The meaning of the macrobiotic diet is “great life.” As expressed by the Kushi Institute – one of the world’s leading authorities in the macrobiotic diet – “This is not simply a diet, the macrobiotic recognizes the profound effects that food, the environment, activities and attitudes have on our body- mind-emotions ». The central concepts of the macrobiotic diet, including the belief of Traditional Chinese Medicine that balances yin and yang in both the body and the environment, date back many centuries in ancient Eastern traditions. Proponents of macrobiotic feeding approaches have long encouraged people to eat natural and whole foods that not only support the health of their bodies, but also the ecosystem and natural order of life.
As a “countercultural” feeding approach, macrobiotic diets became fashionable in the United States during the 1960s because they encouraged living more harmoniously, practicing a positive mindset and seeing food as much more than just calories or fuel. Although each person reacts differently to different dietary approaches, evidence shows that macrobiotic-style diets can help improve heart health, reduce inflammation and support a healthy body weight until old age.
What is the Macrobiotic Diet?
The macrobiotic diet is a plant-based diet rooted in the yin-yang theory that comes from Asia. According to the macrobiotic theory, the balance between yin and yang is achieved through a mainly vegetarian diet, low in fat, with a balance of different macronutrients (proteins, carbohydrates and fats), foods that have different energy qualities and A wide range of vitamins and minerals from plants. It is believed that this approach to food better supports agriculture, local agriculture, digestion and even mental well-being. Other recommendations for eating a macrobiotic include the purchase of locally grown products, the purchase of organic foods that are not treated with chemical pesticides, the consumption of seasonal foods, the consumption of mostly fresh and raw foods, and the emphasis on Vegetable foods above meat, dairy and other animal products. Most macrobiotic diets emphasize the consumption of a wide variety of plant foods, which means that these diets tend to be relatively high in carbohydrates. However, because refined sugar and processed / packaged foods are not part of the macrobiotic plan, these carbohydrates are “complex,” great sources of dietary fiber and are packed with antioxidants and other nutrients.
Although there are many different varieties of macrobiotic diets that are consumed worldwide, most have approximately the following breakdown:
- More than 50 percent of the calories from complex carbohydrates (sometimes even up to 80 percent), between 15 and 30 percent of healthy fats and between 10 and 20 percent of proteins. Although carbohydrates are consumed in large quantities, refined carbohydrates such as processed grains and sugar are avoided.
- A high proportion of carbohydrates in macrobiotic diets (about 25 to 30 percent of total calories) comes from fresh or cooked vegetables. This is a very high percentage considering how low in calories vegetables are naturally.
- Complex carbohydrates, such as brown rice, barley, millet, oats and organic (non-transgenic) corn are also frequently consumed, representing between 30 and 40 percent of total calories.
- Many also get between 5 and 10 percent of their calories from legumes or beans, often fermented types such as tempeh, miso or tofu.
- Marine vegetables are a staple food in most macrobiotic diets, which represent between 5 and 10 percent of total calories.
- A small percentage, about 5 percent of calories, tends to come from fish or shellfish (usually consumed several times per week on average).
You may notice that macrobiotic diets have much in common with the famous Okinawa Diet, which is not surprising considering that both have similar roots in Asian cultures. The Okinawa Diet is named after the largest island of the Ryukyu Islands in Japan and is consumed by some of the healthiest and longest living people in the world. In fact, Okinawa has been coined as one of the Blue Zones in the world, where people are most likely to live in the last 100 years. The average life expectancy in the United States is 78.8 years, but it is between 80-87 years in Japan (higher for women than for men).
5 Benefits of the Macrobiotic Health Diet:
1. High in Essential Nutrients and Proven to Help Reduce Inflammation:
- In 2015, the Faculty of Public Health of the University of Memphis published the findings of a study that investigates the anti-inflammatory and anticancer potential of macrobiotic diets. The study compared the nutrient composition of a macrobiotic diet plan with national dietary recommendations (RDA) based on the National Survey of Health and Nutrition Examination (NHANES).
- A key comparison was the evaluation of which approach obtained a high score in the dietary inflammatory index (DII), in addition to comparing the levels of total calories, macronutrients and 28 micronutrients.
- The results showed that the macrobiotic diet plan had a lower percentage of energy from fat, a higher consumption of dietary fiber and higher amounts of most micronutrients. Nutrients in the macrobiotic diet often met or exceeded the recommendations of the GDR, with the exception of vitamin D, vitamin B12 and calcium.
- Based on the DII scores, the macrobiotic diet was found to be “more anti-inflammatory compared to NHANES data,” and the researchers concluded that the general findings indicated a potential for disease prevention when a macrobiotic feeding approach was followed.
