Macrobiotic Diet Basics

Updated on 27. Dec. 2018

Macrobiotics is more than just a diet. It is a whole life philosophy, aimed at achieving a balance in your body and your life. The word macrobiotics comes from two Greek words: macro meaning long and bio meaning life. This phrase was first used by Christoph Hufeland, a German physician, in the 18th century. Hufeland used the word to describe a way to achieve good health through a good, healthy diet. From there, Sagen Ishizuka developed a program that was then adapted by George Ohsawa. Ohsawa became very well known for his macrobiotic teachings, students from all around the world travelled to study with him. One of those students was Michio Kushi. Who, after studying with Ohsawa, travelled to the United States where he taught macrobiotics, wrote many books on the subject, and went on to found the Kushi Institute. The Kushi Institute, located in Massachusetts, has become one of the most trusted and visited institutes for learning the macrobiotic lifestyle.

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Kushi believed that macrobiotics was the answer to achieving world peace. He set out to teach people the macrobiotic lifestyle in order to not only improve their lives, but to improve the world as a whole. Along with his wife, Kushi developed a leadership program, educational curriculum, and wrote countless books about the benefits of living a macrobiotic lifestyle.

Macrobiotics encompasses more than just what you eat, there are also recommendations about what products you use, time spent in front of the television or computer, what type of cookware and appliances to use in the kitchen, as well as many other guidelines. One of the many arguments for establishing a macrobiotic diet is that it may help to prevent or cure cancer. While there is no official scientific research backing these claims, there is a handful of people who claim they recovered from cancer after adopting a macrobiotic diet soon after diagnosis. The belief behind the healing properties of a macrobiotic diet is that if you are only putting good things into your body, it will be stronger and more able to fight off infections and diseases. The lack of toxins in the diet allow your body to work towards healing itself.

When it comes to the diet part of the macrobiotic lifestyle, it is mostly vegetarian but can be modified for a vegan diet. Your diet should consist of 40-60% whole grains, 20-30% vegetables, and 5-10% beans and sea vegetables. The grains you eat should be whole, organically grown, and can include millet, brown rice, corn, oats, barley, buckwheat, quinoa, and rye.2

Your vegetables should be locally and organically grown and it is recommended you stay away from vegetables such as peppers, beets, eggplant, zucchini, spinach, tomatoes, and potatoes. When you prepare vegetables according to macrobiotics, they should be boiled, fresh in salads, sauteed, or steamed. You can also enjoy pickled vegetables in small quantities.

Beans and sea vegetables can include various beans such as lentils, adzuki beans, chickpeas, soybeans, and  soybean products such as tofu. There are many types of seaweed that are play an important part in delivering vitamins and minerals to the body, these sea vegetables include kombu, nori, wakame, agar-agar, and dulse, among others.

Foods such as fruits, white-flesh fish, natural sweeteners, nuts and seeds should be limited to only a few servings per week. Foods such as meat, eggs and poultry, and dairy should be extremely limited if not cut out completely. According to Kashi, tropical and subtropical fruit should be avoided and you should eat fruit such as apples and pears instead.

The macrobiotic guidelines laid out by Kushi suggest staying away from beverages such as coffee and certain types of tea that have a stimulating effect or aromatic fragrance. It is also recommended that ice-free water is enjoyed only when you are thirsty and should be sourced from a well or spring.

Refined sugars, candy, animal fats, artificial flavors, artificial colors, soda, chemically treated foods, overly processed foods, refined grains, and hot/spicy foods should all be eliminated if you are adopting a macrobiotic diet.

Macrobiotics also includes your environment and the products you use in your everyday life. This includes using all-natural and chemical free cosmetics and body care products, staying away from chemical cleaning solutions, sticking with natural clothing materials (such as cotton) as much as possible, and taking time to sit down to enjoy a proper meal. Before a meal, you should show gratitude towards the food you are about to consume and chew each mouthful 50 times before swallowing.

While preparing your meals, it is suggested that you avoid the use of electric appliances, such as an electric stove or microwave. The teachings of the Kushi center also suggest cooking in glass, earthenware, and cast iron. Food should be served and stored in the same materials, or wood.

Followers of the macrobiotic lifestyle should be physically active and spend time enjoying the outdoors, while limiting the use of electronic devices.

A macrobiotic lifestyle has many aspects, but it is really up to the practicer as to which suggestions they want to follow. For some, it may be realistic to only follow the diet portion, while others may be able to fully commit to the lifestyle. It is also important to listen to your body when transitioning to a macrobiotic diet as it is all about diet. One of the aspects of the macrobiotic diet is yin and yang. Yin is outward moving energies while yang is inward moving energies, and when yin and yang are in balance your body is able to function at its best.

While the research is still out on whether or not a macrobiotic lifestyle is good for cancer and other disease management or prevention, overall it is a good choice if you are looking for a drastic change in your lifestyle. The macrobiotic lifestyle has been and remains one of the more popular alternative medicine techniques for cancer patients, so much so that its use in cancer treatment has even sparked the development of food businesses focused on macrobiotics such as Eden Foods and GoMacro.

  1. Kushi, Lawrence H., Joan E. Cunningham, James R. Herbert, Robert H. Lerman, Elisa V. Bandera, and Jane Teas. “The Macrobiotic Diet in Cancer.” The Journal of Nutrition 131.11 (2001): 3056s-3064s. The Journal of Nutrition. American Society for Nutrition. Web.
  2. “What is Macrobiotics.” Kushi Institute- Center for Natural Healing. Kushi Institute, n.d. Web.
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