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The Macrobiotic Diet

What is it?

A macrobiotic diet isn’t some fad where you skip a few carbs and give up sugar.

What is it?

A macrobiotic diet isn't some fad where you skip a few carbs and give up sugar. A blend of Buddhism and Western practices, this "diet" is closer to a life makeover for both physical and zen-like mental harmony. The term was coined by Hippocrates—the founder of modern medicine—in ancient Greece. It means "long life." The macrobiotic diet and lifestyle were codified by George Ohsawa, a French-Japanese writer and thinker in the early 20th century.

The macrobiotic is primarily a vegetarian diet, with the occasional fish and seafood, which focuses on natural and organic foods. The majority of the plan comprises of whole grains (especially brown rice) and vegetables. Other regular components of the diet include beans, legumes, Miso soup, and sea vegetables.

True followers of the diet opt for fresh foods and stick to locally grown foods. Pairing flavors of foods follows a yin-and-yang assortment to achieve balance—the same way Eastern philosophies see similar balance in nature.

  • Yin foods: Considered "passive" foods, these are usually cold or sweet foods.
  • Yang foods: The "aggressive" of the two, Yang foods are salty or hot foods.

While macrobiotic diets have their ancient roots, some foods are allowed that wouldn't have been available to the ancient Greeks. Still, there are many foods that are still discouraged, including:

  • some animal products like dairy, eggs, red meat, and poultry
  • coffee
  • sugar
  • alcohol
  • hot spices
  • processed foods
  • certain vegetables, including:
    • asparagus
    • avocados
    • beets
    • eggplant
    • potatoes
    • peppers
    • spinach
    • tomatoes
    • zucchini

One major facet of the macrobiotic diet is how the food is prepared and eaten. Traditional cooking methods such as baking, broiling, and steaming are the main focuses. When eating, each bite is supposed to be thoroughly chewed to keep a person from eating too much too quickly, as well as making the food easier to digest.

The Promise

The Eastern philosophies of the macrobiotic diet support the idea of achieving a yin and yang-type balance from food. It is part of a larger lifestyle that accentuates spiritualism and balance in your life.

Pros & Cons

Nutritionally, the macrobiotic diet is rich in whole grains, lean proteins, and void of processed foods, sugars, and other unhealthy foods that are overly used in traditional Western diets. Whole grains and lean proteins, as well as seafood, are great alternatives to those who need to watch their cholesterol or are looking to improve their long-term health outlook.

In the long run, the diet will help reduce the risk of heart disease and certain types of cancers. (The diet is also believed by some to help prevent cancer from forming or slow its progression, but there is no empirical evidence to back up this belief.)

A diet consisting primarily of brown rice, beans, soup, and vegetables will rarely get anyone excited to eat, and this may be enough to turn some people off. However, those who are dedicated and believe in the Eastern philosophies of the diet will find greater satisfaction than just looking better in a bathing suit.

Importantly, the diet does not at all address the issue of exercise, one of the largest factors in weight loss.

Healthline Says

While the goal of physical and spiritual balance is laudable, it is extremely challenging for many people, especially those looking to shed weight quickly or incorporate changes into their lifestyle easily. The macrobiotic diet has an all-or-nothing approach, which makes it harder to commit to long-term. 

One of the best aspects of the macrobiotic diet is that it teaches approaching food differently—appreciating food as more than a means to continue living. It teaches the value of slow eating, an important technique to avoid over-indulgence and improve digestion.

A more plausible approach to this diet would be to slowly incorporate aspects of it into your daily life instead of shunning everything else at once. For example, you could start by replacing white rice with whole grain brown rice in your meal plans, or by throwing a juicy filet of salmon on the grill instead of a steak.

In essence, the fundamental aspects of a macrobiotic diet are excellent dietary and behavioral changes, but the plan may be too constrictive for most people's long-term use.

Content licensed from:

Written by: Brian Krans
Medically reviewed : Tara Gidus, MS, RD, CSSD, LD/N

This feature is for informational purposes only and should not be used to replace the care and information received from your health care provider. Please consult a health care professional with any health concerns you may have.
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