Wednesday, December 19, 2007

The Macrobiotic Way of Eating

As the 21st century begins, the world faces an unprecedented health and environmental crisis. New diseases and epidemics have emerged, family and social conflicts have increased, and ecological threats have multiplied and spread, imperiling humanity’s biological and spiritual evolution, as well as the future of other life on this planet. At the heart of this escalating crisis is the integrity of the world’s food supply. Genetic engineering, cloning, food irradiation, microwave cooking, and other new technologies are radically changing the way humans have eaten, fed their families, and managed their health for thousands of years, violating millions of years of natural order.

Personal and planetary health are inseparable. World hunger and poverty cannot be divorced from eating beef, chicken, and other animal foods that require up to ten times more grain to produce than growing grain directly for human consumption. SARS, AIDS, mad cow disease, and other new epidemics are connected with a widespread decline in natural immune function as a result of the modern way of eating and overmedicalization. Violence and war are intimately related to liver, kidney, and pancreatic imbalances that give rise to anger, fear, and greed on a personal, family, or societal level.

The macrobiotic way of eating is very broad and comprehensive. It has been observed by millions of human beings for thousands of years, contributing to health, happiness, and peace for endless generations and our species overall biological and spiritual evolution. For the most part, it is based on whole cereal grains (the traditional staff of life),vegetables from land and sea, beans, and other fresh foods, with a minimum of animal products. With the advent of the modern era about 400 years ago, this way of eating steadily declined around the world, as meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy became the center of the diet; white flour and white rice displaced whole-wheat flour and brown rice; and canned and frozen foods, highly processed foods, and foods grown with or containing chemicals largely replaced fresh, local produce grown organically and consumed in season.

Today the modern supermarket and natural foods store contain a cornucopia of foods from all over the world. Bananas, mangoes, and other tropical foods are eaten by people living in the Arctic, while dwellers in the rain forest have access to hamburgers, french fries, and soft drinks. Watermelon, strawberries, and other perishable fruits are consumed in winter, and steak, fried chicken, and other heavy animal foods are consumed in summer. The typical family today rarely eats home-cooked food together, and electric or microwave ovens are found in the vast majority of households. The end result has been a wave of epidemic and degenerative disease, including heart disease, cancer, AIDS, new multiple-drug-resistant strains of tuberculosis, and other afflictions. The advent of cloning and genetic modification of foods and medicines; the rise in organ transplants and implants, especially from animals to humans; the spread of artificial electromagnetic fields from computers, cell phones, and other technology; and the destruction of the environment, including desertification, the thinning of the ozone layer, and the onset of global warming, have contributed to a further decrease in natural immunity to disease. The biological degeneration of human beings, reflected in a sharp rise in infertility and the use of new artificial birth technologies, as well as the spread of infectious, degenerative, and immune-deficiency diseases, threatens the continued existence of our species. The modern evolutionary crisis encompasses all of the nearly 200 conditions and disorders dealt with in this book.

The world is now splitting into two directions. The first is respecting nature, traditional wisdom, and natural order. The second is oriented toward artificial intervention into natural processes. Our natural evolution on this planet will end if the second way prevails. The present situation is similar to that described in the story of Noah and the great flood. Unless we awaken to the spreading chaos around us, the earth will be engulfed by a biological catastrophe of its own making.

Our species and the planet as a whole are in urgent need of healing. For many years, the macrobiotic community has warned that the outer environment is a reflection of the inner environment and that the key to the health and environmental crisis is a return to a more natural way of life centered on a natural way of eating. Personal and planetary health are indivisible. When one person is nourished, the whole planet benefits. When the earth prospers, each person is energized and refreshed. Modern macrobiotics is devoted to creating a world of universal health, happiness, and peace in harmony with natural order for endless generations.

