Macrobiotic Food

views updated May 08 2018


MACROBIOTIC FOOD. Macrobiotics is a way of eating and living in accordance with the natural order of the universe. This simple way of life has been practiced for thousands of years, originating with the ancient Far Eastern theory of yin and yang energies, a never-ending continuum where opposites change into one another to complement, balance, and form a union; for example, the sun (yang) and moon (yin), night (yin) and day (yang); summer and spring (yang), winter and fall (yin). All things on earth are created and held in balance by these two complementary forces, a fundamental understanding that governs the whole universe. The human body is included in the universal cycle of the endless harmonious motion of change. All the major organs and functions within the body have a cycle of yin and yang movement. For example, when we inhale (yin), we must also exhale (yang); the body needs both rest (yin) and activity (yang). Foods and liquids restore and maintain the body. Therefore, the macrobiotic way of living and eating is about understanding how to live simply and choose and prepare food in conjunction with the natural order of the universe, creating physical, mental, and spiritual well-being. The sidebar at right lists yin and yang characteristics.

The History and Development of Macrobiotics

The word "macrobiotics" comes from the Greek makros meaning 'large', 'a great' and bios meaning 'life'. Hippocrates first used the term in the fifth century b.c.e. in his essay "Air, Water, Places," about a group of people who lived long and healthy lives. Even to this day, his famous quote, "Let food be thy medicine and medicine thy food," continues to be acknowledged and respected. Hippocrates emphasized that life itself depends upon what foods are consumed and how they are prepared. He suggested that healing takes place when foods are eaten in their most natural form.

While Hippocrates coined the term, macrobiotics was practiced hundreds of years earlier in the Far East. Around 500 b.c.e. one of the world's oldest medical books was written, The Yellow Emperor's Classic of Internal Medicine, a compilation of the medical wisdom of ancient China. The book states that people who lived in harmony according to the laws of nature, balancing yin and yang energies, lived long and healthy lives. This wisdom is believed to go back even several thousand years earlier. "Macrobiotics" became a common term used in early Western literature, including the Bible, to describe patriarchs such as Abraham as "Macrobiotic people." In 1797 Dr. Christopher W. Hufeland, a German philosopher and physician, challenged medical practices by becoming a macrobiotic spokesman in Europe. His publication of Macrobiotics or the Art of Prolonging Life warned against popular foods like meat as well as foods containing refined sugars in favor of a simple vegetable and grain diet.

The development of macrobiotics as it is known today is credited to George Ohsawa (18931966; formerly Yukikazu Sakurazawa), who overcame tuberculosis in 1909 by rejecting Western medical treatment in favor of a simple diet of whole cooked grains such as brown rice, earth and sea vegetables, beans, seeds and nuts, and miso soup. The source of the information that relieved his illness was A Method for Nourishing Life Through Food: A Unique Chemical Food-Nourishment Theory of Body and Mind, written by Japan's Sagen Ishizuka in 1897. Ishizuka's vision consisted of eliminating a diet of meat, dairy products, potatoes, eggs, white bread, simple sugars, and the other highly refined foods of modern civilization. He contended that eating this way goes against the natural order of the universe and humans' immediate environment, thus causing people to lose their physical, psychological, and spiritual

