Macrobiotic Diet: Benefits, Cons, Food Lists, and More

by Marixie Ann Obsioma, MT, undergrad MD on July 6, 2022
Last updated on July 14, 2022

What is a Macrobiotic Diet

Macrobiotics is a lifestyle that aims to maintain balance and harmony.

Macrobiotic Diet: Benefits, Cons, Food Lists, and More

The macrobiotic diet has been here a while. While certainly not one of the more popular options for a diet, it certainly has a following and people swear by its medical and health benefits. It positions itself as not just a diet but an entire lifestyle. Unfortunately, there have been limited actual scientific studies with regards to how the diet that Macrobiotics espouses will affect one’s health.

Instead of just focusing on how to lose weight, a Macrobiotic diet does not only focus on achieving a balanced, healthy lifestyle, it also focuses on being discerning with our consumption and prioritizing the balanced and slower consumption of food and resources.

A lifestyle focused on eventually achieving balance in your life. Men, women, and even children who participate in this lifestyle are not only encouraged to apply themselves in their diets but also to strengthen and maintain their positive mental outlook. Users are encouraged to eat regularly, chew their food consciously, stay active and maintain a positive mental attitude.

It has been studied and shown to have some health benefits Although scientific research for some of the health benefits that the macrobiotic diet claims to offer is limited, initial research shows that following this macrobiotic diet might provide numerous health benefits. However, some of the health benefits you’ll get from this diet include the Prevention And Treatment Of Diabetes. In a 2014 report, researchers investigated the findings of 21-day-long studies.

The researchers found that adopting the macrobiotic diet helped reduce risks of cardiovascular disease and improved control of blood sugar in adults living with diabetes.(1)

Furthermore, a study conducted in 2015 showed that this diet might help minimize levels of some markers of inflammation and insulin (two significant factors in the progression and development of diabetes. (2) Also, it might help aid weight loss. It has been associated with decreasing cancer risk Research shows that consuming the macrobiotic diet might help to decrease the risks of certain types of cancers. Nonetheless, no long-term clinical trials have been undertaken to determine this relationship.(3)

Furthermore, lifestyle factors like eating processed foods, avoiding smoking, reducing stress, getting regular exercise, and eating red meat also play a significant role in the reduction of cancer in some people.(4)

History

There are claims that Macrobiotics may have started as early as 4th century BC in Ancient Greece. It was first published in 1795, when a famous Prussian physician named Dr. Christoph Wilhelm Hufeland, published a book titled, “”Macrobiotics: The Art of Prolonging Life. It focused on a diet of natural and vegetarian foods.

Its current form was mainly popularized by a Japanese man named George Ohsawa, who was struggling with a bout of tuberculosis. He had heard of Dr. Sagan Ishizuka’s ideas of a simple, natural diet to help people recover their health. His focus was on the use of unrefined whole natural foods, grains as the key component of the diet, and locally sourced fresh foods eaten in season. He combined Ishizuka’s ideas with his own personal understanding of ancient Chinese philosophy. He attributes his remarkable recovery to this unlikely combination.

Following his recovery, Ohsawa dedicated his life to sharing his experience of health and freedom with anyone. Emphasizing the need for vitality, a good appetite for food and for life, deep sleep, good memory, harmonious emotions, and a sense of justice and gratitude.  He used the term “macrobiotics” to describe this way of health.

Together with his wife Lima, they went on to inspire and teach students in Japan and in Europe. Their students, in turn, brought it with them and started teaching it as well. They pioneered the whole foods and organic movements as well as proliferating organic farming methods and the use of organic foods in restaurants and businesses. They also introduced health practices such as Shiatsu and Do-in to mainstream audiences.

In a world that has grown increasingly more complex and globalized, macrobiotic teaching of a simple and natural way of life allows us strong grounding principles and practices to stay healthy and focused. (5)

Macrobiotic Diet Basics and Principles

There are some Facets of a Macrobiotic Diet that extend not only to diet but to lifestyle as well. A key part of the macrobiotic lifestyle is exercise. Other exercises that fit well with the philosophy and ideology of macrobiotics are the following: Swimming, running, pilates, tennis, tai chi, Do-in, yoga, and tennis.

A Macrobiotic diet is not just a diet but an approach to health and food in general.

Taken directly from Ohsawa’s writings and teachings, Macrobiotics intends to teach and cultivate an appreciation for individual and world health, social, and environmental consciousness, and fulfilling life The proponent of Macrobiotics point toward seven conditions of health.

  1. Vitality
  2. Good appetite for natural food and life
  3. Deep refreshing sleep
  4. Good memory
  5. Cheerful pleasant outlook
  6. Clear thought and action
  7. Honesty and appreciation

We can call this the Macrobiotic approach which involves, self-reflection, self-empowerment, consciousness, and conscientiousness consumption of resources about food selection, focusing on natural preparation and cooking techniques as well as methods of preservation. (6)

In a practical sense, Macrobiotics also offers the following advice.

The diet portion of the lifestyle focuses on prioritizing whole grains, vegetables, and beans as the primary food choices. A majority of the diet consists of eating organically grown whole grains such as brown rice, barley, oats, and corn supplemented by preferably locally grown vegetables and lastly by beans and bean products such as tofu and miso and sea vegetables like seaweed and nori.

