Macrobiotic Diet


Macrobiotics (from the Greek “macro” (large, long) + “bios” (life)) is a lifestyle that incorporates a dietary regimen. The word was first coined by Christoph Wilhelm Hufeland of Germany with his book, “Makrobiotik, oder die Kunst das menschliche Leben zu verlängern” (“Macrobiotics, or the Art of Extending Human Life”), in 1796.
Macrobiotic methodology was brought to Europe from Japan by George Ohsawa (1893-1966). Oshawa was a Japanese philosopher, who was encouraged to formalize macrobiotics by Kaibara Ekiken, Andou Shoeki, Mizuno Nanbaku, and Sagen Ishizuka and his disciples Nishibata Manabu and Shojiro Goto.
Oshawa was influential on Nishibata Manabu (who taught extensively in Paris), who subsequently brought macrobiotic theory to North America in the late 1960s, together with his pupils Herman Aihara, Michio Kushi and Aveline Kushi, among many others.
Before the word “macrobiotics” came into global usage, it was known as the Unique Principle (a direct translation of its name in the Japanese language).
Followers of macrobiotics believe that food, and food quality, affects our lives more than is commonly thought. It is thought to affect our health, well being and happiness. They claim it is better to choose food that is less processed, more natural, use more traditional methods of cooking for family, friends, and oneself.
Macrobiotics emphasize locally grown, whole grain cereals, pulses (legumes), vegetables, fruit, seaweed and fermented soy products, combined into meals according to the principle of balance between yin and yang properties, rather than scientific dietary guidelines. Cereals (and in particular, rice), which are seen as being naturally balanced in terms of Yin and Yang make up the main part of the diet. Foods which are either extremely Yin in nature (e.g. very sweet foods, dairy products) or extremely Yang in nature (e.g. very salty foods, red meat) are eaten very rarely if at all.
Ohsawa described ten diets in total, with varying proportions of the following food groups: cereals, vegetables, soups, animal foods, salad and fruits, desserts, and beverages. The ideal diet of the ten, according to Ohsawa, was named “Number 7” and consists almost entirely of cereals with a minimal amount of beverages.
Some followers try to extend the diet into a macrobiotic lifestyle. People who practice a Macrobiotic lifestyle try to observe yin and yang in everything they do. They strive for balance and happiness in their daily lives and living in harmony with nature and their physical surroundings.
In practice
Macrobiotic Diet composition
Consists of
Whole cereals: 50-60%
Vegetables: 25-30%
Beans: 10%
Soup: 5-10%
Seaweed: 5%
The remainder is composed of white fish, seeds and nuts, oil and spices, sea salt, desserts.
The composition of a macrobiotic dishes in theory
is subject to:
the time of the year (spring, summer, autumn, winter)
the time of day (morning, noon, evening)
the oil/salt amount (note: only 1/4 salt amount used in western macrobiotic diet, vs. Japanese MBD)
the yin/yang amount of the products used in the dish (dependant on time of year/day, the sum must be -,0,+ )
the color of the products used in the dish (5 colors must be used in a standard dish: red, white, blue, yellow, and black)
the flavours of the products used in the dish (5 flavours must be used: sweet, bitter, sharp, sour, salt)
the temperature of the products used in the dish (sum must be -,0,+ dependant of the time of year/day)
Food preparation techniques
Food is prepared in various ways, most are listed here: Steaming, boiling, raw, ohitashi, nishime, nitsuke, kinpira, sukiyaki, nabe, oven baking, baking in a pressure cooker, tempura, frying
Cooking according to the time of the year
In present in MBD, in practice there is very little animal-derived food consumed, or in some cases none at all. This is because most animal products are extremely yin or extremely yang in nature. Thus they are not used, except in special cases.
Examples of Macrobiotic Dishes
sweet rice
sweet miso-flavoured rice
rice balls
brown rice
brown rice with lotus-seed
standard miso soup
miso soup with daikon
mugi cha
brown ricesoup
Following the macrobiotic diet is not universally accepted as a healthy practice. The diet has been studied by Western nutritional and medical experts, and some conclude that, when strictly followed, the diet could actually be harmful to some individuals. An extreme example of such criticism is:
“The Council of Foods and Nutrition of the American Medical Association and the Committee on Nutrition of the American Academy of Pediatrics have roundly condemned the more restrictive of the macrobiotic diets for their nutritional inadequacies. Strict adherence to these diets could result in scurvy, anemia, hypoproteinemia, hypocalcemia, emaciation due to starvation, loss of kidney function due to reduced fluid intake, other forms of malnutrition, and even death.”