Food Classification According to Yin and Yang
Extreme Yang Foods Moderate Foods Extreme Yin Foods
Some Chemicals, Drugs, and RootsFish and SeafoodWhole Grains and Grain ProductsBeans and Bean Products Sea VegetablesVegetables FruitsBeveragesTropical FoodsStimulants
Refined saltCarp Brown rice Azuki beansAgar-agar Root: Fresh and Dried:Reguals use: AsparagusBlack tea
Iodized salt Clams MilletBlack-eyed peas AlariaBeetsApricots Bancha twig teaAvocadoGreen tea
Crude gray sea saltCrabBarley Black soybeansArameBurdock BlackberriesBancha stem teaBananas Mint tea
GinsengCod Whole wheatBlack turtle beansDulse CarrotsBlueberriesRoasted rice tea Brazil nutsOther stimulating aromatic teas
Insulin FlounderOatsBroad beans Hijiki DaikonCantaloupe Roasted barley teaCashews 
Thyroxin Haddock RyeChickpeas Irish mossDandelion rootsGrapes Roasted grain teaCoconutCoffee
Various othersHerring BuckwheatGreat Northern beansKelp Jinenjo Honeydew melonKombu tea Coconut oilDecaffeinated coffee
 Iriko Corn Kombu Jerusalem artichokeLemon Spring waterDatesCola
Eggs LobsterSorghum Kidney beansMekabuLotus root Mulberries Well waterEggplant Soft drinks
Chicken eggsOctopus Wild riceLentilsNekabu ParsnipNectarines FigsChocolate
Duck eggs OystersAmaranthLima beansNori RadishOlives Occasional Use:Grapefruit Cinnamon
Caviar Red Snapper QuinoaMung beans WakameRutabagaOranges 100% grain coffee Green peppersCurry
Other eggs from poultry or fishScallopsOther cereal grainsNavy beans OthersTaro Peaches Amazake Kiwi fruitNutmeg
 Scrod Sweet ricePinto beans Turnip PearsDandelion tea MangoOther spices
 Shrimp MochiSoybeans SeasoningsOthersPlums Lotus root teaPalm oil 
MeatSmelt BreadSplit peas Unrefined sea salt Raisins Burdock root teaPapaya Processed Foods
Beef Sole ChapatisWhole dried peas Tamari soy sauceRound/Ground:Raspberries Other traditional, nonstimulant, nonaromatic natural herbal teasPlantainWhite rice
Lamb TroutTortillas Other beansReal tamariAcorn squash Strawberries Potato White flour
PortOther white-meat fish and seafoodSoba MisoMisoBroccoli Tangerines Red peppersRefined grains
Ham UdonNattoRice vinegarBrussels sproutsWatermelon SpinachInstant foods
Sausage SomenOkaraBrown rice vinegarButtercup squashWild berries Sweet potatoCanned Foods
BaconCondimentsNoodles and pastaTamari soy sauceUmeboshi vinegarButternut squashOthertemperateclimate varieties TomatoFrozen foods
foodsVealGomashio TempehSauerkraut brineCabbage Infrequent Use:YamsSprayed foods
Wild gameSee vegetable powdersCouscousTofuMirinCauliflower Fruit juice Dyed Foods
  BulghurOther bean productsAmazakeCucumberGarnishesCiderDairy Foods1Irradiated foods
PoultryTekkaFu Barley maltGreen beansGrated daikonDyed foodsButterFoods produced with chemicals, additives, artificial coloring, flavoring, emulsifiers, preservatives, stabilizer
ChickenUmeboshi plumSeitan Rice maltGreen peasGrated radishSoy milkCheese 
DuckShio kombuOatmealPicklesGrated gingerrootHubbard squashGrated horseradishVegetable juiceCream 
GooseShiso leavesCorn gritsBranGrated gingerrootHokkaido pumpkinChopped scallionsBarley green juiceIce cream 
PheasantGreen noriCornmealBrineGrated daikonMushroomsGrated gingerSakeKefir 
TurkeyYellow mustardArepasMisoGrated horseradishOnionsRed pepperBeer, natural FermentedMilkVitamin pills
 Green mustardPopcornPressed Rice flour      
  Food Classification According to Yin and Yang
Extreme Yang Foods Moderate Foods Extreme Yin Foods
Some Chemicals, Drugs, and Roots Fish and SeafoodWhole Grains and Grain ProductsBeans and Bean ProductsSea VegetablesVegetablesFruitsBeveragesTropical FoodsStimulants
Fish and SeafoodCooked noriOther grain productsSaltHorseradishPatty pan squashOther traditional garnishesWine, natural FermentedSour creamMineral supplements
BluefishRoasted sesame seeds Salt and waterUmeboshi plumPumpkin  Whipped creamOther food capsules, tablets, and similar products
Salmon Seeds and NutsSauerkrautUmeboshi pasteRed cabbage Other grain-and fruit-based mild alcoholic beverages of natural qualityYogurt 
SwordfishOther traditional condimentsAlmondsTakuanLemon juiceShiitake mushrooms    
Tuna ChestnutsTamari soy sauceTangerine juiceSnap beans  Sweeteners2 
Other red-meat and blue-skinned varieties FilbertsUmeboshiOrange juiceSummer squash  AspartameSome Chemicals and drugs
  PeanutsOther traditional typesFresh black pepperSwiss chard  Blond sugar 
  Pecans Red pepperWax beans SweetenersBrown sugarAmphetamines
  Pinenuts Green mustardZucchini AmazakeCane sugarAntibiotics
  Pistachios Yellow mustardOthers Barley maltCarobAspirin
  Poppy seeds Sesame oil  Rice syrupCorn syrupCortisone
  Pumpkin seeds Corn oilWhite/Green Leafy: Maple syrupChocolateCocaine
  Sesame seeds Safflower OilBok choy Fruit juiceDextroseLSD
  Squash seeds Mustard seed oilCarrot tops Cooked fruitFructoseMarijuana
  Sunflower seeds Olive oilCelery Dried fruitGlucoseOthers
  Walnuts SakeChinese cabbage  Honey 
  Other temperateclimate varieties Sake leesChives  MolassesSeasonings
    Other natural seasoningsDaikon greens  Nutra-SweetMargarine
     Dandelion greens  Raw sugarSoy margarine
     Endive  SaccharinLard
     Escarole  SorbitolShortening
     Kale  Turbinado sugarAnimal fats
     Leeks  White sugarRefined vegetable oils
     Lettuce  XylitolHerbs
     Mustard Seeds   Spices
     Scallians   Wine Vinegar
     Sprouts   Mayonnaise
     Turnip Greens   Hot Pepper
     Wild Grasses    
1 Brie, Roquefort, and several other salted cheeses that have aged for a long time are classified as yang rather than yin.
2 Soft drinks, candy, pastries, desserts, and other items containing these sweeteners should also be avoided.

vitality and harmony. According to Ishizuka, the ability to experience the highest levels of spirituality is controlled by food. He emphasized that the great sages and saints all lived on whole cooked grains and vegetables cooked with salt. Ishizuka was also concerned with the way eating patterns determined how families and societies functioned. His philosophy and scientific studies echo the macrobiotic way of living and eating in the early twenty-first century. He emphasized balancing Na-dominance (sodium) and K-dominance (potassium) in foods, which is also known as the acid-alkaline balance. Ohsawa amended Iskizuka's theory by imposing yin and yang forces onto the acid-alkaline balance, contending that these energies make up the mystery of life. Iskizuka's work sparked Ohsawa's passion to study, write, and extend his own version of macrobiotic practice and teachings to American, Asia, and Europe.

