What is Macrobiotics?
by Phiya Kushi
In considering all factors that influence our lives, the macrobiotic approach to health and healing views sickness as the natural attempt of the body to return to a more harmonious and dynamic state with the natural environment. As what we choose to eat and drink and how we live our lives are primary environmental factors that influence our health and create who we are, the macrobiotic approach emphasizes the importance of proper dietary and lifestyle habits.
The macrobiotic approach is based on principles, theories and practices that have been known to philosophers, scholars, and physicians throughout history. The term "macrobiotics" comes from Greek ("macro" meaning "large" or "long", and "bios" meaning "life") and was first coined by Hippocrates, the father of western medicine. Its most recent development stems from Michio Kushi who was inspired by philosopher-writer George Ohsawa. George Ohsawa published numerous works in Japanese, English and French, which combined the western traditions of macrobiotics with 5,000 years of traditional oriental medicine.
By using macrobiotic principles to address and adjust environmental, dietary and lifestyle influences, thousands of individuals have been able to prolong their lives by recovering from a wide range of illnesses including heart disease, cancer, diabetes and many others. The macrobiotic approach to health recovery can be used along with conventional and alternative medical treatment and intervention and is compatible with and adaptable to all forms of religious and traditional cultural practices.
Some traditional and basic macrobiotic practices include eating more whole grains, beans and fresh vegetables, increasing variety in food selections and traditional cooking methods, eating regularly and less in quantity, chewing more and maintaining an active and positive life and mental outlook.
Following are Michio Kushi's standard macrobiotic dietary and lifestyle suggestions.
Whole Cereal Grains
- 40 - 60% by weight
- Organically grown, whole grain is recommended, which can be cooked in a variety of cooking methods.
- Grains include: Brown rice, barley, millet, oats, corn, rye, wheat, and buckwheat. While whole grains are recommended, a small portion of the recommended percentage of grains may consist of noodles or pasta, un-yeasted whole grain breads, and other partially processed whole cereal grains.
- Approximately 20 - 30% by weight
- Local and organically grown vegetables are recommended, with the majority being cooked in various styles such as lightly steamed or boiled, sautéed with a small amount of unrefined, cold pressed oil, etc. A small portion may be used as fresh salad, and a very small volume as pickles.
- Vegetables for daily use include: green cabbage, kale, broccoli, cauliflower, collards, pumpkin, watercress, parsley, Chinese cabbage, bok choy, dandelion, mustard greens, daikon greens, scallion, onions, daikon radish, turnips, burdock, carrots, winter squash such as butternut, buttercup, and acorn squash.
- For occasional use in season (2 to 3 times a week); cucumber, celery, lettuce, herbs such as dill and chives. Vegetables not recommended for regular use include: potatoes, tomatoes, eggplant, peppers, spinach, beets, and zucchini.
Beans & Sea Vegetables
- Approximately 5 - 10 % by weight
- The most suitable beans for regular use are azuki beans, chickpeas, and lentils. Other beans may be used on occasion. Bean products such as tofu, tempeh, and natto can also be used. Sea vegetables such as nori, wakame, kombu, hiziki, arame, dulse, and agar-agar are an important part of the macrobiotic diet as they provide important vitamins and minerals.
- Soups may be made with vegetables, sea vegetables, grains, or beans. Seasonings include miso, tamari soy sauce, and sea salt.
- Recommended beverages include:
- Roasted bancha twig tea, stem tea, roasted brown rice tea, roasted barley tea, dandelion root tea, and cereal grain coffee. Any traditional tea that does not have an aromatic fragrance or a stimulating effect can also be used.
- When drinking water, spring or good quality well water is recommended, without ice.
- Recommended fish include fresh white-meat fish such as flounder, sole, cod, carp, halibut or trout.
