Macrobiotic diets are strict dietary regimes based on eating primarily whole grains, supplemented by such other foods as fresh vegetables, and on avoiding highly refined and processed foods and all but a few animal products. They also warn against overeating and require those following them to chew their food thoroughly.
Ancient Greek writers used the word macrobiotics to mean a way of life that involved a balanced, simple diet. In the late nineteenth century a Japanese military physician named Sagen Ishizuka founded what he called shokuiku, or food education, which is the basis of the current Japanese approach to macrobiotics. He advocated a natural diet based on eating food seasonally and with the correct potassium-sodium and acid-alkaline balance.
Modern Japanese Macrobiotics
Advocates of macrobiotic diets believe that food has a powerful effect on well-being, health, and happiness. Instead of prescribing strict dietary rules, modern Japanese macrobiotic advocates stress the each person’s need to be sensitive to how each type of food actually affects him or her personally. They do, however, provide guidelines to help people develop this sensitivity. These diets strongly resemble mainstream Japanese diets, with an emphasis on eating locally produced whole grains, vegetables, legumes, seaweed, fruit, nuts, seeds, fish, and such foods made from fermented soybeans as tofu and miso. They also have an added emphasis on a theoretical form of balance, for which they use the Taoist words yin and yang.
Macrobiotics teaches that all types of food to have both yin and yang properties in relative proportions, with relatively more yang foods tending to be more hot, dense, compact, and heavy and relatively more yin foods to be more cold, expansive, diffuse, and light. It considers yin and yang to approach balance most closely in such whole grains as brown rice, barley, rye, oats, millet, and quinoa. Lists of which foods are relatively more yin or yang therefore tend to compare them with whole grains.
Specific Japanese-style macrobiotic diets vary greatly with geography, due to the emphasis on locally produced food, and personal circumstances, due to the emphasis on sensitivity to foods’ effects. They also vary with the seasons, due to differing yin-yang needs in different types of weather, with spring and summer requiring a somewhat more yin balance and the balance for autumn and winter being more yang. The general guidelines are for about half the food intake to be whole grains, particularly brown rice, about a quarter to a third vegetables, 5% to 10% legumes and beans, 5% to 10% such naturally processed food as tofu and soba, or buckwheat noodles, and miso and seaweed about 5% each. Fish, fruit, nuts, seeds, nut butters, and similar treats are okay two or three times weekly.