Macrobiotic Foods

A macrobiotic diet is defined as eating in balance between extreme yin and yang energies. For example, animal meat is considered an extreme yang food and creates natural strong cravings for extreme yin foods, such as refined sugar in cookies and cakes. Extreme foods create sickness and are the body's warning that there is an imbalance. The imbalance causes the blood to become too acidic, creating an environment in which diseases can thrive. Human organs, especially the kidneys, need to work harder to buffer the acids and maintain a normal pH alkaline blood condition of 7.357.45. Scientific studies have shown how a sustained acidic condition can cause normal cells to change to cancer cells. (The sidebar below illustrates foods in relation to acid and alkaline.) If extreme foods continue to be consumed, the body starts accumulating and storing toxins in the form of mucus, fats, cysts, and tumors.

To avoid these undesirable conditions, the consumption of whole, unprocessed foods grown without pesticides and other chemicals is recommended. These consist of earth and sea vegetables, whole cooked grains such as brown rice and millet, bean products, seitan (a wheat-based food), nuts, seeds, and occasionally fish. Seasonings and condiments are used to add nutritional value and to enhance flavor. These include miso, made from soybeans and sea salt commonly flavored with fermented barley or brown rice, which strengthens the blood; umeboshi, a salty plum that neutralizes extreme foods and conditions; sea vegetable flakes, which are high in minerals such as dulse and nori; tekka, a powder made from hatcho miso, sesame oil, burdock, lotus root, carrots, and gingerroot that is simmered for several hours and gives strength; gomoshio, a mixture of sesame seeds and sea salt high in calcium; and shoyu soy sauce to help with digestion. Kuzu, a white starch made from the deep root of a wild vine that helps digestion, thickens sauces. These condiments and seasonings have a variety of medicinal uses and can also maintain normal levels of blood alkaline. Eating these foods, seasonings, and condiments balances the body without causing cravings for extreme foods; thus, the transition of foods from yin to yang and vice versa is smoother, thereby creating internal balance and promoting health.

In a temperate climate, macrobiotic foods do not include nightshade vegetables such as tomatoes, potatoes, peppers, and eggplant. These foods are high in alkaloid content and contrary to the healing process. By eating nonpollutant food, the body has a chance to clean out stored chemicals, increase nutrient absorption, and improved health.

Cooking Techniques

Cooking processes also have a yin and yang quality. For example, cooking meals, such as beans, longer involves more heat, which indicates yang energy, and this way of cooking complements cooler seasons such as winter, which is yin. In contrast, lighter meals, such as salads, and quicker cooking methods are yin, which complements warmer seasons such as summer, which is yang. This style of cooking and eating promotes remaining in balance with the changing seasons, supporting the natural order of the universe.

A gas stove is recommended for cooking macrobiotic foods because the heat comes from natural energy. Also urged are cooking with natural spring water when needed and using stainless steel, glass, cast iron, and porcelain cookware to keep the food away from possible contamination that may occur with aluminum and synthetic coatings. Ideally, foods are locally grown in season to promote internal balance and harmony with the environment.

Food and Behavior

There is also a cause and effect relationship between food and behavior. For example, eating mostly extreme yang foods usually leads to irritability and anger, while eating mostly extreme yin foods usually leads to depression and reduced energy; however, soon after eating extreme yin foods, such behavior as explosive anger has been noted. Eating foods that are balanced with yin and yang energies without extremes maintains a normal alkaline blood level and leads to vitality and a peaceful, more comfortable state of mind. Table 1 illustrates foods associated with certain behaviors and moods.

Yin and Yang foods associated with behaviors
  Foods Behaviors
Extreme Yang Refined salt Aggressive
  Meats Overactive
  Poultry Angry, irritable
  Fish (blue and red skin) Attacking, intolerant
  Hard salty cheese Self pride
   Voice too loud, tense
   Tense muscles
   Dry skin
Balanced Grains Assertive
  Vegetables Active
  Sea vegetables Content, patient
  Miso Positive outlook
  Beans Satisfied with life
  Seeds Voice pleasant
  Nuts Relaxed muscles
   Smooth, clear skin
Extreme Yin Sugar Passive
  Honey Overly relaxed
  Molasses Depressed, sad
  Coffee, caffeine Negative, retreating
  Milk Self-pity
  Ice cream Voice too soft, timid
  Yogurt Loose muscles
   Moist skin

The standard macrobiotic diet consists of 30 to 50 percent whole cooked grains and whole grain products, such as sourdough bread and pasta (including udon noodles made with wheat flour, brown rice, and sea salt and soba noodles made from buckwheat flour); 20 to 30 percent locally grown organic vegetables; 5 to 10 percent beans such as adzuki and lentil (including tofu made from soybeans, nigari, and water and tempeh made from split soybeans, vinegar, and water); 5 to 10 percent soups, including miso and vegetable; and 5 percent condiments, such as umeboshi plum, gomashio, and sea vegetables, including wakame and kombu. Macrobiotic foods are high in complex carbohydrates, fiber, vitamins, and minerals that provide the balance of proper nutrition that the body needs.

