The word “Macrobiotic” comes from the Greek roots and means “Long Life”. The Macrobiotic philosophy and diet came about by a Japanese educator named George Ohsawa, who believed that simplicity was the key to optimal health that encompassed life, health, and healing. It is the principles we often hear about in oriental medicine of yin and yang for example.. The yang foods are generally eaten in a hot climate and the yin foods consumed in more cooling climates. It is believed by eating this way it will keep your body in balance with your environment.
The Macrobiotic diet reflects ancient traditions of eating unrefined, whole grains and their products along with locally grown seasonal vegetables. Today the Macrobiotic Diet reflects these same traditions with our need to return to whole grains which are referred to as the Staff of Life.
Health and Happiness is the foundation of foods in a macrobiotic diet. Sodium and potassium a primary concern and complementary element in food. Grain is the staple food of man and only whole, unrefined natural food should be eaten. The ideal diet being one that is found within 300-500 miles of where you live, meaning to eat only locally-grown food in season.
Interestingly the diet differs depending on what region you are living in. In other words eating foods not native to your climate is considered to create an imbalance within the body and causes us to loose adaptability to our surroundings and increases the risk of getting sick both mentally and or physically.
Macrobiotic diets appear similar to a vegetarian/vegan diet, however the climate or region you live in makes it different when consuming many of the fruits,vegetables and whole grains. Lets take a look at the foods not allowed on a Macrobiotic diet:
Dairy foods- milk, butter, cheese,yogurt, ice cream
Poultry- Chicken, duck, turkey
Red Meat- Beef, Lamb, Pork
Refined sugars, chocolate, molasses, honey, vanilla, hot spices, artificial vinegar, and strong alcoholic beverages
According to the Macrobiotic theory, you can become seriously ill if you eat a diet heavy in animal protein and live in a warmer or even temperate climate as the above mentioned No Foods are designed more for people living in the polar regions. Now lets look at foods you can eat. (A special note to mention is the importance that all foods eaten on a macrobiotic diet should be of the best quality, such as, preferably organically grown and minimally processed. Consumption of genetically modified, irradiated, processed, canned and frozen foods are discouraged).
The diet consist of six categories of foods:
Whole cereal grains (40%-60%
Vegetables- including smaller amounts of raw or pickled vegetables (20%-30%)
Beans and Sea Vegetables
Root Vegetables-round vegetables that grow either above or below the ground and greens
Soups – which may be made with vegetables, sea vegetables, grains or beans and Miso's
Meat alternatives – tofu, tempeh, seitan
Beverages- including any traditional tea that does not have aromatic fragrance or a stimulating effect and spring water or good quality water without ice
Vegetables differ on a macrobiotic diet such as Roots vegetables that grow straight downwards, like carrot, white radish (daikon), parsnip, burdock and Jinenjo (wai san). A few grow upward such as Lotus root, and Arrow Root. Kuzu or Kudzu is another example of a root vegetable used in Macrobiotic cooking. It is rich in minerals. Rounded vegetables are those that grow either just below the ground, like onion, turnip and beetroot, or just above the ground like cabbage, Chinese cabbage, cauliflower and pumpkin (above the ground). These nourish the middle organ such as stomach, pancreas and spleen. Other vegetables good to eat are collard greens, kale, watercress, bok choy,acorn squash,broccoli, red cabbage and onion.
Greens include those that grow straight upwards, like spring onions, leeks, chives, celery and other green leafy vegetables that grown upwards and outwards, like spinach, kai lan, bok choy, chye sim. Green vegetables that grow straight up nourish the liver. Those that grow up and out nourish the heart. These are all eaten daily on a macrobiotic diet.
Root plants grow sideways: Potatoes and yams for instance they grow straight down but swell sideways in the middle. These have more yin energy and tend to be weakening in the body. They can be eaten moderately perhaps a few times a week, by healthy individuals living in the tropics. Sometimes eaten in place of rice and other grains and always cooked never eaten raw. Potatoes are a main carbohydrate dish and in macrobiotic cooking used in moderation as it is preferred to obtain your carbohydrates from whole grains whether in temperate of tropical climates.
Night shade plants: some night shade plants are again the potato, tomato, eggplant and bell pepper. In macrobiotic diets they are found to contain natural poisons called alkaloids. The most famous alkaloid is of course nicotine, found in tobacco. Nightshades are known to cause, or contribute to, diseases like arthritis. Also, some people are allergic or sensitive to nightshade plants. Some macrobiotic books say to avoid them, but this applies mainly to people living in temperate climates and OK for those to eat in the tropic climates although in moderation as they have a weakening effect on the body.
Mushrooms are a very strong yin with strong expanding energy. It is recommended to eat dry mushrooms rather then fresh as they can be weakening to the body. Shiitake mushroom is recommended on the macrobiotic diet. An important benefit of mushroom is that they can help reduce cholesterol levels.
Whole grains used are brown rice, barley, spelt, millet, whole oats, rye, buckwheat, and corn on the cob., bulgar wheat, couscous, rolled, oats cornmeal, grits, rye flakes, quinoa, amaranth. Less often flour products used would be – udon, somen and soba noodles, bread and pancakes.
Beans according to the macrobiotic guide should not be consumed more than once a day and would include azuki, chickpeas and lentils. Occasionally use kidney, lima, navy, soy, mung beans and split peas.
Other foods used are fish (non-fatty fish is allowed two to three times a week), seeds, nuts, sea vegetables, tofu and fruits are acceptable for occasional use, but avoiding foods like meat (animal protein), nightshade family of vegetables baked flour products, refined grains and tropical fruits and nuts.
There is also order in the way Macrobiotic cooking is done. During the colder seasons longer cooking times and more salt is used and in the warmer seasons less salt and lighter cooking methods are used. Preparation styles most often used are:
Nishimi-Style soup making
Kimpiria style sauteing and simmering
Quick oil sauteing
Less used forms of cooking are:
There are pros and cons to the benefits of a Macrobiotic diet. There are testimonies from many people who have recovered from many illnesses while on this diet. A good standard to follow is eating all food choices in moderation, which is a key to any successful diet. Besides the Gerson Therapy, a Macrobiotic diet is often consumed by people with cancer, which has shown positive results for many people.
A macrobiotic diet has benefits you may be looking for such as:
Younger looking and radiant skin
Helps with weight loss
Assist in lowering cholesterol
Helps prevent cancer
Helps to balance blood pressure
Promotes heart health
Wards off disease
Some researchers claim macrobiotics to be a diet that helps protect various diseases even to a point of cure, however, much more research needs to be done. There are other claims that a macrobiotic diet is missing key nutrients necessary for the body. When choosing any diet one should always check with their doctor or dietetics practitioner, first to be sure it is the right choice with balanced nutrients for a whole and healthy body.
The macrobiotic diet is on the rise especially with vegetarians and vegans and those who are ill. It focuses on the nutrients of vegetables and whole grains, fueling the body with vitamins and minimizing the need for animal protein. If eaten properly this diet can serve as a replacement for meat, obtaining the protein and fiber of beans and whole grains to replace the same nutrients.