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The Macrobiotic Diet

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The modern practice of macrobiotics began in the 1920s by a Japanese educator named George Ohsawa. Supposedly, Ohsawa cured himself of a serious illness by changing to a simple diet of brown rice, miso soup, and sea vegetables. At the core of Ohsawa's writings on macrobiotics is the concept of yin and yang.

What is Yin and Yang?

The concept of yin and yang originates in ancient Chinese philosophy and metaphysics, which describes two primal opposing but complementary forces found in all things in the universe. Yin, the darker element, is passive, dark, feminine, downward-seeking, and corresponds to the night; yang, the brighter element, is active, light, masculine, upward-seeking and corresponds to the day. Yin is often symbolized by water, while yang is symbolized by fire.

Other elements of yin and yang:

  1. Yin is said to be cold; yang hot
  2. Yin is said to be sweet; yang salty
  3. Yin is said to be passive; yang agressive

To those who believe in the macrobiotic practices, the forces of yin and yang have to be kept in balance in order to maintain good health. Basically, this means that the macrobiotic diet attempts to achieve harmony between yin and yang. Foods are classified into yin and yang categories, according to their tastes, properties, and effects on the body.

Grains and vegetables are thought to have the least pronounced yin and yang qualities so they are emphasized in the macrobiotic diet. Any foods considered either extremely yin or extremely yang are to be avoided.

Standard macrobiotic diet recommendations:

Whole Grains Fifty to sixty percent of your daily diet should consist of whole grains including brown rice, barley, millet, oats, corn, rye, whole wheat, and buckwheat. You may eat small portions of pasta and bread made from refined flour.

Fresh vegetables comprise 25 to 30 percent of a person's daily food intake.

Daily consumption of any of the following vegetables is highly recommended: cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, kale and collards, bok choy, mustard greens, turnips, turnip greens, onion, daikon radish, acorn squash, butternut squash, and pumpkin.

Eat vegetables two to three times per week. Approved vegetables include celery, iceberg lettuce, mushrooms, snow peas, and string beans.

Five to ten percent of your daily food intake should consist of beans (adzuki, chickpea, or garbanzo beans, lentils, tofu) and sea vegetables (wakame, hijiki, kombu, nori).

A few servings each week of nuts, seeds, and fresh water fish (halibut, flounder, cod, or sole).

For sweeteners, you use brown rice syrup, barley malt, and amasake (a sweet rice drink). On occasion you may use brown rice vinegar and umeboshi plum vinegar.

To flavor grains and soups, use naturally processed sea salt and tamari soy sauce.

Beverages should only be consumed when you feel thirsty. Teas made from roasted grains, dandelion greens, or the cooking water of soba noodles are acceptable. Avoid tea with aromatic fragrances or caffeine.

What are the Extreme Yin and Yang Foods?

All animal foods, including eggs and dairy products, are believed to have a strong yang quality.

Extremely yin foods and beverages include refined sugars, chocolate, tropical fruits, soda, fruit juice, coffee, and hot spices.

Person cooking healthy food In addition to the above factors of the macrobiotic diet, one is told to:

  • Avoid all foods that are processed with artificial colors, flavors or preservatives
  • Lightly steam or saute vegetables with a small amount of sesame or corn oil
  • Purify all drinking and cooking water
  • Avoid any foods that are not organically grown
  • Produce should always be fresh and locally grown.
  • Avoid using a microwave to prepare foods.
  • Rice should always be cooked in a pressure cooker
  • You should eat only when you feel hungry.
  • You must chew your food carefully and completely
  • You must eat in an orderly and relaxed fashion while maintaining good posture
  • Your home should be kept in good order at all times, especially where you prepare your food

Who Follows the Macrobiotic Diet?

Health minded individuals who prefer a holistic approach to their physical well-being are usually attracted to this type of diet. They also tend to have an avid interest in their spiritual well-being. Due to the fact that Mr. Ohsawa felt this diet cured his illness, many feel it will cure thier illness, as well. Illnesses thought to be improved by the macrobiotic diet include cancer and AIDS. It is important to note, however, that these claims are not substantiated by research.

However, the macrobiotic diet does consist of many of the dietary elements that are currently linked to a reduced risk of cancer and heart disease. The diet is low in fat, high in fiber, and rich in cruciferous vegetables and soy products.

Nutrition Experts on the Macrobiotic Diet
Nutrition experts are wary of the macrobiotic diet due to the limited number of foods allowed. Most experts do agree that a moderate approach to macrobiotics poses no real harm. It is important to note that strict macrobiotic diets can be deficient in calories, vitamin B12, vitamin D, calcium, and iron.

Until there is conclusive research regarding the health benefits of the macrobiotic diet, people with serious medical conditions should continue to seek the support of their physician in addition to any dietary changes they embark upon.

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