A very basic balanced macrobiotic meal may consist of: one cup of miso soup made with onions, carrots, and sea vegetables such as wakame; one cup of whole cooked grains, such as brown rice seasoned with a pinch of sea salt; one-quarter cup of cooked beans, such as adzuki mixed with a small amount of the sea vegetable kombu and a sweet vegetable such as butternut squash seasoned with shoyu soy sauce; one cup of cooked green and yellow root and leafy vegetables; a pickled vegetable; and a garden salad. Fish can be eaten occasionally along with soy products such as tofu and tempeh to substitute for beans to provide protein. For dessert, a recommended dish may be couscous cooked with apple juice and apples. Also used for sweeteners are barley malt and brown rice syrup. In addition, kukicha bancha tea, which has a pleasing taste, is used as a daily beverage that has virtually no caffeine, alkalizes the blood, has a beneficial effect on digestion, and relieves fatigue.

Recommended macrobiotic foods and their portions vary according to a person's physical and mental condition, climate, and age. For example, someone with a slower metabolism may benefit from eating fewer grains and more vegetables. Macrobiotic counselors throughout the United States help people adjust the diet to their specific needs.

The Spread of Macrobiotics

Macrobiotics owes much of its contemporary popularity to George Ohsawa and his wife, Lima. His students Aveline and Michio Kushi developed the Kushi Institute in Brookline, Massachusetts, which helped spread macrobiotic teachings and practices in the eastern United States. Cornelia and Herman Aihara, also Ohsawa's students, developed the study and practice of macrobiotics in the western United States. Macrobiotic food may be found in health-food stores, and macrobiotic cookbooks are available there and in major bookstores throughout the United States. In the early twenty-first century, there are over five hundred macrobiotic centers throughout the United States whose advocates stress the advantages of this way of eating and living. The more common benefits experienced are increased vitality, better sleep, a stronger immune system, reduced fatigue, and improved memory. There are also scientific and medical studies which indicate that following a macrobiotic diet can prevent or relieve cancer and other terminal illnesses. These benefits are said to result from a body cleared of chemicals and toxins. Practicing the macrobiotic way of life moves beyond physical health to also revitalize the true nature of mental and spiritual well-being.

See also Eating: Anatomy and Physiology of Eating; Health and Disease; Health Foods; Natural Foods; Organic Food; Preparation of Food; Soy.


Aihara, Herman. Basic Macrobiotics. Tokyo and New York: Japan Publications, 1985.

Esko, Edward, and Wendy Esko. Macrobiotic Cooking for Everyone. Tokyo: Japan Publications, 1980.

Kushi, Aveline, and Wendy Esko. The Changing Seasons Macrobiotic Cookbook. Wayne, N.J., Avery Publishing Group, 1985.

Kushi, Michio. Doctors Look at Macrobiotics. Edited by Edward Esko. Tokyo and New York: Japan Publications, 1988. See the forward by Lawrence H. Kushi.

Kushi, Michio. How to See Your Health: The Book of Oriental Diagnosis. Tokyo and New York: Japan Publications, 1980.

Kushi, Michio. Macrobiotic Home Remedies, edited by Marc Van Cauwenberghe. Tokyo and New York: Japan Publications, 1985.

Kushi, Michio. Natural Healing through Macrobiotics. Tokyo and New York: Japan Publications, 1979.

Kushi, Michio, with Stephen Blauer. The Macrobiotic Way: The Complete Macrobiotic Diet and Exercise Book. Wayne, N.J.: Avery Publishing Group, 1985.

Kushi, Michio, with Alex Jack. The Book of Macrobiotics: The Universal Way of Health, Happiness, and Peace. Tokyo and New York: Japan Publications, 1986.

Kushi, Michio, with Alex Jack. The Cancer Prevention Diet. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1993.

Roberta Bloom

Characteristics of Yin and Yang
Yin Yang
Colder Hotter
Darker Brighter
Longer Shorter
Larger Smaller
Softer Harder
More inactive, slower More active, faster
More expansive, hollow More contractive, solid

Acid and Alkaline in Foods

Too much alkaline Too much acid

Refined salt Meat, eggs, fruits, sugars

Lower alkaline More Balanced Lower acid

Miso/shoyu Sea/land vegetables Grains, beans soy sauce

Macrobiotic Diet

views updated May 14 2018

Macrobiotic diet


A macrobiotic diet is part of a philosophy of life that incorporates the ancient Oriental concept or theory of yin and yang. The diet itself consists mainly of brown rice, other whole grains, and vegetables. It requires foods to be cooked over a flame, rather than by electricity or microwave.