2. Can Help Improve Cardiac Health:
- Certain studies have found evidence of macrobiotic-style diets that support cardiovascular health, particularly the reduction of serum lipid levels and the decrease in blood pressure levels. This is not surprising considering how many anti-inflammatory foods high in antioxidants are promoted in a macrobiotic diet. For example, the macrobiotic diet is rich in dietary fiber, including all kinds of high-fiber foods, such as vegetables, beans and unprocessed old grains.
- Eating a lot of fiber has been correlated with improvements in cardiovascular disease risk factors through multiple mechanisms, including lipid reduction, body weight regulation, glucose metabolism improvement, blood pressure control and reduction of chronic inflammation
3. Can Help Maintain a Healthy Weight and a Relationship with Food:
- Like those who eat in Okinawa’s way, proponents of the macrobiotic diet focus not only on eating the right foods, but also on eating them in the right amounts.
- The macrobiotic diet emphasizes eating carefully, slowing down and savoring meals, paying attention to physical sensations (also called biofeedback) and chewing food well.
- This approach can help you better control how much you eat, give you more pleasure from having less, teach you to avoid eating emotionally from boredom or other negative feelings, and achieve satiety more easily.
- Instead of trying to lose weight simply by eliminating many foods or consuming less, which can lead you to feel too hungry and dispossessed, eating carefully and choosing foods wisely can help you feel more in touch with your body’s needs.
4. Very Low in Sugar, Gluten and Packaged Foods:
- Like other diets based on whole foods that eliminate junk foods, packaged products, bottled beverages, fried foods and fast foods, the macrobiotic diet is very low in sugar, empty calories and artificial ingredients.
- This makes it a very nutrient dense diet, high in things like vitamin C, vitamin E and fiber, but in general low in calories.
- It can also be potentially beneficial for people allergic to food, as it eliminates common allergens that can cause indigestion, such as dairy products, almost all gluten and acorns.
- However, one drawback and point of criticism is that macrobiotic diets tend to include many salty and high-sodium foods, mainly from things like soy sauce, fermented soy products and marine vegetables.
5. It can Help Prevent Cancer:
- Although diet is only a piece of the total puzzle when it comes to preventing cancer, and the results vary from person to person, research suggests that consuming a macrobiotic diet may help reduce cancer risk in part by providing high levels of antioxidants and phytoestrogens.
- A 2011 report published in the Journal of Nutrition stated, “Based on the available evidence and its similarity to dietary recommendations for the prevention of chronic diseases, the macrobiotic diet probably carries a reduced risk of cancer.”
- Women who consume macrobiotic diets tend to have modestly lower levels of circulating estrogen, which has been linked to a lower risk of breast cancer.
- Macrobiotic diets provide high amounts of phytoestrogens from foods such as fermented soy products and sesame seeds, and these can help regulate the production of natural estrogen by binding to estrogen receptor sites.
- While too much estrogen comes with its own risks, in the case of women over 50 who naturally experience decreased levels during menopause, the extra estrogen in their diets could help decrease the risk of cancer, among other benefits.
How to Eat the Macrobiotic Diet?
Foods That are Considered Macrobiotics Include:
All kinds of fresh vegetables that are not night shade, especially daikon radishes, cooked or fresh green leafy vegetables such as bok choy, cabbage, mushrooms, chives, leeks, broccoli, carrots, beets, various varieties of squash, watercress and cauliflower. Fresh herbs, including ginger, garlic, coriander, etc., in addition to soy sauce, tamari, fish sauce, brown rice syrup and honey to sweeten or flavor.
- Beans and legumes, tofu, tempeh, adzuki beans, black beans and edamame
- Nuts and seeds, including sesame, squash, almonds and cashews
- Unprocessed old grains – this includes all types of rice (especially brown rice), millet, barley, buckwheat, amaranth, quinoa, rye, oats and organically grown corn.
- Noodles made from brown rice, soba and other grains
- Miso or fermented soy seasonings (and miso soup)
- Unrefined oils made from things like sesame or pumpkin seeds
- Tea, such as green, black, jasmine, white, long oo, bancha, dandelion, grass, etc.
Foods to Avoid in a Macrobiotic Diet:
- Packaged and processed foods
- Dairy products
- Refined sugar and sweeteners
- Chocolate or cocoa products
- Most fruits, especially tropical ones
- Strong or spicy spices
- Night shadow vegetables: This includes avoiding dark colored vegetables, such as eggplants, tomatoes, potatoes and peppers. How is that, are you wondering? Although belladillas are not a problem for a high percentage of people, some experience digestive symptoms when consuming these foods, including allergies, intestinal leakage symptoms and autoimmune reactions. However, eliminating these vegetables in general is a common criticism of the macrobiotic diet since many feel that this is not necessary for most healthy people.
Macrobiotic Diet Plan and Lifestyle Tips:
- Cook fresh food at home more frequently, especially on a gas stove, which reduces the amount of leftovers and microwaved, frozen or canned foods you eat.
