The macrobiotic diet has thought to have been around since the turn of last century.
The development of the macrobiotic diet has been attributed to a Japanese army doctor by the name of Sagen Ishizuka.
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Sagen himself was believed to have suffered many diseases and illnesses during his time as a doctor in the army, and as such spent majority of his time studying the various different aspects of both eastern and western medicine.
After his lengthy studies, Sagen Ishizuka was said to have developed a theory of medicine and nutrition based upon the principals of traditional eastern diets, and his knowledge of eastern and western medicine.
The accumulated result of his years of research is thought to be the Macrobiotic Diet.
Sagen suggested that utilising the Macrobiotic diet effectively can lead to a longer lifespan and reduced risk of illness during life.
Hence the name Macriobiotic, which translated loosely from greek, becomes ‘long life’.
It is very important to note that despite the research that Sagen put in to develop the diet, there are many principals that originate from traditional eastern medicine.
These principals may not be backed by recent scientific research, and at times can sound a little ‘spiritual’ (for lack of a better term…)
Basics of the Macrobiotic Diet
While there is not a clear set of rules that completely govern the Macrobiotic Diet, there are a number of guidelines that must be followed closely.
Firslty, the consumed foods while following the diet must be rich in nutrients .
Secondly, the consumed foods must also have balanced ‘ying and yang’ properties (notice how i said spiritual…)
Ultimately, this means that the foods must be nutrient dense, and maintain the ‘spiritual balance’ of the surrounding environment (effectively, cause no significant change or damage to the surrounding environment).
The marciobiotic diet closely replicates a style of eating that could be described as vegetarian.
The predominant focus is on the consumption of whole grains, legumes and vegetables.
These should ideally be organic and locally grown.
If we break it down a little further, whole grains are going to make up the bulk of the consumed foods during the Macrobiotic Diet.
These include brown rice, barley, oats, rye and buckwheat.
These whole grains that have undergone minimal processing, and as such are thought to be more ‘natural’, and to have had the least impact on the environment.
The consumption of certain vegetables is also encouraged to be eaten daily.
Similarly, the inclusion of beans and soy based products are also accepted for regular consumption.
These two items are what really make up the bulk of the diet.
From here, the consumption of fruit, fish and nuts is allowed but encouraged to be eaten rarely.
Dairy, eggs, poultry, and meat are to be avoided at all costs.
In the same boat is anything highly processed, such as fast food, soft drinks, and candy.
Why the diet is based around the majority consumption of these few foods comes back to the underlying beliefs of Sagen Ishizuka, and subsequently, of the diet.
It was suggested that whole, living foods contain an abundance of energy.
Where these foods was grown, and even how they are prepared, is suggested to influence how this energy will flow.
This energy flow is said to alter how the energy is used by the body, changing the way we feel, and even influencing our health (again a little spiritual).
Choosing minimally processed carbohydrates that are highly alkaline is also suggested to make you ‘balanced and healthy’.
What can you eat exactly on the Macrobiotic Diet?
If we were to breakdown the principals of the diet into an individual weekly intake, it would look a little something like the following section.
As mentioned previously, the consumption of whole grains such as brown rice, buckwheat, corn, rye, oats, and barley is highly recommended.
In fact, these whole grains should make up 40-60% of your entire diet.
This will make the diet very carbohydrate heavy.
This feeds (pun intended) the belief of Macrobiotic Diet supporters, who suggest that carbohydrates are the most efficient and balanced fuel source for the body.
From here, we come to vegetables.
Vegetables are suggested to make up a further 20-30% of your dietary intake.
Unlike other vegan and vegetarian based diets, the Macrobiotic Diet does place restrictions on some types of vegetables.
Leafy green vegetables including cabbage, kale, broccoli, cauliflower, parsley, bok choy, turnips, radish, and starchy vegetables including pumpkin, carrots, and squash can be eaten daily.
However, vegetables with a high water content including cucumbers, celery and lettuce, as well as the herbs dill and chive can only be consumed 2-3 times per week.
Even further restrictions are placed on zucchini, artichoke, asparagus, beets, avocado, eggplant, fennel, peppers, spinach, potato, and rubarb.
These vegetables are to be eaten EXTREMELY in frequently, if at all.
Additionally, the vegetables that are eaten should be lightly steamed, blanched, or lightly sautéed.
They should not be baked or roasted as this is said to negatively impact the energy of the produce.
Beans and Sea Vegetables
This group of beans and sea vegetables should make up about 5-10% of your diet.
These plant based protein sources are said to replace the animal proteins in a more typical diet.
It is important to note that again, similar to vegetables, not all beans are acceptable.
Azuki beans, lentils, and chickpeas are acceptable for daily consumption (although should only be consumed once per day)
Soybean products can only be consumed once or twice per week.
Iron dense sea vegetables such as nore, wakame, kombu, and dulse can also be eaten daily, but their consumption should be shared with bean and lentil consumption, not additional too that consumption.
The inclusion of these sea vegetables are important as they will provide much needed vitamins and minerals that are missed with the exclusion of meat based products.
Seeds and Nuts
Seeds and nuts are limited to mere one or two cups per week.
This also applies to nut butters such as almond and peanut butters.
Within this group, chestnuts, almonds, walnuts, peanuts, and pecans are considered acceptable for consumption.
Brazil nuts, cashews, macadamia nuts, pistachio nuts, and hazelnuts should be avoided completely.
Fish can be consumed between two and three times per week.
These fish should be freshly caught, and locally sourced.
Perfect for the recreational angler!
Again, differing somewhat from more traditional vegan and vegetarian diets, fruit consumption on the Macrobiotic Diet is extremely limited.
Similar to fish, fruit should only be consumed two or three times a week.
The fruit you do consume should be in season, and grown locally.
Again, there are some restrictions on the fruit that can be eaten.
Berries are perfectly acceptable, as are apples, grapes, apricots, and melons.
Tropical fruits such as bananas, coconuts, figs, pineapples, mangoes, and dates should not be consumed at all.
Animal Based Products
This is where some people have difficulty adjusting to the Macrobiotic Diet.
There is to be no animal based products consumed.
This includes dairy, eggs, meat, and poultry.
Benefits of the Macrobiotic Diet
There are two key health benefits associated with the Macrobiotic Diet.
Firstly, it may improve blood sugar control and insulin resistance.
This can reduce the risk of developing type II diabetes and cardiovascular disease .
Secondly, due to the low intake of carcinogenic compounds, the macrobiotic diet has been suggested to prevent cancer development .
Additionally, due to the low energy density of most of the foods consumed during the Macrobiotic Diet, weight loss would also be expected.
So, in conclusion, the Macrobiotic Diet is a fairly restrictive way of eating, based around a vegetarian style diet, in conjunction with eastern medicinal principals.
It is thought that by following the Macrobiotic Diet, you can live a healthy and balanced life.
This is somewhat proven by the reduced risk of cancer, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes that this way of eating promotes.
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1. Porrata, Carmen, et al. “Ma-pi 2 macrobiotic diet intervention in adults with type 2 diabetes mellitus.”MEDICC Rev11.4 (2009): 29-34. Viewed at: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/2148329
2. Kushi, Lawrence H., et al. “The macrobiotic diet in cancer.”The Journal of nutrition131.11 (2001): 3056S-3064S. Viewed at: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11694648
3. Kushi, Michio, and Stephen Blauer. The Macrobiotic Way: The Complete Macrobiotic Diet & Exercise Book. BRILL, 1985