- Fruit or fruit desserts, made from fresh or dried fruit, may be served two or three times a week. Local and organically grown fruits are preferred. If you live in a temperate climate, avoid tropical and semitropical fruit and instead, eat temperate climate fruits such as apples, pears, plums, peaches, apricots, berries and melons. Frequent use of fruit juice is not advisable.
- Lightly roasted nuts and seeds such as pumpkin, sesame, and sunflower seeds. Peanuts, walnuts and pecans may be enjoyed as an occasional snack.
- Rice syrup, barley malt, amasake, and mirin may be used as sweeteners.
- Brown rice vinegar or umeboshi vinegar may be used occasionally for a sour taste.
- Gomashio, seaweed powder (kelp, kombu, wakame, and other sea vegetables), Sesame seaweed powder, umeboshi plums, tekka, pickles and sauerkraut made using sea salt, miso, or tamari.
Additional Dietary Suggestions
- Cooking oil should be vegetable quality only. To improve your health, it is preferable to use only unrefined sesame or corn oil in moderate amounts.
- Salt should be naturally processed sea salt. Traditional, non-chemicalized shoyu or tamari soy sauce and miso may also be used as seasonings.
Foods to Eliminate for Better Health
- Meat, animal fat, eggs, poultry, dairy products (including butter, yogurt, ice cream, milk and cheese), refined sugars, chocolate, molasses, honey, other simple sugars and foods treated with them, and vanilla.
- Tropical or semi-tropical fruits and fruit juices, soda, artificial drinks and beverages, coffee, colored tea, and all aromatic stimulating teas such as mint or peppermint tea.
- All artificially colored, preserved, sprayed, or chemically treated foods. All refined and polished grains, flours, and their derivatives, mass- produced industrialized food including all canned, frozen, and irradiated foods.
- Hot spices, any aromatic stimulating food or food accessory, artificial vinegar, and strong alcoholic beverages.
Macrobiotic Lifestyle Suggestions
- Eat only when hungry.
- Proper chewing (around 50 times or more per mouthful) is important for good digestion and assimilation of nutrients.
- Eat in an orderly and relaxed manner. When you eat, sit with a good posture and take a moment to express gratitude for the food.
- You may eat regularly two or three times per day, as much as you want, provided the proportion is generally correct and each mouthful is thoroughly chewed. It is best to leave the table satisfied but not full.
- Drink liquids moderately, only when thirsty.
- For the deepest and most restful sleep, retire before midnight and avoid eating at least 2 to 3 hours before sleeping.
- Wash as needed, but avoid long hot baths or showers which deplete the body of minerals.
- Use cosmetics and cleaning products that are made from natural, nontoxic ingredients. Avoid chemically-perfumed products. For care of the teeth, brush with natural preparations.
- As much as possible, wear cotton clothing, especially for undergarments. Avoid wearing synthetic or woolen clothing directly on the skin. Avoid wearing excessive accessories on the fingers, wrists, neck, or any other part of the body.
- Spend time outdoors if strength permits. Walk on the grass, beach or soil up to one half hour every day. Spend some time in direct sunlight.
- Exercise regularly. Activities may include walking, yoga, martial arts, dance, etc.
- Include some large green plants in the home to freshen and enrich the oxygen content of the air. Open windows daily to permit fresh air to circulate, even in cold weather
- Keep your home in good order, especially the areas where food is prepared and served.
- To increase circulation and elimination of toxins, scrub the entire body with a hot, damp towel every morning or every night. If that is not possible, at least scrub the hands, feet, fingers and toes.
- Avoid using electric cooking devices (ovens and ranges) or microwave ovens. The use of a gas or wood stove is preferred.
- Use earthenware, cast iron, or stainless steel cookware rather than aluminum or Teflon-coated pots.
- Minimize the frequent use of television and computer display units. When using a computer, protect yourself from potentially harmful electromagnetic fields with a protective shield over the screen and other safety devices.
- Sing a song!
Kushi Institute information is educational in nature, not medical advice, and not intended to take the place of personalized medical counseling, diagnosis and treatment.