Guide to Macrobiotics

Macrobiotics is an approach to food and to life that gained popularity in the 1800s when a Japanese doctor named Sagen Ishizuka changed his diet to treat his own chronic illness that wasn't responding to conventional medicine. Building on the principles of Traditional Chinese Medicine, what he called his "food cure" proved so effective that he established a private practice in order to share what he'd learned.

Ishizuka's disciple, Yukikazu Sakurazawa, who later Americanized his name to George Oshawa, brought elements of Eastern and Western philosophy to the "food cure" and is credited with giving macrobiotics-which translates to "big life"-its name.

Principles of Macrobiotics
The guiding principles of macrobiotics are as follows:

  • Food is the foundation of health and good living.
  • All food has a yin or yang quality to it, determined by antagonistic and complementary components of the food.
  • Whole grains are the main staple food.
  • Food is best if it is whole, natural and unrefined.
  • Food is best if it is locally grown and eaten in season.

Living the macrobiotics lifestyle also advocates regular exercise, faith in the oneness of the universe and the positive effects that result from the guiding principles which emphasize respect for the world, the natural environment and all forms of life. As much as macrobiotics focuses on dietary guidelines, it also functions as a blueprint for positive, respectful living.

The Macrobiotic Diet
The macrobiotic diet promotes balance, moderation and eating local whole foods. Whole grains are emphasized above most other foods for their health benefits as well as their embodiment of the waste-nothing attitude (macrobiotics takes into account how food is prepared as well as its nutritional composition).

While it includes extensive lists of foods that are and are not permitted, the macrobiotic diet can be tailored to fit in an individual's needs. Geography also plays a role. You're encouraged to eat as many local products as possible and if certain items aren't native to your area, for example, it's recommended that you abstain from them. Macrobiotics also asks you to make food choices based on their yin and yang or energetic qualities to address any imbalances in the body that may contribute to illness.

A typical macrobiotic diet consists of the following foods:

  • About 50 to 60% of the diet should be whole grains (brown rice is most popular.)
  • About 25 to 30% of the diet should consist of vegetables.
  • About 5 to 10% of the diet should be made up of legumes and bean products (tofu).
  • About 5% of the diet should be miso soup.
  • The remainder of the diet is to be made up of fish, seafood, nuts, seasonings, seeds and nut butters, sweeteners, fruits, beverages and naturally raised animal products.

General Macrobiotic Guidelines
Macrobiotics prescribes a few general rules suitable for most people, like balancing the yin and yang qualities of food consumed and avoiding foods that are considered to be extremely yin or yang. No foods are strictly forbidden and many modern macrobiotic followers consider their diet as a foundation that allows them the occasional foray outside of the diet's guidelines without harmful effects.

Yin foods are those that stimulate the body and those that should be used sparingly include: sugar, alcohol, honey, coffee, chocolate, refined flour, excessively hot spices, chemicals and preservatives, and nightshade vegetables (such as tomatoes and potatoes) are examples of yin goods.

Yang foods are thought to be stagnating and those that should be consumed in limited quantities if at all are: meat, poultry, eggs and refined salt.

Macrobiotics discourages overeating and encourages active, thorough chewing of each bite of food before swallowing to aid proper digestion (30 is the recommended number of times to chew each bite). One theory is that too much food lowers energy levels. Some proponents of macrobiotics believe that the key to health is to always be slightly hungry while at the same time remaining active.

Other variables that influence how individuals tailor a macrobiotic diet to meet their needs may include cooking methods (microwaving is highly discouraged, as is cooking with an electric stove or oven), the time of year (eating lighter foods in warmer months and heavier foods in the colder months), age, gender, activity levels and general state of health.

Potential Risks of Macrobiotic Diet
Whenever we limit the kinds of food we eat, we risk not getting enough nutrients. People who follow a strict macrobiotics diet need to ensure they're taking in adequate amounts of protein, iron, calcium, Vitamin D and Vitamin C. For this reason, macrobiotics may be especially risky for children and women who are lactating or pregnant.

Still, some advocates of the macrobiotic diet claim that this way of life has provided them with higher levels of energy, better memories, sharper minds, improved fitness levels, greater resistance to illness and longer life expectancies. Some proponents of the macrobiotics go so far as to say this diet macrobiotic diet can prevent or even cure cancer, but several prominent figures in the macrobiotics movement have been diagnosed with and even died of cancer, so this claim is a topic of great debate.

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