- Make plants the center of your meals, only by eating fresh and wild seafood (and especially meat or dairy) in limited quantities.
- Try to eat a variety of colored fruits and vegetables every day, since different colors indicate different antioxidants.
- Drink plenty of clean water and tea, avoiding sweetened drinks, alcohol and caffeine.
- Try to chew food well to improve digestion and also reduce speed during meals. Ideally, chew up to 25-50 times according to the macrobiotic diet theory.
- Use glass to store food and water instead of plastic products.
- The Great Life Global organization also recommends other macrobiotic lifestyle tips to improve balance, such as opening windows every day for fresh air, keeping plants indoors, walking outdoors, sticking to a regular sleep schedule and wake up, practice gratitude daily, learn to cook at home more often, wear clothes made of natural fibers, perform scrubs with hot towels or brush your skin to detoxify and chew food while eating.
Recipes for a Macrobiotic Diet:
- For breakfast: a green smoothie, brown rice porridge with nuts and seeds, or a tasty and traditional breakfast of miso soup, vegetables and legumes.
- For lunch: miso soup with seaweed, a small amount of wild fish, sauteed vegetables and a portion of unprocessed grains, such as brown rice. Tea can also be consumed throughout the day.
- For dinner: similar to lunch, such as soup with soba noodles and vegetables, fermented beans or protein tempeh with seaweed salad, or a sauce made with vegetables, grains, nuts and seeds.
Macrobiotic Diet vs. Paleo Diet:
- The Paleo diet is modeled on what is believed to have been eaten by our ancestors thousands of years ago, that is, only natural foods that could have been found within their local environments.
- Because both the macrobiotic diet and the paleo diet emphasize the consumption of organic, unprocessed, local and seasonal foods, the two diets have some underlying principles in common – however, certain foods also differ between the two approaches.
- One of the biggest differences between macrobiotic diets and paleo diets is that macrobiotic diets are plant based, sometimes even completely vegetarian / vegetarian. People who eat a macrobiotic diet get their protein from plant-based foods such as tofu, legumes, beans, whole grains, nuts, and seeds and, occasionally, some seafood.
- The Paleo diet tends to include more animal proteins, including meat, fish, eggs and poultry. However, both approaches avoid dairy products and all processed vegetarian proteins (such as soy isolate or synthetic powdered proteins).
- The Paleo diet also eliminates all beans, legumes and grains for the most part, while the macrobiotic diet encourages these foods. However, both diets reduce or eliminate added sugar, synthetic additives, artificial ingredients, refined oils, fried foods and sometimes common allergens such as belladonna vegetables and gluten.
Precautions When Following a Macrobiotic Diet:
Although the macrobiotic diet is considered one of the most popular alternative or complementary dietary approaches to the treatment of chronic diseases, including cancer, few studies have been able to really prove its effectiveness in preventing or treating diseases. Therefore, more research is still needed before conclusions can be drawn about the healing benefits of this diet. According to some experts, there are concerns regarding cancer treatment with dietary approaches, such as macrobiotics, including:
- Patients potentially delaying conventional treatments and doctor visits
- Possibly develop nutritional deficiencies that hinder immune function, such as consuming too little vitamin D, calcium and protein
- Consuming too few calories in general, which can cause muscle loss and fatigue – this can get worse due to low levels of iron and vitamin B.
- Some also find that macrobiotic diets have social limitations (due to strict adherence to this diet) that make them difficult to follow. In addition, macrobiotic ingredients may be difficult to obtain, and the salt intake in this diet plan is considered too high by some. There is also disagreement about the need to eliminate most fruits, including all tropical fruits.
All these are valid arguments and should be weighed against your personal preferences, beliefs and the state of your health in general. If you have an existing condition, such as heart disease or cancer, or if you take medication, it is a good idea to get a professional opinion if you start a new way of eating and experience any negative signs or symptoms.
Final Thoughts on the Macrobiotic Diet:
A macrobiotic diet is a food approach that comes from Asian traditions that emphasize the consumption of mainly vegetable (vegetarian) proteins, low amounts of animal foods and fats, and a balance of different micro and macronutrients that support yin energy balance -yang in the body.
- Macrobiotics argue that foods that have different energy qualities and a plant-based diet are good for health (especially for the digestive system) and also for the ecosystem.
- It is believed that emphasizing local, seasonal and fresh plant-based foods supports agriculture, local agriculture and mental well-being. It could also support heart health, promote longevity and offer protection against cancer.
- Important practices when consuming macrobiotic foods include the purchase of locally grown organic products, cooking often at home, avoiding packaged foods, eating fermented and raw foods, and limiting dairy and animal products.
- Although a macrobiotic diet has been shown to have anti-inflammatory effects, some concerns are that macrobiotic diets are high in salt but relatively low in protein, fruit antioxidants, vitamin D, calcium and sometimes B vitamins.