balanced diet

Macrobiotic diet

A macrobiotic diet (or macrobiotics), from the Greek "macro" (large, long) and "bios" (life), is a dietary regimen that involves eating grains as a staple food supplemented with other foodstuffs such as vegetables and beans, and avoiding the use of highly processed or refined foods. Macrobiotics also address the manner of eating, by recommending against overeating, and requiring that food be chewed thoroughly before swallowing.


The earliest recorded use of the term macrobiotics is found in the writing of Hippocrates, the father of Western Medicine. In his essay 'Airs, Waters, and Places', Hippocrates introduced the word to describe people who were healthy and long-lived. Herodotus, Aristotle, Galen, and other classical writers used the term macrobiotics to describe a lifestyle, including a simple balanced diet, that promoted health and longevity.

According to Macrobiotic proponents, the Macrobiotic methodology was utilized by many of the long-lived traditional cultures, such as the Incas, the Chinese in the Han Dynasty, etc. George Ohsawa drew from Oriental and Japanese folk medicine to create his version of this traditional philosophy of health.

George Ohsawa brought his teaching to Europe from Japan. Ohsawa was a Japanese philosopher, who was inspired to formalize macrobiotics by the teachings of Kaibara Ekiken, Andou Shōeki, Mizuno Namboku, and Sagen Ishizuka and his disciples Nishibata Manabu and Shojiro Goto.

Ohsawa took his macrobiotic teachings to North America in the late 1950s. Macrobiotic education was spread in the United States by his students Herman Aihara, Cornelia Aihara, Michio Kushi and Aveline Kushi, and in turn by their students. Michio Kushi has been the most prominent of these teachers.

Ohsawa coined the term for a natural way of living, macrobiotics, in the late 1950s. Macrobiotics, from the ancient Greek language, means the way of longevity. This term has been used by many authors in describing longevity teachings from the Far East.

"Whole foods, such as brown rice, are central to a macrobiotic diet, and many of the first customers and owners of the alternative food stores were students of macrobiotics. In the 20th century, influential teachers emerged, such as the Kushis (who immigrated to the United States from Japan after World War II), who distilled the wide-ranging ideas and interpreted them for modern, urban, and industrialized life.


Followers of the macrobiotic approach believe that food and food quality powerfully affect health, well-being, and happiness, and that a macrobiotic diet has more beneficial effects than others. The macrobiotic approach suggests choosing food that is less processed.

One goal of macrobiotics is to become sensitive to the actual effects of foods on health and well-being, rather than to follow dietary rules and regulations. Dietary guidelines, however, help in developing sensitivity and an intuitive sense for what sustains health and well-being.

Macrobiotics emphasizes locally grown whole grain cereals, pulses (legumes), vegetables, seaweed, fermented soy products and fruit, combined into meals according to the principle of balance (known as yin and yang). Whole grains and whole-grain products such as brown rice and buckwheat pasta (soba), a variety of cooked and raw vegetables, beans and bean products, mild natural seasonings, fish, nuts and seeds, mild (non-stimulating) beverages such as bancha twig tea and fruit are recommended.

Nightshade vegetables, including tomatoes, peppers, potatoes, eggplant; also spinach, beets and avocados are not recommended, or used sparingly at most, in macrobiotic cooking, as they are considered extremely yin. Some macrobiotic practitioners also discourage the use of nightshades due to the alkaloid solanine, thought to affect calcium balance.


Macrobiotics is considered an approach to life rather than a diet. Some general guidelines for the diet are the following (it is also said that a macrobiotic diet varies greatly depending on geographical and life circumstances):

  • Well chewed whole cereal grains, especially brown rice: 25-30%
  • Vegetables: 30-40%
  • Beans and legumes: 5-10 %
  • Miso soup: 5%
  • Traditionally or naturally processed foods: 5-10%

The remainder is composed of fish and seafood, seeds and nuts, seed and nut butters, seasonings, sweeteners, fruits, and beverages. Other naturally raised animal products may be included if needed during dietary transition or according to individual needs.

Cooking according to the time of the year

In spring:

  • food with a lighter quality
  • wild plants, germs, lightly fermented food, grain species, fresh greens
  • light cooking style: steaming, cooking for a short time, etc.

