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Macrobiotic diet

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia


Macrobiotics, from the Greek "macro" (large, long) + "bios" (life), is a lifestyle that incorporates a dietary regimen. The word was 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). Ohsawa was a Japanese philosopher, who was encouraged to formalize macrobiotics by Kaibara Ekiken, Andou Shōeki, Mizuno Nanbaku, and Sagen Ishizuka and his disciples Nishibata Manabu and Shojiro Goto.

Ohsawa influenced 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, and use more traditional methods of cooking for family, friends, and oneself.

Macrobiotics emphasizes locally grown, organically 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. The new food pyramid is more in line with Macrobiotics than the old "Four food groups" model. Grains are emphasized, particularly brown rice, which, when chewed thoroughly, has a good balance of yin and yang properties. The added vegetables make the diet more alkaline, which is achieved by chewing well. 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, coffee) are consumed very rarely if at all. The yin/yang properties of food are determined by a number of properties: the acidity of the food, where the food grows (root vegetables versus fruit from tree tops), as well as the location where the food natively grows (Morocco vs. Scotland), and the colour, shape, flavour and moisture content of the food.

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.[1]. The classic Macrobiotic diet consists of 50–60% whole grains, 30% vegetables, 5% soups like miso, and small portions of beans, nuts, seeds, seasonal fruit or fish. Nightshade vegetables are avoided or used sparingly. Squashes, root vegetables, and flowering plants (broccoli, kale, etc.) are emphasized as well.

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.

Macrobiotic Diet composition

Consists of

  • Whole cereals: 50-60%
  • Fruit and vegetables: 25-30%
  • Beans: 10%
  • Soup: 5-10%
  • Seaweed: 5%

The remainder is composed of whitefish, seeds and nuts, oil and spices, sea salt, desserts.

Other factors

In theory, the composition of macrobiotic dishes is also subject to:

  • the time of the year (spring, summer, autumn, winter)
  • the time of day (morning, noon, evening)
  • the oil/salt amount (note: only ¼ salt amount used in western macrobiotic diet, vs. Japanese MBD)
  • the yin/yang proportion of the products used in the dish (dependent 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,+ dependent on the time of year/day)

Food preparation techniques

Food is prepared in various ways, including: 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 spring:

  • food with decreasingly powerful energy
  • wild plants, germs, lightly fermented food, grain species, fresh greens
  • light cooking style: steaming, cooking for a short time, etc.

In summer:

  • food with less powerful energy (more yin-style energy)
  • large-leaved greens, sweet corn, fruit, summer pumpkins
  • light cooking style: steaming, quick cooking, etc.

In autumn:

  • food with increasingly powerful energy
  • root vegetables, (winter) pumpkins, beans, cereals, etc.

In winter:

  • hot, powerful food
  • round vegetables, pickles, root vegetables, etc.
  • more miso, shoyu, oil, and salt

Switching to a macrobiotic diet

As with all diets, for those wishing to adopt the Macrobiotic diet, it is recommended that they research it and consult a dietitian or physician before starting. Some may choose to consult a macrobiotic counselor as well. It is generally recommended that any diet be adopted gradually: for instance, reducing animal products, refined flour, sugar, and dairy products, and adding more whole-grain and vegetable-quality foods.

Amount of Yin and Yang in the products

Macrobiotic diets follow the idea of yin and yang. Products that are very yin or very yang, are generally not used in the macrobiotic diet. The following list, contains some of those products that are very yin or very yang. But it is important to know that on the scale from yin to yang, there are products that are in between or half about between 'in between' and yang/yin. Thus there are 3 (or 5 in total) more gradients than just 'very yin' or 'very yang'. (see also the 5 transformations of yin and yang)

Very Yin:

  • tropical fruit
  • sugar
  • soft dairy products
  • alcohol
  • honey

Very Yang:

  • poultry
  • meat
  • firm dairy products
  • eggs
  • refined seasalt
  • coffee

Between these, neutral food products are stationed. These include: whole cereals, fruit from the local environment, beans, nuts, vegetables, and seaweed. Foods such as these are used in a macrobiotic diet.

Macrobiotics vs. normal Japanese cooking

Since macrobiotics originally came from Japan, it is no surprise that it has much in common with traditional Japanese cuisine. Many macrobiotic ingredients are also standard ingredients in Japanese cuisine.

Macrobiotics vs. vegetarianism

Although there is no vegetarian philosophy 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

  • sushi
  • rice balls
  • mochi
  • standard miso soup
  • miso soup with daikon


Following the macrobiotic diet is not universally accepted as a healthy practice; however, its food portions are similar in many ways to the diets of primitive cultures around the world. Some western nutritional and medical experts 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."[2]

These findings, however, are based on a very extreme version of the diet, (Diet Number 7, all whole grains) which is not advocated for more than ten days.