The term macrobiotics comes from two Greek words; macro (great) and bios (life). The macrobiotic diet is believed to have originated in nineteenth century Japan, with the teachings of Sagen Ishizuka, a natural healer. George Ohsawa (18931966), a Japanese teacher and writer, introduced macrobiotics to Europeans in the 1920s. Ohsawa claims to have cured himself of tuberculosis by eating Ishizuka's diet of brown rice, soup, and vegetables. The diet did not attract much attention in the United States until the mid-1960s, when Ohsawa's book Zen Macrobiotics was published and became a best seller, especially among the 1960s counterculture. The diet's popularity heightened in the 1970s when the macrobiotic philosophy was embraced by former Beatle John Lennon (19401980) and his wife, Yoko Ono (1933 ).


In the macrobiotic diet, foods are selected for their metaphysical qualities rather than their nutritional value. The regime, which is high in whole grains, vegetables, beans, and soy protein , has many of the same benefits as a vegetarian or vegan diet. Numerous scientific studies have shown that a diet of this type can significantly reduce the risk of diabetes, heart disease, stroke , and various cancers. The macrobiotic diet is rich in vitamins, high in dietary fiber, and low in fatty foods.


In addition to its holistic approach to nutrition , macrobiotics applies these beliefs to life in general. Its philosophy recommends the following behaviors:

  • eating two or three meals a day
  • chewing each mouthful of food approximately 50 times to aid digestion and absorption of nutrients
  • avoiding food for at least three hours before bedtime
  • taking short baths or showers as needed, with warm or cool water
  • consuming only organic foods
  • using grooming, cosmetic, and household products made from natural, non-toxic ingredients
  • wearing only cotton clothing and avoiding metallic jewelry
  • spending as much time as possible in natural outdoor settings and walking at least 30 minutes daily
  • doing such aerobic or stretching exercises as yoga , dance, or martial arts on a regular basis
  • placing large green plants throughout the house to enrich the oxygen content of the air, and keeping windows open as much as possible to allow fresh air circulation
  • avoiding food preparation with electricity or microwaves; using gas or wood stoves; and using only cast iron , stainless steel, or clay cookware
  • avoiding television viewing and computer use as much as possible

The macrobiotic diet assigns yin and yang energies to foods. Yin and yang are opposite energies that are complementary and harmonious, such as day and night. Yin energies are directed outward while yang energies are directed inward. In this ancient Asian philosophy, everything in the universe is assigned a yin or yang quality. Balance, harmony, order, and happiness are achieved when the forces of yin and yang are in balance.

Meat, fish, poultry, eggs, and hard cheeses are considered yang, while milk, cream, fruit juice, alcohol, and sugar are yin. The macrobiotic diet consists mainly of foods in the middle, such as brown rice and other whole grains, beans, vegetables, fruit, and nuts. The diet is flexible, and allows fish on occasion. Its flexibility enhances its appeal. The macrobiotic diet allows people to design their own food regimens based on their personal requirements, environment, and medical conditions.

One of the principles of the macrobiotic diet is that people should primarily eat organically grown foods native to their climate and area. The theory is that human health depends on the ability to adapt to the changes in the environment. When people eat foods from a climate that differs from where they live, they lose that adaptability. Propronents of the macrobiotic diet claim that as society has moved away from its traditional ecologically based diet, there has been a corresponding rise in chronic illness. Therefore, for optimal health, the belief is that people need to return to a way of eating based on foods produced in their local environment, or at least grown in a climate that is similar to where they live.

Foods considered yang (contracted energy) last longer and can originate from a wide geographic area. Sea salt and sea vegetables are examples of yang foods. They can come from anywhere within the same hemisphere. Whole grains and legumes are also yang, and can originate anywhere within the same continent since they keep for a long time. Fresh fruits and vegetables are considered yin (expansive energy). Since they have a relatively short shelf life, they should be chosen only from those types that grow naturally within one's immediate area. According to macrobiotic beliefs, balance between yin and yang in diet and food helps achieve inner peace and harmony with one's self and the surrounding world.

Another aspect of the macrobiotic diet is that the type of foods eaten should change with the seasons. In the spring and summer, the food should be lighter, cooler, and require less cooking. This change is necessary becauseaccording to the macrobiotic philosophythe energy of fire is abundant in the form of sunlight and does not need to be drawn from cooked food. In the autumn and winter, the opposite is true.

The time of day also plays an important role in the macrobiotic diet since it relates to atmospheric energy levels. In the morning, when upward energy is stronger, breakfast should include light foods, such as a whole grain cooked in water. In the evening, when downward energy is stronger, the meal can be larger. Lunch should be quick and light, since afternoon energy is active and expansive.

In macrobiotics, it is believed that the dietary standards that are effective for one person may not work for another. These standards may change from day to day. Therefore, this diet requires a change in thinking from a static view of life to a dynamic one.

Many people are attracted to the diet because of claims that it can prevent or cure cancer . While no scientific studies support these claims, there are many people who believe the diet helped rid them of the disease when such conventional treatments as chemotherapy and radiation failed. Others use the diet to help treat diabetes, hypertension , arteriosclerosis, and other forms of heart disease. Many of the diet's supporters believe that these and other degenerative diseases occur because the body's yin and yang are out of balance, and that a macrobiotic diet helps restore this balance.

Macrobiotic foods

The primary food in the standard macrobiotic diet is whole cereal grains, including brown rice, barley, millet, rolled oats, wheat, corn, rye, and buckwheat. A small amount of whole grain pasta and breads is allowed. Grains should comprise about 50% of the food consumed.