Vegetables typically contain about 25% to 30% of the recommended daily intake in this diet, and about a third of your vegetable intake should be raw. Else, the vegetables should be sautéed, baked, boiled, or steamed. Some proponents of the macrobiotic diet recommend avoiding zucchini, beets, spinach, peppers, eggplant, tomatoes, and potatoes, even though they aren’t strictly disallowed.

Focus on eating whole, organic grains – they should make up about 50% of your daily food intake: these wild rice, quinoa, brown rice, buckwheat, and bulgur wheat. Choose whole cereal grains instead of bread and whole-grain pasta. Furthermore, some flour-based products such as bread and pasta might be consumed occasionally as part of the macrobiotic diet.

It’s recommended that you eat vegetables that are in season and grown locally – these should make up about one-third of the RDA. Veggies you can eat every day include green cabbage, parsley, carrots, radishes, onion, bok Choy, pumpkin, broccoli, cauliflower, and kale.

Besides 1/3 of vegetables, other foods you should eat while on this diet include vegetable oil, sea vegetables (seaweed), soy products (miso), beans, and pickles.

Food preparation methods, including sautéing and steaming, are highly recommended.

Soup is made from ingredients such as soy products (miso and tofu), sea salt, seaweed, lentils, and vegetables.

Besides high-quality, well water or spring water, the macrobiotic diet allows dandelion root tea, roasted barley tea, roasted brown rice tea, steam tea, and kukicha twig are your primary options for flavored drinking beverages.

Foods such as lettuce, celery, cucumbers, nuts, seeds, organic berries, and tree fruit should be eaten occasionally.

Foods that are discouraged are dairy, eggs, poultry, any processed foods, refined sugars, meats, tropical fruits, and certain vegetables such as asparagus, eggplant, tomatoes, zucchini, and spinach. Spicy food and alcoholic beverages are generally frowned upon. Soda and coffee are other beverages that dieters are discouraged from consuming. Eat meat, poultry, eggs, dairy, seafood, and fish rarely, a few times a month. Fresh fish and seafood, locally grown fruit, and nuts are also considered okay to eat and part of the diet although to a lesser degree.

You should eat in a focused, thoughtful, and slow manner free from distractions, such as the television. You should only eat food to satisfy hunger, and you should chew it many times until it’s nearly liquefied. You should drink water or other beverages, such as dandelion root tea, brown rice tea, and cereal grain coffee, only to satisfy your thirst.

It is believed that the diet can assist in the prevention and treatment of cancer. Given that there are no official scientific studies on the study, the American Cancer Society still maintains that researchers believe that a plant-based, low-fat high-fiber diet can lower the risk of heart disease and some types of cancer. (7)

Here’s a quick reference for that:

1. Whole Grains

  • Regular Use: Barley, brown rice (short and medium grain), buckwheat, corn, millet, oats, rye, wheat, and other whole cereal grains.
  • Occasional Use: Buckwheat noodles (soba), brown rice (long grain), bulgur, corn grits, cornmeal, puffed wheat, rice cakes, tortillas, whole wheat crackers, and whole wheat pasta.
  • To be Avoided: Anything made with yeast, baked goods that have dairy products, refined cereals, white flour products.

2. Veggies

  • Regular Use: Acorn squash, bok choy, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, butternut squash, carrots, cauliflower, chives, dandelion roots and greens, green and Chinese cabbage, kale, leeks, parsley, parsnips, pumpkin, radishes, rutabagas, scallions, turnips, and watercress.
  • Occasional Use: Alfalfa sprouts, beets, celery, corn on the cob, cucumber, iceberg lettuce, mushrooms, romaine lettuce, shiitake mushrooms, snow peas, string beans, summer squash, Swiss chard, and water chestnuts.
  • To be Avoided: Asparagus, avocado, eggplant, fennel, green peppers, plantains, potatoes, red peppers, spinach, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, yams, and zucchini.

3. Sea Veggies

  • Regular Use: Agar-agar, arame, dulse, Irish moss, kelp, kombu, nori, and wakame.

4. Beans and Bean Products

  • Regular Use: Aduki beans, chickpeas, green or brown lentils, miso, natto, natural tamari soy sauce, tempeh, and tofu.
  • Occasional Use: Bean sprouts, black beans, great northern beans, kidney beans, lima beans, navy beans, pinto beans, red lentils, soybeans, and split peas.

5. Fresh Fish and Seafood

  • Regular Use: Flounder, haddock, halibut, herring, smelt, sole, and trout.
  • Occasional Use: Carp, clams, cod, red snapper, scrod, shrimp, and oysters.
  • To be Avoided: Bluefish, mackerel, salmon, swordfish, and tuna.

6. Fresh and Dried Fruits

  • Occasional Use: Temperate climate fruits.
  • To be Avoided: Tropical fruits and juices.

7. Snacks

  • Occasional Use: Almonds, chestnuts, homemade popcorn, peanuts, pecans, pumpkin seeds, rice cakes, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, and walnuts.
  • To be Avoided: Brazil nuts, cashew nuts, filberts, macadamia nuts, and pistachios.