Interestingly, many of the original acolytes of Georges Ohsawa disagree fervently about certain points of macrobiotics. Mme Francoise Riviere and Mr. Rene Levy, both of whom learned directly from Ohsawa when the latter resided in France, advise a strict "Numero Sept" (the spartan Number 7 diet of brown rice and a couple of spoonfuls of vegetables, adzuki beans and abundance of soy sauce and gomashio) for just about anybody whom they consult. They are highly critical of the latitude of the diet as propounded by the likes of Michio Kushi.

Paradoxically, even though the macrobiotic diet was once touted as a cure for cancer, Michio Kushi and Aveline Kushi - both leaders of the macrobiotic movement in the US - have suffered from the disease; Ms. Kushi died from cervical cancer in 2001 at age 78 [3]. Her daughter died of cancer in 1995. Mr. Kushi recovered, and this year (August, 2006) celebrated his 80th birthday.

Anthony Sattilaro, M.D., whose book, Recalled by Life, detailed how he put his cancer into remission by incorporating macrobiotics, died of pneumonia in 1989, and was no longer following the diet. He did have cancer at the time of his death, which returned seven years after his recovery.

In contrast to other health movements, a few macrobiotic adherents smoke (even advocating it in certain instances as a yangifying activity) and drink coffee. However, in true Macrobiotic practice, coffee, tobacco, and other stimulants are avoided.

Anne Louise Gittleman, in her book Your Body Knows Best, commented on these strange practices in macrobiotics (Gittleman used to be an adherent and got very sick in the process) and attributed them to practitioners needing stimulants because of what was lacking in the diet: adequate fat and protein. Despite this criticism, according to Michio Kushi, the Macrobiotic Diet provides adequate protein through beans, legumes, nuts, seeds, and other foods, over 10 per-cent of calories. The protein in the Macrobiotic Diet exceeds the amount recommended by the World Health Organization, and meets United States requirements.

Although Macrobiotics uses the terms "Yin" and "Yang" differently than Traditional Chinese Medicine, the terms are used here to denote the quality of foods, and help to balance foods for better health.


  • "Unproven methods of cancer management: macrobiotic diets". CA: a Cancer Journal for Clinicians 1984;34:60-63.
  • Bowman BB et al. "Macrobiotic diets for cancer treatment and prevention". Journal of Clinical Oncology 1984;2:702-711.
  • Macrobiotic Childcare & Family Health Kushi, M. & A.
  • The New Whole Foods Encyclopedia: A Comprehensive Resource for Healthy Eating, Rebecca Wood ISBN O-U-025032-8
  • Christina Cooks, Christina Pirello
  • Teachings of Michio Kushi Kushi, M.
  • Macrobiotic Health & Resource Guide
  • Complete Guide to Macrobiotic Cooking Kushi, A.
  • Making the Transition to A Macrobiotic Diet, Carolyn Heidenry
  • Macrobiotic Approach to Cancer Kushi, M.
  • The Hip Chick's Guide To Macrobiotics, Jessica Porter
  • Rice Is Nice, Wendy Esko
  • International Macrobiotic Directory 2004 Matson, R.
  • Sweet & Natural, Meridith McCarty
  • Sublime Soups, Lenore Baum, M.A.
  • Quick & Natural Macrobiotic Cookbook, A. Kushi & W. Esko
  • The Macrobiotic Brown Rice Cookbook, Craig Sams
  • Cooking the Whole Foods Way, Christina Pirello
  • Macrobiotic Diet Kushi, M. & A.
  • Macrobiotic Home Remedies Kushi, M.
  • Changing Seasons Macrobiotic Cookbook, Aveline Kushi and Wendy Esko
  • Macrobiotic Health & Travel Directory
  • Macrobiotic Guidebook for Living Ohsawa, G.
  • Macrobiotic Way Kushi, M.
  • Changing Seasons Cookbook, Aveline Kushi & Wendy Esko
  • Macrobiotic Seminars of Michio Kushi Kushi, M.
  • Macrobiotic Way Kushi, M.
  • Self Healing Cookbook, Kristina Turner
  • Macrobiotics in America
  • Macrobiotic Pregnancy and Care of the Newborn Kushi, M. & A.
  • Summer Cookbook, W. Nelissen
  • Let Food Be Thy Medicine, A. Jack
  • The China Study, Dr. T. Colin Campbell
  • Macrobiotic Community Cookbook, Andrea Bliss-Lerman ISBN 1-58333-165-4
  • Lenores Natural Cusine, Lenore Baum

External links

  • The Macrobiotic Guide
  • Independent review of the macrobiotic diet
  • Macrobiotic Website
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