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Nutritional, Spiritual, and Planetary Guidelines of the Macrobiotic Diet

“Being macrobiotic is basically about eating local, organic, seasonal food that isn't processed, and that's how I eat now, so it's not that different. I haven't eaten meat for about fifteen years. I eat fish, a little bit of dairy -- not much milk -- but I love cheese. We'll make chocolate chip cookies and I eat them, but sugar makes me feel pretty bad. I have coffee and wine. I've got lots of lovely vices." - Gwyneth Paltrow

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What are the origins of the Macrobiotic Diet?

The earliest recorded use of the term macrobiotics was found in the Greek writings of Philosophers such as Hippocrates, who was also known as the father of Western medicine. In his essay “Airs, Waters, and Places,” Hippocrates introduced the word macrobiotics to describe people who were healthy and long-lived. Translated from Greek roots, macro means “large” or “great” and bios means “life.” Other classical Greek writers, such as Aristotle, used the term macrobiotics to describe a lifestyle that incorporates a simple balanced diet and promotes health and longevity.

Nearly a century later, the term macrobiotics experienced another revival, this time originating in the country of Japan. Two educators, Sagen Ishizuka, M.D., and Yukikazu Sakurazawa, cured themselves of serious illnesses by adopting a simple diet of brown rice, miso soup, sea vegetables, and other traditional foods. These two men spent several years studying and combining traditional Oriental medicine, Eastern philosophy and a holistic approach. In the 1920’s Sakurazawa traveled to Paris. He adopted a new name, George Ohsawa, and applied the term Macrobiotics to his teachings. The diet Ohsawa originally recommended included ten progressively restrictive stages. The last stage of Ohsawa's macrobiotic diet consisted of only brown rice and water. Due to the extreme limitations, nutritionists, no longer recommend Ohsawa’s version of the macrobiotic diet.

Michio Kushi, a student of Ohsawa revised the macrobiotic theory. His life’s work has been to adapt the macrobiotic diet to modern tastes while still retaining its integrity. In 1978, Kushi and his wife Aveline opened the Kushi institute located in Boston. Together he and his wife, Aveline, have published many books, most recently, “The Macrobiotic Way.” The Kushi’s have been largely responsible for popularizing the macrobiotic diet in North America. Some of the stars that have adopted the macrobiotic diet are Gwyneth Paltrow, Madonna, Demi Moore, Pamela Anderson, and most recently, Courtney Love.

What interests people about The Macrobiotic Diet?

The people typically interested in the macrobiotic diet are looking for a healthy way to eat that integrates physical, spiritual, and planetary health.

The macrobiotic diet is a predominantly vegetarian diet. It highlights whole grains and vegetables, with an emphasis on low-fat, and high fiber foods. In addition, the macrobiotic diet is rich in phytoestrogens, a diverse group of naturally occurring non-steroidal plant compounds from soy products.

Low-fat, high fiber diets have often been recommended for cancer and other chronic diseases. Like the original founders of the macrobiotic diet, many have used this method in hopes of curing serious illnesses. The phytoestrogen content of the diet has been thought to be protective and reduce the risk of estrogen-related cancers. However, there is no solid proof linking the macrobiotic diet to cancer prevention and treatment. More research is needed and people with serious medical conditions should always seek proper medical care.

The Macrobiotic Diet consists of the following?

Basically: Macrobiotics promotes the use of traditional foods such as whole grains, beans, and locally grown vegetables. In addition to these, the diet includes soy foods, mineral-rich sea vegetables, and certain types of fish. In the macrobiotic diet, moderate amounts of white-meat fish and shellfish are substituted for red meat and poultry. Sea salt, and natural grain sweeteners like rice syrup and barley malt, replace the refined salt and sugar that are commonly consumed in a typical western diet.

Technically: 50 to 60% of diet = whole grain and whole grain products. Whole grains include whole-wheat berries, barley, millet, rye, brown rice, corn, buckwheat, and other whole grains. Bread, baked goods, Rolled oats, noodles, pasta, and other flour products can be eaten occasionally.

5 to 10% of diet = One to two cups or bowls of soup per day. Miso and shoyu, which are made from fermented soybeans, are commonly used soups.

