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Macrobiotic Diets: A Matter of Balance
Macrobiotic diets are strict dietary regimes based on eating primarily whole
grains, supplemented by such other foods as fresh vegetables, and on
avoiding highly refined and processed foods and all but a few animal
products. They also warn against overeating and require those following
them to chew their food thoroughly.
Ancient Greek writers used the word macrobiotics to mean a way of
life that involved a balanced, simple diet. In the late nineteenth
century a Japanese military physician named Sagen Ishizuka founded what
he called shokuiku, or food education, which is the basis of the
current Japanese approach to macrobiotics. He advocated a natural diet
based on eating food seasonally and with the correct potassium-sodium
and acid-alkaline balance.
Modern Japanese Macrobiotics
Advocates of macrobiotic diets believe that food has a powerful effect
on well-being, health, and happiness. Instead of prescribing strict
dietary rules, modern Japanese macrobiotic advocates stress the each
person’s need to be sensitive to how each type of food actually affects
him or her personally. They do, however, provide guidelines to help
people develop this sensitivity. These diets strongly resemble
mainstream Japanese diets, with an emphasis on eating locally produced
whole grains, vegetables, legumes, seaweed, fruit, nuts, seeds, fish,
and such foods made from fermented soybeans as tofu and miso. They also
have an added emphasis on a theoretical form of balance, for which they
use the Taoist words yin and yang.
Macrobiotics teaches that all types of food to have both yin and yang
properties in relative proportions, with relatively more yang foods
tending to be more hot, dense, compact, and heavy and relatively more
yin foods to be more cold, expansive, diffuse, and light. It considers
yin and yang to approach balance most closely in such whole grains as
brown rice, barley, rye, oats, millet, and quinoa. Lists of which foods
are relatively more yin or yang therefore tend to compare them with
CompositionSpecific Japanese-style macrobiotic diets vary greatly with geography,
due to the emphasis on locally produced food, and personal
circumstances, due to the emphasis on sensitivity to foods’ effects.
They also vary with the seasons, due to differing yin-yang needs in
different types of weather, with spring and summer requiring a somewhat
more yin balance and the balance for autumn and winter being more yang.
The general guidelines are for about half the food intake to be whole
grains, particularly brown rice, about a quarter to a third vegetables,
5% to 10% legumes and beans, 5% to 10% such naturally processed food as
tofu and soba, or buckwheat noodles, and miso and seaweed about 5% each.
Fish, fruit, nuts, seeds, nut butters, and similar treats are okay two
or three times weekly.