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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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