8. Drinks

  • Regular Use: Amaske, bancha tea, roasted barley tea, roasted rice tea, and spring or well water.
  • Occasional Use: Dandelion tea, grain coffee, kombu tea, and mu tea.
  • Less Frequent Use: Apple juice or cider, barley green tea, fruit juice (temperate climate fruits), green tea, naturally fermented beer, sake, seed or nut milk, and veggie juice.
  • To be Avoided: Alcohol, black tea, coffee, commercial beers, decaffeinated coffee, distilled water, herb teas, juice drinks, municipal or tap water, soft drinks, and wine.

Pros and Cons of the Macrobiotic Diet

The macrobiotic diet is designed to be safe and work for almost everyone. A few precautions must still be taken though. Take issues like allergies seriously. Remove allergens and make it a point to replace or find alternate sources for nutrients lost through customization. There are other concerns with the macrobiotic diet which we will explore further.

The macrobiotic diet is well-rounded and lets people enjoy a wide range of food. It shies away from issues common with a strict diet that confine you into a schedule and menu. With the macrobiotic diet, eating healthy doesn’t have to feel like a load of work and miserable. So what are the benefits of the macrobiotic diet?

Pros

  • Its very easy to start and maintain the macrobiotic diet. The diet was designed to be easy to follow. You might not see immediate effects, it is after all not as drastic as other diets. You’ll find good, long-term improvements within months of sticking to the diet. Stick to the diet long enough and you’ll find extremely lower chances of cholesterol and other markers for heart ailments.
  • Recent studies have also shown that the macrobiotic diet also can help the body fight off any chronic disease as well as delay aging. Its no surprise a balanced
  • Macrobiotic diet does not rely on massive restrictions or sudden lifestyle changes. It takes a more holistic viewpoint, the bigger picture if you will, and anyone can start at any point in their lives. Balance in, balance out; or a healthy overall lifestyle from a combination of healthy eating as well as an active lifestyle, down to small actions like consuming enough water, eating at a more leisurely pace, and being more attentive to the nutritional content of what we eat. These small actions sustained over a long time will surely help you maintain the diet for a long time. If you dedicate yourself to the diet, you’ll find yourself adapting to it instinctively. you‘ll find no difficulty in limiting salt, sugars, and processed food.
  • Unlike straight-up veganism, you can still occasionally eat animal products

Cons

  • Some may find this diet to be too restrictive.
  • Many of the approved foods are high in salt.
  • The diet is lacking in certain nutrients.
  • Despite its potential benefits, macrobiotic eating isn’t right for everyone. If you love spicy food or can’t live without that first cup of coffee or occasional margarita, you might find the macrobiotic diet too restrictive. It’s also top-heavy in foods that are high in salt. This generally isn’t ideal for those with high blood pressure or kidney disease.
  • For some people, macrobiotic eating causes too high a reduction in body fat. Because the diet is low in animal fat, fruit, and dairy, it is criticized for not having enough protein, iron, magnesium, calcium, and vitamins, including B-12.
  • People who adhere stringently to macrobiotic eating often frown upon taking multivitamins to supplement this loss of nutrients.
  • Macrobiotics isn’t recommended as a substitute for medical care or traditional therapy for anyone dealing with a diagnosis, such as heart disease, diabetes, or cancer.

Frequently Asked Questions

How Much Does the Macrobiotic Diet Cost?

Buying enough whole grains and produce as required when following the macrobiotic diet can be affordable, the bulk of food consumed in macrobiotic diets are considered staples and relatively purchased for cheap in bulk or at retail rates.

However, since no animal products are involved except seafood, bypassing the butcher will also keep the prices lower and more reasonable. Furthermore, bean products and whole beans are some of the most affordable food choices you’ll ever find out there.

So, overall, most macrobiotic diets shouldn’t make you break the bank. When it comes to fresh produce and vegetables, you can save on costs by getting your products from the farmer’s market.

What Foods to Avoid?

Following are some of the foods and products that are strictly prohibited while following this diet.

Beverages: However, sweetened drinks, caffeinated drinks, and alcohol aren’t recommended.

Artificial sweeteners and sugars do not have a place in the Macrobiotic diet. Naturally sweet foods like dried fruit, adzuki beans, squash, and apples make great macrobiotic diet desserts. Nonetheless, you should avoid carob, chocolate, molasses, honey, and sugar. Instead, try amazake, barley malt, and rice syrup.

How Quickly Will I See Results?

As soon as you begin to properly nurture your body it responds with a more positive state of health. Your overall health is greatly determined by the quality of your blood, which, in turn, is largely determined by the quality of the food you eat. The food is converted into blood-blood which is the “organ” of nourishment and regulation of the functions of the organs and tissues of the body.

As the quality of your blood improves, your health improves. It normally takes ten days for the plasma to recycle, so improvements begin to be noticeable after ten days. It takes 30 days for the white blood cells to renew, so immune function begins to improve after a month. It takes 120 days for the red blood cells to be renewed, so it is only then that true healing can begin.

References

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