Whether in the interest of losing weight, living longer or the pursuit of a disease-free life, the macrobiotic diet has been making all the right noises since the time it was first introduced to the world in the 1920s, by a Japanese educator named George Ohsawa. The diet draws on principles rooted in Zen Buddhism, namely balancing yin and yang. “Ohsawa tried the diet himself and believed that it was responsible for curing his tuberculosis. He also claimed that it improved his energy levels and health, and made him more resistant to illness, thereby promoting longevity,” explains nutritionist Kajal Bhathena. She adds that the term macrobiotic is derived from the Greek words ‘macro’, which means long or large, and ‘bios’ meaning life.
A DIFFERENT WAY OF LIFE
On my podcast, Melanie Waxman, an expert in natural health and nutritional awareness at the Sha Wellness Clinic in Spain, who has spent four decades studying macrobiotics, explains that the basis of the macrobiotic diet lies in living in harmony and having gratitude for the natural world. “It’s about the connections that we have with nature. In order to really strengthen our immunity and our health, we must reconnect not only to the natural world but to each other, and to other sentient beings. The diet itself uses foods that come straight from the earth rather than those that are processed in factories. Eating more plant based foods helps to regulate the appetite. And the body works best when relaxed and when we have a more plant-based diet,” she says.
The diet focuses on three aspects: eating slowly, eating regular meals, and the quality of food one consumes. Waxman says, “What we don’t realise is that eating quickly is a stressor. When we slow down and enjoy the meal, the body is able to absorb nutrients more efficiently and can thus function more efficiently. As we eat, the brain is working to ensure that our bodies are receiving all the nutrients we need. When we eat fast, the brain doesn’t register what we’ve eaten and signals us to eat more. Eating fast can also make you feel more tired or relaxed, and can create more bloating and gas. Slowing down can help us to improve the efficiency of the digesting experience.”
THE RIGHT BALANCE
The macrobiotic diet must comprise the following food groups in specific proportions:
- Well-chewed, whole cereal grains such as brown rice: 40–60%
- Vegetables: 25–30%
- Beans and legumes: 5–10%
- Miso soup: 5%
- Sea vegetables: 5%
- Traditionally or naturally processed foods: 5–10%
Further, fish and seafood, seeds and nuts, seed and nut butters, seasonings, sweeteners, fruits, and beverages can be consumed two or three times a week. Other naturally-raised animal products can also be included according to individual needs, Bhathena explains. “The reason for miso comprising such a significant part of the diet is because it contains protein, Omega 3 fatty acids, living enzymes, and minerals and vitamins. So it’s very complete.
Miso is also fermented, typically for up to three years, which helps our gut bacteria, and our circulatory systems. Other fermented foods such as kimchi, sauerkraut melon rind pickles, and umeboshi or pickled sour plums are also encouraged because of their alkaline content,” says Waxman. Consuming alkaline foods helps our body to counter the acidity caused by modern stressors, she explains.
WHO STANDS TO BENEFIT THE MOST
The macrobiotic diet does inherently focus on principles of good nutrition, such as the inclusion of local, seasonal, and organic foods, and eliminates foods drenched in chemicals and preservatives such as sodas, processed and treated flour, and stimulating foods like sugars, alcohol, caffeine, and more, explains Maitri Trivedi, a nutritionist at Pure Nutrition Naturals. She adds that since the macrobiotic diet is mainly vegetarian, with the occasional exception of seafood, and includes other aspects of mindful eating and nutrient-preserving forms of cooking such as steaming and sautéing, it can be a good fit for those grappling with heart disease, high lipid levels, diabetes, PMS, and high levels of inflammation.
However, it can also be restrictive since many essential fruits, vegetables, and animal products are excluded, and this makes it challenging to meet specific nutritional requirements. All in all, she suggests that with its emphasis on natural, whole foods and avoidance of processed options, the macrobiotic diet does have the potential to improve longevity. “The diet could aid in reducing the toxins that make their way into our food and habits that propagate a less conscious and unhealthy lifestyle. However, more research is required to confirm its efficacy as a treatment plan; thus, strict changes in the diet must be made only under professional guidance,” says Trivedi. Bhathena adds that since the foods approved by the macrobiotic diet guidelines don’t ensure an adequate supply of iron (required to make haemoglobin), vitamin D (needed for absorption of calcium), and vitamin B12 (for maintaining a healthy nervous system), supplementation may be required as advised by health professional. She cautions that pregnant and lactating women, people with special dietary restrictions or requirements, children and youngsters should avoid following a macrobiotic diet as it can lead to malnutrition and anaemia in them.
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