Fresh vegetables should account for 2030% of the diet. The most highly recommended vegetables include green cabbage, kale, broccoli, cauliflower, collard greens, carrots, parsnips, winter squash, bok choy, onions, parsley , daikon radishes, and watercress. Vegetables that should be eaten only occasionally include cucumber, celery, lettuce, and most herbs. Vegetables that should be avoided include tomatoes, peppers, potatoes, eggplant, spinach, beets, and summer squash.

About 10% of the diet should consist of beans and sea vegetables. The most suitable beans are azuki, chick-peas, and lentils. Tofu and tempeh are also allowed. Other beans can be eaten several times a week. Sea vegetables include nori, wakame, kombu, hiziki, arame, and agar-agar. Another 10% of the diet should include soups made with regular or sea vegetables.

Other permitted items include sweeteners such as barley malt, rice syrup, and apple juice; such seasonings as miso, tamari, soy sauce, rice or cider vinegar, sesame oil , tahini, and sea salt; occasional small amounts of seeds and nuts (pumpkin, sesame, sunflower, and almonds); and white-meat fish once or twice a week. Beverages allowed include tea made from twigs, stems, brown rice, and dandelion root, apple juice, and good-quality water without ice.

Items not allowed include meat; dairy products; fruits; refined grains; anything with preservatives, artificial flavorings and colorings or chemicals; all canned, frozen, processed, and irradiated foods; hot spices; caffeine ; alcohol; refined sugar, honey, molasses, and chocolate.


There are no specific procedures involved in preparing for the diet, except to change from a diet based on meat, sugars, dairy products, and processed foods, to one based primarily on whole grains, vegetables, and unprocessed foods. Some advocates of the macrobiotic diet recommend making the switch gradually rather than all at once.


The macrobiotic diet does not include many fruits and vegetables that are important sources of nutrients and antioxidants , such as vitamin C and beta carotene . If followed rigidly, the diet can also be deficient in protein, calcium, vitamin B12 , folate, and iron. Persons accustomed to a diet high in fat can experience sudden and drastic weight loss if they switch to a rigid macrobiotic diet. In its original form, the macrobiotic diet required foods to be slowly eliminated from the diet until only rice and beans were consumed. Carried to this extreme, the diet lacks significantly in necessary vitamins and nutrients.

A macrobiotic diet may worsen cachexia (malnutrition, wasting) in cancer patients. It is not recommended for people who have intestinal blockages, gluten-sensitive enteropathy (celiac disease ), or cereal grain allergies . Children, pregnant women, and persons with intestinal disorders, hypertension (high blood pressure), kidney disease, or malnutrition should consult their physician before starting a macrobiotic diet.

Side effects

There are no negative side effects associated with a macrobiotic diet in adults, other than such minor problems as dizziness in some people who experience rapid weight loss.

Research & general acceptance

Like many alternative therapies, the macrobiotic diet is controversial and not embraced by allopathic medicine. Most of the controversy surrounds claims that the diet can cure cancer. These claims stem from anecdotal reports and are not substantiated by scientific research. The American Medical Association opposes the macrobiotic diet. The allopathic medical community is also concerned that people with such serious diseases as cancer may use the diet as a substitute for conventional treatment.

Scientific studies in the United States and Europe have shown that a strict traditional macrobiotic diet can lead to a variety of nutritional deficiencies, especially in protein, amino acids , calcium, iron, zinc , and ascorbic acid. These deficiencies can result in drastic weight loss, anemia , scurvy, and hypocalcemia. In children, a strict macrobiotic diet can cause stunted growth, protein and calorie malnutrition, and bone age retardation.

Training & certification

No special training or certification is required. There are, however, several institutes in the United States that offer courses in the macrobiotic philosophy and diet.



Aihara, Herman. Basic Macrobiotics. Oroville, CA: George Ohsawa Macrobiotic Foundation, 1998.

Dente, Gerard, and Kevin J. Hopkins. Macrobiotic Nutrition: Priming Your Body to Build Muscle and Burn Body Fat. North Bergen, NJ: Basic Health Publications, 2004.

Kushi, Michio, and Alex Jack. The Macrobiotic Path to Total Health: A Complete Guide to Naturally Preventing and Relieving More Than 200 Chronic Conditions and Disorders. New York, NY: Ballantine Books, 2004.

Kushi, Michio, and Stephen Blauer. The Macrobiotic Way: The Complete Macrobiotic Lifestyle Book. Garden City Park, NY: Avery Penguin Putnam, 2004.

Kushi, Michio. The Macrobiotic Approach to Cancer: Towards Preventing and Controlling Cancer With Diet and Lifestyle. Garden City Park, NY: Avery Penguin Putnam, 2003.

Bliss-Lerman, Andrea. Macrobiotic Community Cookbook. Garden City Park, NY: Avery Penguin Putnam, 2003.

Pitchford, Paul. Healing With Whole Foods: Asian Traditions and Modern Nutrition. Berkeley, CA: North Atlantic Books, 2002.


"The Balance of Macrobiotics." Natural Life (January-February 2003): 9.

