, high-fiber diet rich in fruits and vegetables can reduce your risk of developing several diseases, including cardiovascular disease and certain types of cancer. Researchers are examining whether a macrobiotic diet may be able to prevent cancer.
Maybe some further research will provide more useful information, especially in regard to the fatty acid effects on cells. The omnivorous diet generates more arachidonic acid, which cancer cells need to thrive, while a vegetarian and macrobiotic diet reduce production of arachidonic acid, a possible reason for the benefit it may provide.
Overall, I am much more supportive than otherwise of the macrobiotic-type diet. I feel that it has a lot to offer, including some sound, wholesome information, that may provide many Westerners with an improved sense of health, peace, and well-being.