Despite the lack of a leading philosophy and its practical application to every dimension of the crisis, modern society is beginning to take positive steps to redress the balance. First, the health revolution, as noted in the introduction, is now spreading. This includes organic farming, the environmental movement, and the macrobiotic community. Modern science and medicine has rediscovered the central importance of whole grains, as reflected in the Food Guide Pyramid and other dietary and nutritional guidelines. Second, communications networks are elevating consciousness. Through the Internet, information on health and diet is easily exchanged, and there is the potential to reach every home or community directly through this new technology. Third, new alternative approaches to health and well-being have emerged that emphasize a balanced diet, healing with energy and vibration, and living a natural way of life.

The Macrobiotic Diet

The macrobiotic way of eating has been practiced widely throughout history. Each culture and civilization has applied principles of balance to the proper selection and preparation of food and developed a unique cuisine in harmony with its natural environment. The macrobiotic approach is based not only on meeting optimal nutritional needs but also on a deep understanding of the earth’s relation to the sun, moon, and other celestial bodies; the evolution of life on the planet; ancestral tradition and heritage; ever-changing environmental and climatic conditions; humidity, pressure, and other atmospheric influences; local availability, affordability, and other economic factors; natural storability and other practical considerations; and the effects of different foods and beverages on our mind, body, and spirit.

The macrobiotic way of eating is not a set diet that applies rigidly to everyone, but a flexible dietary approach that differs according to climate, environment, condition of health, sex, age, activity level, and personal need. Macrobiotics is the collective wisdom and universal heritage of humanity. It is not the manifestation, property, or exclusive possession of a single era, culture, society, nation, religion, school, family, or individual. The goal of macrobiotics is freedom—the ability to create and realize our dream in life as part of our endless spiritual journal in the infinite universe. Standard macrobiotic dietary practice provides almost limitless variety and choice to prepare healthful, delicious food suited to our unique requirements, needs, and goals. No food is prohibited in the macrobiotic way of eating, and no food will heal all diseases. The standard macrobiotic diet is based on a comprehensive approach that takes into account the overall balance of energy and nutrients of food and looks at multiple causes and effects. Table 1 summarizes the major approaches to healing.

In comparison with the modern way of eating, the standard macrobiotic way of eating has the following general nutritional characteristics:

• More complex carbohydrates, fewer simple sugars

• More vegetable-quality protein, less animal-quality protein

• Less overall fat consumption, more polyunsaturated fat, and less saturated fat

• A balance of various naturally occurring vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients and less supplementation

• Use of more organically grown, natural food and more traditional food processing techniques and less chemically grown, artificially produced, or chemically processed foods

• Consumption of food primarily in whole form as much as possible and less refined, partial, or processed food

• Greater consumption of food that is high in natural fiber and less food that has been devitalized by overprocessing

Dietary Guidelines

The following guidelines represent a standard average for persons in usual good health. Those with one of the conditions described in this book may need to limit some types of foods, especially fish and seafood, fruit, juices, seeds and nuts, snacks, and desserts, as well as the amount of salt, oil, or other seasoning used in cooking, until their health improves. Please refer to the specific conditions and disorders in Part II for dietary advice and Part III for one of three comprehensive healing diets that can be indivi- dually tailored to your condition and needs. Part III also includes a comprehensive list of the major foods used in the modern macrobiotic diet in a temperate climate as well as a list of foods that are generally avoided or minimized.



The principal food is cooked whole cereal grains, comprising from 40 to 60 percent of the daily food intake (average 50 percent by weight). Whole grains include brown rice, whole wheat berries, barley, millet, and rye, as well as corn, buckwheat, and other cereal grasses cooked in a variety of styles. Short-grain or medium-grain brown rice is the staple today in most macrobiotic homes around the world, generally pressure-cooked or occasionally boiled, and is eaten at least once a day. It may be cooked plain or together with about 10 to 20 percent millet, barley, whole wheat berries, fresh corn kernels, or other grain. It may also be cooked together with a small volume of adzuki beans, lentils, chickpeas, or other beans. The majority of whole grains are to be eaten in whole form, and ideally constitute the center of every meal. Occasionally, several times a week, whole-grain products, such as cracked wheat, rolled oats, noodles, pasta, unyeasted sourdough wheat or rye bread, and other unrefined whole-flour products may be taken as part of this category. White flour and other highly refined and polished grains are avoided or minimized. From time to time, organic white rice may be taken for relaxation, enjoyment, or medicinal benefits. Whole grains should be freshly prepared at least once a day and may be used for leftovers the same day or the next day.