Kushi, Lawrence H., et al. "The Macrobiotic Diet in Cancer." The Journal of Nutrition (November 2001): 3056S-64S.

Kushi, Michio, and Alex Jack. "Cancer, Diet, and Macrobiotics: Relieving Cancer Naturally." Share Guide (September-October 2002): 1819.

"Macrobiotic Diets Can be Healthful, but Not a Cancer Cure." Environmental Nutrition (November 2002): 7.

Priesnitz, Wendy. "Macrobiotics for Health." Natural Life (January-February 2004): 18.


George Ohsawa Macrobiotic Foundation. P.O. Box 3998, Chico, CA 95927. (800) 232-2372. <>.

Kushi Foundation and Institute. P.O. Box 7. Becket, MA 10223. (800) 975-8744.


Macrobiotics Online. [cited June 14, 2004]. <>.

Macrobiotics Today. P.O. Box 3998, Chico, CA 95927. (800) 232-2372. <>.

Ken R. Wells

Macrobiotic Diet

views updated Jun 11 2018

Macrobiotic Diet






The macrobiotic diet is part of a philosophy and lifestyle that incorporates concepts of balance and harmony from Asian philosophy and beliefs about diet from Traditional Chinese Medicine. It is intended to be a weight-loss diet, although people who switch to this diet often lose weight.


The macrobiotic diet is a set of life-long dietary guidelines that has its origin in Asian philosophy. It traces its roots to the Shoku-Yo or “food” cure movement founded in 1909 by Japanese healer Sagen Ishi-zuka (1893–1966). George Ohsawa (1893–1966) brought the movement to the United States in the 1950s and coined the name macrobiotics out of the Greek words “macro,” meaning large or great, and “bios,” meaning life.

Macrobiotics made little impression on the American public until the publication of Ohsawa’s book Zen Macrobiotics in the 1960s. The diet and the philosophy it encompassed then attracted members of the 1960s counterculture movement including Beatle John Lennon and his wife Yoko Ono. The macrobiotic diet has changed somewhat over the past forty years. Originally it recommended moving through stages of food elimination to achieve a diet that consisted only of brown rice and water. These nutritionally unsafe dietary guidelines have mostly been replaced with a more moderate and balanced approach to eating.


The macrobiotic diet is a dynamic set of guidelines that change with geographical location, season, the availability of local foods, and even the time of day. At the heart of the diet is the Asian concept that everything has an energy or force that is either yin or yang. Yin represents female or cool, dark, inwardly focused energy. Yang represents male or warm, light, outwardly focused energy. For good mental and physical health and a harmonious life, yin and yang forces must be balanced. This balance must be reflected in the food the individual eats. Because environmental yin and yang forces change with the seasons, with climate, and time of day, the diet must change with them. For example, spring and summer foods should be lighter and cook more quickly than winter foods. In addition, diet is adjusted to reflect the individual’s age, gender, activity level, and health.

Certain foods are preferred and others rejected or strongly discouraged on the macrobiotic diet. Unrefined whole grains such as brown rice, barley, millet, whole oats, and wheat berries are preferred foods. Processed whole grain foods such as flour are not desirable and should be used sparingly or not at all. Green leafy vegetables are preferred, as are foods in the cabbage family and root vegetables. Some of the vegetables to be avoided include asparagus, eggplant, bell peppers, spinach, okra, potatoes, and tomatoes. In addition tropical fruits (e.g. bananas, pineapple, mango) and tropical nuts are banned for people living in temperate climates because they are not local. The diet permits small portions of white fish (e.g. flounder, cod, halibut, sole) two or three times a week. Dried beans may be used sparingly, and soy products are generally acceptable. Red meats, poultry, most dairy products, eggs, artificial sweeteners, white rice, popcorn, coffee, chocolate, alcohol, and most baked goods are strongly discouraged. The resulting macrobiotic diet is a high carbohydrate/low protein diet that is high in dietary fiber. Estimates are that a macrobiotic diet is 50–55% whole grains, 20–30% fresh vegetables, 10% sea vegetables and about 10% beans, lentils, soy, and fish. Meals should be constructed to balance the yin and yang qualities of the foods. Acceptable foods should be eaten following these guidelines.

  • Eat two or three meals daily.
  • Eat only organic food.
  • Choose foods that are grown locally or within about a 400 mile (650 km) radius of home. Avoid imported foods.
  • Adjust the energy of the food to the energy of the seasons and the time of day.
  • Cook food over a flame, not with an electric burner or microwave.
  • Use cast iron, clay pots, or stainless steel cookware.
  • Cook frequently with methods that use liquids (e.g. pressure cooking, boiling, steaming, soups, stews) instead of dry cooking methods (baking, broiling).
  • Eat nothing that is commercially processed and contains food additives.
  • Take no dietary supplements.



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Bliss-Lerman, Andrea. The Macrobiotic Community Cookbook. New York: Avery, 2003.

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Kushi, Michio and Aveline Kushi. Macrobiotic Diet. New York: Japan Publications, 1993.