In summer:

  • food with lighter quality
  • large-leaved greens, sweet corn, fruit, summer pumpkins
  • light cooking style: steaming, quick cooking, etc.
  • More raw foods
  • lighter grains, such as barley, bulghur, and couscous

In autumn:

  • food with more concentrated quality
  • root vegetables, (winter) pumpkins, beans, cereals, etc.
  • heavier grains such as sweet rice, mochi and millet

In winter:

  • food with a stronger, more concentrated quality
  • round vegetables, pickles, root vegetables, etc.
  • more miso, shoyu, oil, and salt
  • heavier grains such as millet, buckwheat, fried rice, etc.

Yin and yang content of foods

Macrobiotic eating follows the principle of balance (called balancing yin and yang in China).

Macrobiotics holds that some foods are overstimulating and can exhaust the body and mind. These are classified as extreme YIN (stimulating) in their effects:

  • Sugar
  • Alcohol
  • Honey
  • Coffee
  • Chocolate
  • Refined flour products
  • Very hot spices
  • Drugs
  • Chemicals and preservatives
  • Commercial milk, yogurt and soft cheeses
  • Poor quality vegetable oils

Foods that are considered to be concentrated, heavy and dense create stagnation. These have YANG (strengthening, but stagnating effects if over-consumed).

  • Poultry
  • Meat
  • Eggs
  • Refined salt

Foods that create balance are whole grains, vegetables, beans, sea vegetables, fruit, nuts, and seeds. Foods such as these are used in a macrobiotic way of eating.

The above implies that macrobiotics encourages the use of foodstuffs which are themselves balanced, rather than balancing the intake so that the amount of yin and of yang foods balances out.

Other factors

The composition of dishes and the choices of foods is adjusted according to

  • the season
  • the climate
  • activity
  • gender
  • age
  • health condition
  • transition in one's diet

and any other personal considerations.

Japanese popularity and influence

The macrobiotic way of eating is erroneously thought to be Japanese. According to macrobiotic advocates, a majority of the world population in the past ate a diet based primarily on grains, vegetables, and other plants. Because macrobiotics is popular in Japan, and many of its popular teachers are Japanese, Japanese foods that are beneficial for health are incorporated by most modern macrobiotic eaters. Some macrobiotic ingredients are also standard ingredients in Japanese cuisine.

There is also a Chinese form of macrobiotics called the Chang Ming or Long Life diet which is very similar to the Japanese system but based upon the principles of Traditional Chinese Medicine.

Macrobiotics vs. veganism

A macrobiotic diet includes many of the same foods as vegan diets, but in macrobiotics certain animal foods are suggested. The two dietary styles share enough similarities that a vegan version of macrobiotics is not uncommon. Macrobiotics is based on traditional ways of eating. While there are no completely vegan cultures that are long-lived, the longest-lived cultures around the world consume between 70% and 99% whole plant foods. John Robbins, a well-known vegan advocate, pointed this out in his recent book, Healthy at 100. The American Dietetic Association approves of carefully-planned vegan diets. In the words of the Association, "Well-planned vegan and other types of vegetarian diets are appropriate for all stages of the life cycle, including during pregnancy, lactation, infancy, childhood, and adolescence.... It is the position of the American Dietetic Association and Dietitians of Canada that appropriately planned vegetarian diets are healthful, nutritionally adequate, and provide health benefits in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases.

Macrobiotics and cancer

Macrobiotics has long been advocated by some as a preventative and cure for cancer. Michio Kushi's book "The Cancer Prevention Diet" outlines the fundamental philosophy for the diet and cancer prevention. There is evidence that a diet high in whole grains and vegetables and possibly low in saturated fat, red meat, and preserved meat products can help to prevent many types of cancer. A study at the University of Tulane conducted by James P. Carter and others reported significant improvement in cancer patient longevity (177 months compared to 91 months) when patients practiced the macrobiotic diet, although an analysis of "Complementary and Alternative Medical Therapies for Cancer" stated about this paper "Scientific evidence on the potential benefits of macrobiotic diets for patients with cancer is limited to two retrospective studies with serious methodologic flaws". Despite anecdotal reports to the contrary reported in "Unconventional Cancer Treatments medical professionals do not consider that there is evidence that a macrobiotic diet is useful as a cure for cancer. The American Cancer Society strongly urges people with cancer not to use a dietary program as an exclusive or primary means of treatment; and many long-term practitioners of the diet, including Michio Kushi's wife Aveline and daughter Lilly, died of cancer. Michio Kushi himself developed cancer and had a tumour removed surgically from his intestines, although he now appears to be well. Macrobiotic teacher Cecile Levin, and Anthony J. Sattilaro, author of Recalled by Life, also died of cancer.

