Tuesday, October 28, 2014

What the Heck is a Macrobiotic Diet?

Macrobiotics – a word you’ve likely heard but … what does it mean? If the term macrobiotics is Greek to you, here’s your primer! 

And, incidentally, the word macrobiotics is in fact Greek, at least in origin, coming from the word macro, meaning great, and bios, meaning life: Great Life.

Given the principles of the macrobiotic diet, you couldn’t choose a better word than one that means Great Life. Macrobiotics is not just a diet but a philosophy of life balance.  The founder of macrobiotics, Japanese philosopher George Ohsawa, taught that a balanced, healthy diet is a necessary component of a great life. And let’s face it, if you have an unhealthy diet, it’s only a matter of time before your health will suffer – and where’s the happiness in that?

What a macrobiotic diet looks like

Have you heard someone describe themselves as a pescatarian? It’s not a church denomination; a pescatarian is someone who considers themselves a vegetarian but who also eats fish and other aquatic animals for protein.  The macrobiotic diet strictly follows vegetarianism or pescatarianism. 

The diet is also based on the principles of yin and yang: opposing, complementary life forces that we should strive to keep in balance.  As this balance applies to the diet, foods are categorized as belonging to yin or yang, based on sweet vs. salty, hot vs. cold, and so forth. Thus, a macrobiotic dieter seeks to keep a good balance between yin foods and yang foods.

Macrobiotics practitioners are generally either health conscious individuals or those who are sick and hoping to find healing through the macrobiotics diet and lifestyle (including physical health and spiritual health).
What’s on the menu?
The macrobiotic diet is roughly half whole grains, a third vegetables, and the remainder a combination of beans, bean soups, miso soups, and sea vegetables. Rather than eating on a breakfast-lunch-dinner schedule, you eat when you feel hungry.  The diet also advises you to thoroughly chew when you eat to aid in digestion. 
What’s off the menu?
Things a macrobiotic dieter avoids:
  • No dairy products and no meats
  • No vitamin or mineral supplements
  • Avoid microwaving
  • Avoid cooking with electricity
  • No processed foods
  • No foods that contain artificial preservatives, colors, or flavors
  • No caffeine
  • No plastic storage; use stainless steel, wood, glass, or china instead

Why do a macrobiotic diet?

There are many health benefits reported by macrobiotic dieters.  Ohsawa stated that the macrobiotic diet could even cure cancer. Scientific studies do not unequivocally support this claim. Some studies have found no conclusive connection between the macrobiotic diet and cancer improvement.  However,  a 1993 study looking at pancreatic cancer reported that more than half of those who maintain a macrobiotic diet were alive after one year, while 90 percent of the study participants not on the macrobiotic diet had died by the end of the 12 months – results which generated a macrobiotic diet boon, especially among those with cancer.
Other macrobiotics health benefits are likely, simply because the diet removes all processed foods, includes lots of vegetables, is low in unhealthy fats, and high fiber. These factors have all been shown in numerous studies to reduce the risk of cancer and heart disease.

How to get started with a macrobiotic diet

Given the holistic lifestyle nature of macrobiotics, and the likelihood that the diet and food preparation methods will be radically different than what you are familiar with, the best way to get started is to seek out a macrobiotic practitioner for guidance.  Your budget or comfort level can determine whether you choose a person who teaches macrobiotics for a living or is simply a person who is experienced in practicing macrobiotics in daily life.
If personal guidance from an experienced practitioner is not an option for you, there are many books and online resources that can give you the basics.

Risks of the macrobiotic diet

It’s easy to do a macrobiotic diet wrong if you haven’t received guidance and training.  Risks to consider:
  • Since the macrobiotic diet has no dairy or animal products, you need to make sure that your body gets enough nutrients from other sources.
  • Many people lose a great deal of weight after switching to a macrobiotic diet. If you are already low in weight, this can put you in danger.
  • Even those who strictly follow macrobiotic diets might be deficient in certain vitamins, such as B12, D, iron, and calcium.
  • Because of the potential for vitamin deficits on the diet, macrobiotics is unadvisable for children, pregnant women, and those are already very sick.
As with any significant diet change, talk to your doctor, especially if you have any serious medical conditions.

Ric Moxley
Contributing Writer

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