Ohsawa, George edited by Carl Ferre Zen Macrobiotics: The Art of Rejuvenation and Longevity. 4th ed. Oroville, CA: George Ohsawa Macrobiotic Foundation, 1995

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American Cancer Society. 1599 Clifton Road NE, Atlanta GA 30329-4251. Telephone: 800 ACS-2345. Website: <>

American Dietetic Association. 120 South Riverside Plaza, Suite 2000, Chicago, Illinois 60606-6995. Telephone: (800) 877-1600. Website: <>

Kushi Institute, Kushi Institute HR Department PO Box 7, Becket, MA 01223 Telephone: (800) 975-8744. Fax: (413) 623-8827. Website: <>

National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine Clearinghouse. P. O. Box 7923, Gathersburg, MD 20898. Telephone: (888) 644-6226. TTY: (866) 464-3615. Fax: (866) 464-3616. Website: <>

Ohsawa Macrobiotics. P.O. Box 3998, Chico, CA 95927-3998. Telephone: (800) 232-2372 or (530) 566-9765. Website: <>


American Cancer Society. “Macrobiotic Diet.” American Cancer Society, June 1, 2005. < docroot/eto/content/ETO_5_3X_Macrobiotic_Diet.asp

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Tish Davidson, A.M.

Macrobiotic Diet

views updated Jun 11 2018

Macrobiotic Diet

George Ohsawa (18931966) coined the term macrobiotic to describe a philosophy towards life, health, and healing. Macrobiotic means "way of long life." Macrobiotics is best described as a way of living according to the principles of yin and yang. Ohsawa, in his book, Zen Macrobiotics, describes twelve principles of yin and yang. On the simplest level, it means that individuals eat foods that keep them in balance with their environment (i.e., in a hot (yang) climate, more cooling (yin) foods are eaten, and vice versa). Oshawa outlined a ten-stage "Zen" macrobiotic diet in which each stage gets more restrictive. The diet is alleged to overcome all forms of illness. At the "highest level," the diet is nutritionally inadequate and has resulted in several deaths. Oshawa devoted much of his time trying to understand the "Order of the Universe," and eventually succumbed to the efforts of his experimentation.

More recently, macrobiotics has come to mean a dietary regimen used to prevent and treat many diseases. The macrobiotic diet is actually several diets ranging in restrictions from severe to moderate. The severe diet consists exclusively of whole cereal grains, while the moderate diet consists of whole cereal grains and certain types of vegetables, fruits, and soups. Today's leading proponent is Michio Kushi, who reformulated and popularized macrobiotics in the United States.

The standard macrobiotic diet avoids many foods including meat, poultry, animal fats, eggs, dairy products, refined sugar, and foods containing artificial sweeteners or other chemical additives. All recommended foods are preferably organically grown and minimally processed. Consumption of genetically modified, irradiated, processed, canned, and frozen foods is discouraged. The diet consists of five categories of foods (with a recommended weight percentage of total food consumed):

  • Whole cereal grains (40%60%).
  • Vegetables, including smaller amounts of raw or pickled vegetables (20%30%).
  • Beans and sea vegetables (5%10%).
  • Soups (which may be made with vegetables, sea vegetables, grains, or beans).
  • Beverages including any traditional tea that does not have an aromatic fragrance or a stimulating effect and spring water or good-quality well water, without ice. Not recommended are tropical or semitropical fruits and fruit juices, soda, artificial drinks and beverages, coffee, and colored tea.
  • Occasional foods include fruit, white fish, seeds, and nuts.
  • Foods to eliminate from the diet include meat, animal fat , eggs, poultry, dairy products, refined sugars, chocolate, molasses, honey, vanilla, hot spices, artificial vinegar, and strong alcoholic beverages.

Although the range of intakes varies, macrobiotic diets are generally low in energy , protein , and fat. They are also likely to be inadequate in vitamin D , folic acid, vitamin B12, riboflavin, calcium , and iron . Clinical cases of malnutrition and growth failure in children have been reported.

Proponents of the macrobiotic diet recommend it for cancer patients. It is alleged to slow progression of cancer by starving the rapidly reproducing cells responsible for the disease. Many patients with HIV/AIDS also turn to a macrobiotic diet to help combat the disease. However, these patients and others with immune-suppressed diseases are already losing alarming amounts of weight, and they also have other medical and nutritional complications. The macrobiotic diet may only exacerbate their problem and cause more nutritional deficiencies .

Delores C. S. James


Bowman, B. B.; Kushner, R. F.; Dawson, S. C.; Levin, B. (1984). "Macrobiotic Diets for Cancer Treatment and Prevention." Journal of Clinical Oncology 2(6):702711.

Kushi M. (1987). The Book of Macrobiotics: The Universal Way of Health and Happiness. Tokyo: Japan Publications.

Internet Resources

Horowitz, J., and Tomita, M. (2002). "The Macrobiotic Diet as Treatment for Cancer: Review of the Evidence." The Permanente Journal 6(4). Available from <>

Kushi Institute. "What is macrobiotics?" Available from <>

macrobiotic diet

views updated May 29 2018

macrobiotic diet A system of eating associated with Zen Buddhism; consists of several stages finally reaching Diet 7 which is restricted to cereals. Cases of severe malnutrition have been reported on this ‘diet’. It involves the Chinese concept of yin (female) and yang (male) whereby foods, and even different vitamins (indeed, everything in life) are predominantly one or the other and must be balanced.