Kushi's methods of diagnosis include pulse diagnosis, visual diagnosis, meridian diagnosis, voice diagnosis, astrological diagnosis, parental and ancestral diagnosis, aura and vibrational diagnosis, consciousness and thought diagnosis, and spiritual diagnosis. Some cancer sufferers, especially in the United States, follow the macrobiotic diet, believing that it will cure or help their disease. Many others turn to macrobiotics in the belief that it will strengthen their physical and mental well-being and quality of life, combining macrobiotic practices with Western and Eastern medicine.



According to the Standard American Diet, those following an alternative diet regimen should consider the following information. Detailed information on the nutrients provided by a very large range of foodstuffs is available in the USDA National Nutrient Database

The following nutrients should be monitored especially in children, due to their importance in facilitating growth and function: calcium, protein, iron, zinc, vitamin D, vitamin B12, riboflavin, vitamin A, omega-3 fatty acids and energy.All are available in properly planned macrobiotic diets.

Humans synthesise vitamin D with adequate exposure to sunlight. Calcium is available from hard leafy greens, nuts and seeds. Zinc is available from nuts and seeds. Fish provides vitamin B12 in a macrobiotic diet, but bioavailable B12 analogues have not been established in any natural plant food, including sea vegetables, soya, fermented products, and algae Although plant-derived foods do not naturally contain B12, some are fortified during processing with added B12 and other nutrients. Vitamin A, in the form of beta-carotene, is abundant in macrobiotic diets. Adequate protein is available from grains, nuts, seeds, beans, and bean products. Sources of Omega-3 fatty acids are discussed in the relevant article, and include soy products, walnuts, pumpkin seeds, flax seeds and fatty fish. Riboflavin along with most other B vitamins are abundant in whole grains. Iron in the form of non-heme iron in beans, sea vegetables and leafy greens is sufficient for good health; detailed information is in the USDA database .

In 1967 the Journal of the American Medical Association published a detailed report of a case of scurvy and malnutrition induced by strict adherence to a restrictive macrobiotic regimen. In 1971 the AMA Council on Foods and Nutrition said that followers of the diet, particularly the strictest, stood in "great danger" of malnutrition [JAMA 218:397, 1971].

Smoking and Tobacco

Leaders of macrobiotics like Michio Kushi and George Ohsawa smoked cigarettes and encouraged the use of tobacco, claiming that the practice was not harmful, and could in fact be a valuable treatment for various lung ailments.

The Kushi Institute of Europe Encyclopedia web page states:

Michio Kushi asserts that dairy food and other fatty, mucous-producing, and sticky foods are the primary cause of lung cancer and other smoke-related problems, trapping tar and other tobacco particulates in the lungs and other organs
Many contemporary people who practice macrobiotics are critical of smoking. Some now claim that tobacco should be avoided because, like tomatoes, potatoes, and eggplants, it is a variety of nightshade. Even so, Kushi's son Phiya Kushi, had the following to say in on the occasions of Kushi's operation for colon surgery in 2004:

...I would like to mention publicly, having obtained Michio's permission, that in spite of years of his smoking, a fact well-known to many, recent x-rays of Michio's lungs were surprisingly clean, like that of a twenty year old (remarked his physician). This is not meant to be validation of cigarette smoking, but rather an invitation to question, in the spirit of non-credo, "proven" or "predictable" scientific facts (what system logic do you use as evidence?). Furthermore, the Caraka Samhita, ancient text from India's "Father Of Medicine" recommends smoking as curative measure for various symptoms. Again, this is not meant to be in defense of Michio's word's, cigarette smoking or an invalidation of "proven" facts of the "dangers" of smoking or corn oil or whatever the item may be but rather an invitation to be open minded about all possibilties, no matter how improbable or outlandish.

Cookbooks and resources


See also

Search another word or see balanced dieton Dictionary | Thesaurus |Spanish
Copyright © 2015, LLC. All rights reserved.
  • Please Login or Sign Up to use the Recent Searches feature