Like most alternative therapies, the Macrobiotic Diet is in controversy. The American Medical Association openly opposes this diet. The allopathic medical community also issues warnings against it. Are there no redeeming nutritional factors in the macrobiotic diet?
The Macrobiotic Movement
The modern Macrobiotic Movement was initiated by a Japanese philosopher named George Ohsawa. As he was born weak with poor kidney function and skin problems, he joined a Japanese healing movement known as Shoku-yo Kai, so as to gain back his health. By following the natural food diet recommended by Sagen Ishizuka, a famous natural healer, Ohsawa was able to fully recover. In the 1920s, he introduced the Macrobiotic concept to the Europeans.
Later in the 1930s, after he left the Shoku-yo Kai association, he began to develop his concept further and also borrowed the term “macrobiotics” from Makrobiotik Oder Die Kunst, Das Menschliche Leben Zu Verlangern (1796), a book written by Christoph Wilhelm Hufeland, a renowned Prussian physician. In the late 1950s, Ohsawa triggered the Macrobiotic Movement in North America by training American followers. In the 1970s, former Beatle, John Lennon and his wife, Yoko Ono, embraced the Macrobiotic philosophy and pushed the popularity of this diet to a new height.
The Yin Yang Concept
Ohsawa’s Macrobiotic s approach is greatly influenced by the Chinese and Japanese philosophy of Yin and Yang theory. This theory suggests that all aspects of life are governed by two contrasting but harmonizing forces known as Yin and Yang. This theory is also prevalent in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). In order for the body to be healthy, the proponents of this theory believe that these two forces must be kept in a dynamic harmonizing balance. The Macrobiotic Diet is specially designed to include foods that have optimum levels of both forces. The way that Ohsawa and his followers identify the two forces in the foods is based on the food’s textures, tastes, quality and effects it would have on the body. By eliminating the “extreme” foods – those with either too much Yin or Yang – Ohsawa and his disciples believe that health would be enhanced.
The Macrobiotic Diet
Without going into the complex details of the reasons why the Macrobiotic proponents advocate certain food groups, we can clearly see the health benefit of the choice of foods in the Macrobiotic Diet.
This food group makes up to 50% to 60% of the Macrobiotic Diet. The reason for such high intake is the belief that grains like brown rice, oats, corns, whole wheat and barleys are the most balance in their Yin and Yang levels. Many studies in recent years have augmented the fact that eating whole grains instead of processed grains helps lower the risk of chronic diseases. Some of the primary benefits revealed by repeated studies include the following:
- heart disease reduced by 25% to 28%
- type 2 diabetes risk reduced by 21% to 30%
- stroke risk reduced by 30% to 36%
And above all, you get to lose all the excess fat.
Vegetables occupy 25% to 30% of the daily Macrobiotic Diet. Raw and cooked vegetables are a good source of dietary fiber, low in fat and calories, high in many vitamins and phytonutrients. Some of the vegetables that the Macrobiotic Diet recommends are collards, cabbage, bok choy (Chinese cabbage), kale, broccoli and turnips. Another plus factor of this diet is that it recommends to lightly steam or saute the vegetable with a tiny amount of unrefined sesame or corn oil. This way of cooking is excellent because most of the nutrients, enzymes and vitamins would be retained.
Beans & Sea Vegetables
Beans like adzuki beans, chickpeas, lentils and soy tofu are inexpensive and wholesome protein substitute for the more expensive meats. As Japanese, Ohsawa inevitably included sea vegetables in his Macrobiotic Diet. Seaweeds like Arame, Wakame, Hijiki, Kombo and Nori have almost all the minerals we require, including magnesium, potassium, iodine, iron, zinc, sodium, calcium and many trace elements. Beans and sea vegetables make 5% to 10% of the Macrobiotic Diet.
Soups & Broths
Once again, the Japanese influence is evident because these items comprise another 5% to 10% of the daily diet. When the Macrobiotic Diet refers to soup, it usually means Miso soup. Miso is made from fermented and aged soybeans. With 11 times more protein than cow milk, it has been part of the Japanese staple foods for thousands of years. The living enzymes help our digestive system while its rich nutrients replenish our strength. Apart from Miso soup, practitioners have since contextualized and started to take western-style soup without adding the dairy cream. In South East Asia, some even consume the Thai-style spicy soup known as Tom Yam Kung (yummy this one! I liiiike!)
The Macrobiotic Diet has become popular with people in the wellness movement. There are reports and testimonies of medical conditions dramatically improved after going on this diet. Even though there are health benefits from the food groups that Macrobiotic Diet recommends but it is best practiced in moderation. Medical and health professionals have recommended restraint in adopting the Macrobiotic Diet. Dr Richard A Kunin MD, wrote in Meganutrition, “My own observations confirm that extremely dangerous under nutrition can accompany a prolonged and overzealous adherence to the Macrobiotic Diet.” A strict diet may not provide enough vitamin B12, vitamin D, calcium and iron. Therefore the extreme version of this diet would not be suitable for growing children, pregnant or lactating ladies.
Till today, there is no substantiated evidence to the claims the Macrobiotic Diet can help cure cancers and other serious diseases. The American Cancer Society has issued a statement stating that is “has found no evidence that Macrobiotic Diet is useful as a cure for cancer in humans”. Therefore, individuals, with acute medical conditions, should not have any dietary changes without first checking with their doctors.