The macrobiotic diet was developed by George Ohsawa, a Japanese philosopher, and promoted in the United States by his student, Michio Kushi. The macrobiotic diet is more than choosing the correct foods and preparing them properly. It is a part of a spiritual and social philosophy of living. A large part of this belief system is based on the yin-yang principle. Yin and yang are opposite forces (such as: dark and light, cold and hot) that balance each other.
The macrobiotic diet attempts to balance your intake of yin and yang foods to establish a yin/yang balance in your body. Macrobiotic diet and lifestyle is intended to create a balance and harmony to produce the best conditions for health.
The diet originally consisted of brown rice and some liquids, but this caused some nutritional deficiencies. Currently, the diet promotes 50% to 60% calories from whole grains including brown rice, barley, millet, oats, corn, rye, wheat, and buckwheat. Twenty-five to thirty percent of the diet should come from fresh vegetables, emphasizing cruciferous (cabbage family) vegetables, dark green and yellow vegetables and avoiding nightshades (potato, eggplant, tomato, peppers), asparagus, spinach, beets, and zucchini. Five to ten percent of the diet should come from soybean products (tofu and tempeh) and seaweed and 5% should come from miso soup (made from fermented soybeans).
Another important aspect of the diet is that most of the food should be locally grown and be in-season foods. One to three times a week, a serving of seeds, nuts, fruit, or fish are allowed. Coffee, dairy products, eggs, sugar, processed foods, red meat, poultry, and warm drinks should all be avoided as they upset the yin/yang balance.
Preparation of the food is also important in the macrobiotic diet. Only gas stoves should be used. Vegetables should be lightly steamed, boiled, or sautéed in vegetable oil. Rice must be pressure cooked. Cooking utensils should be made of wood and pots should be made of glass, ceramic, or stainless steel. Copper, aluminum, teflon and plastic pots and utensils should be avoided.
People on macrobiotic diets often report an increased sense of well being. There are recent studies that suggest the diet may decrease heart disease risk and some cancers. Proponents of macrobiotic diets believe that it can cure cancer and acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) but this has not been scientifically proven.
Despite these benefits, serious problems can occur with the diet. People on a strict macrobiotic diet may become deficient in protein, vitamin B12, vitamin D, calcium, iron and/or riboflavin. B12 deficiency can cause nerve damage, loss of appetite, fatigue, diarrhea, numbness, tingling, paleness, weakness, or sore mouth and tongue. If any of these symptoms occur, it is important to tell your doctor. You should also tell your doctor if you have muscle and joint pain, poor concentration, and moodiness. You may also have a hard time getting over a cold or the flu.
Every scientific study found these deficiencies in infants and children on strict macrobiotic diets. The breast milk of macrobiotic mothers was also low in certain vitamins and minerals. These deficiencies resulted in rickets, growth retardation, slow mental and motor development, and other problems. Experts suggest adding eggs and dairy products or other kinds of supplementation for all children on macrobiotic diets. All infants, children, and pregnant and lactating mothers should supplement their diet to avoid these problems.
Michio Kushi teaches macrobiotic lifestyle at the Kushi Institute in Boston, Massachusetts. The George Ohsawa Macrobiotic Foundation publishes books and magazines about macrobiotics and offers cooking classes. Many cities have "East-West Centers" that offer classes in macrobiotic cooking and philosophy.
For more information:
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3. Sifton DW: The PDR Family Guide to Natural Medicines and Healing Therapies. Three Rivers Press, NY, NY; 1999.
4. Woodham A & Peters D: Encyclopedia of Healing Therapies, 1st ed. Dorling Kindersley, NY, NY; 1997.