20 to 30% of diet = locally grown (and organically grown if possible) vegetables. Up to one-third of the total vegetable intake can be raw. Otherwise, vegetables should be sautéed, steamed, boiled, or baked.

5 to 10% of diet = beans and sea vegetables. This includes bean products such as tofu, tempeh, natto, or cooked beans.

5% of diet = condiments, and supplementary foods, including beverages, fish and desserts.

Suggested Food Guidelines:

Animal products. Some fish or seafood is typically consumed several times per week. Meat, eggs, dairy and poultry are usually avoided. Fish or seafood may be eaten with compliments of; horseradish, wasabi, ginger, mustard, or grated daikon to help the body detoxify from the effects.

Seeds and nuts may be consumed in moderation. Seeds and nuts, if salted or roasted should use sea salt or shoyu.

Local fruit can be consumed several times per week. Suggestions include apricots, grapes, berries, apples, pears, peaches, melons, and other fruit. Tropical fruit such as pineapple, papaya and mango, is usually avoided.

Desserts are permitted approximately two to three times per week. Natural sweeteners such as rice syrup, barley malt, and amazake can be used. Honey, sugar, molasses, carob, chocolate and other sweeteners are avoided.

Cooking oil is typically unrefined vegetable oil. One of the most common oils used is dark sesame oil. Other oils that are recommended are corn oil, light sesame oil, and mustard seed oil.

Condiments and seasonings include natural sea salt, shoyu, brown rice vinegar, umeboshi vinegar, umeboshi plums, grated ginger root, fermented pickles, gomashio (roasted sesame seeds), roasted seaweed, and sliced scallions.

Diet guidelines are generally individualized based on outside factors such as; climate, season, age, gender, activity, and health needs.

What are the Spiritual Guidelines of the Macrobiotic Diet?

Ying and Yang

Everything in the universe is constantly changing. Each day we experience the result of unceasing motion as night changes to day, activity changes to rest, youth changes to old age, life changes to death and death changes to rebirth. An understanding of these changes that govern the natural environment, and recognition of the interrelationship between opposite yet complementary patterns within these changes, helps us to achieve a harmonious balance in our physical bodies minds and souls. This is the general concept behind Ying and Yang

The principle of ying and yang is the philosophical basis of the macrobiotic diet. The ways to practice these universal principles were taught by respected prophets such as; Confucius, Jesus, Moses, Buddha, Muhammad, and Lao Tzu. They believed that to understand this simple principle, and then to live its basic laws, is the perfect way to perfect health and a long life. Macrobiotics focuses on the dynamics of ying and yang in daily life.

In more simplistic terms, Ying is expansive, cool, moistening, light and upward growing. Yang is contractive, warm, drying, compact and downward growing. Macrobiotic cooking and eating incorporates the concepts of the ever-moving relationship between these opposite energies. The idea is to balance these opposing energies: hard with soft, opening with contracting, expansive with inward. In the macrobiotic diet, Ying is cold while Yang is hot. Ying is sweeter while Yang is salty. Ohsawa’s macrobiotic diet theory incorporates the perfect balance between Ying and Yang in food sources.

The Macrobiotic Diet and Planetary Growth

Beyond the question of individual and dietary needs, there is the larger problem of food shortage and world hunger. The heavy drain on the world’s energy and natural resources points to the need for a wide-scale re-evaluation of our attitudes toward, and dependence upon animal proteins as staples in our diets. In modern practice, whole foods are often refined and altered into relatively less nutritious products. An average fast-food meal is a perfect example. To produce the beef from which a hamburger is made, it takes nearly 10 pounds of grain; it takes thirty ears of corn to produce the oil for French fries; to make a milk shake it takes four pounds of soy beans and a half-quart of milk; more than one pound of beets is needed to produce enough sugar to sweeten a dessert. “Diet for a Small Planet” (Ballantine 1992) points out that North Americans, who make up 7% of the world’s population, consume more then 30% of the world’s animal foods. She argues that producing meat to supply humans with protein is grossly inefficient. Furthermore vast acreage of land presently used to raise livestock could feed up to twenty times more people if planted with food crops instead.

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