One to 2 servings of fresh soup are consumed each day, either a cup or bowl, making up about 5 to 10 percent of daily food intake. The soup is frequently seasoned with miso (naturally fermented soybean paste) or shoyu (naturally fermented soy sauce), to which wakame (a sea vegetable) and carrots, onions, or seasonal land vegetables are added during cooking. The taste of miso or shoyu should be mild, not too salty or too bland. Barley miso, rice miso, or hatcho (all-soybean) miso, aged for two to three years naturally, are recommended for regular use. A wide selection of sweet vegetable soups, bean soups, and grain soups may also be prepared. Soup is to be prepared with fresh ingredients each day and not be canned, packaged, or precooked.


About 20 to 30 percent of daily food includes fresh vegetables prepared in a variety of ways, including steaming, boiling, and nishime-style (long simmering). Vegetables are also occasionally sautéed, stir-fried, baked, deep-fried, or prepared tempura style. Further, salads are boiled, pressed, or occasionally eaten fresh. The vegetables include a wide variety of leafy green and white vegetables such as kale, collard greens, broccoli, and watercress; round and ground vegetables such as cabbage, onions, and fall- and winter-season squashes and pumpkins; and root vegetables such as carrots, daikon, and burdock. Shiitake and other mushrooms are also used occasionally. The major portion of vegetables is cooked and a minor portion is pickled or eaten raw. When preparing root vegetables, the root and leaf portions may be cooked together to achieve a balance of energy and nutrients. Tropical and semitropical vegetables are best avoided, including eggplants, potatoes, tomatoes, asparagus, spinach, sweet potatoes, yams, avocados, peppers, and others, unless you live in a hot and humid climate. Mayonnaise and commercial salad dressings should also be reduced or minimized. Vegetables are to be prepared as freshly as possible and not canned, frozen, or bottled, which reduces their energy and nutrients. As much as possible, vegetables are to be eaten the same day they are prepared.


A small portion, about 5 to 10 percent of daily food, consists of cooked beans or bean products. Beans for regular use include adzukis, lentils, chickpeas, and black soybeans, while all other beans may be used on occasion. Bean products such as tofu, tempeh, and natto may also be used daily. Beans will keep for about 24 hours and may be reheated or added to soups, stews, and other dishes.


A small volume of sea vegetables, about 2 percent, is taken daily, including nori sheets, wakame, and kombu. Nori, the thin sheets used to wrap sushi, is eaten as a condiment, while wakame is used daily in miso soup, and kombu is frequently cooked with grains, beans, and vegetables as a seasoning to supply minerals. Hijiki or arame may be taken as a small side dish about twice a week, while all other sea vegetables such as dulse, sea palm, and Irish moss are optional. Sea vegetables are very strong and after cooking will usually keep for a day or two.


Naturally processed white sea salt is used as a regular seasoning, along with miso (soybean paste) and shoyu (naturally fermented soy sauce). Daily meals, however, should not have an overly salty flavor, and seasonings are generally added during cooking and not at the table. Other seasonings may be used occasionally such as umeboshi plums, umeboshi vinegar, rice vinegar, lemon, ginger, horseradish, mirin, garlic, mustard, black or red pepper, and orange. Naturally processed, unrefined vegetable oil is used in cooking, especially light or dark sesame oil. Kuzu is the principal thickener used for gravies and sauces. Commercial seasonings, herbs, spices, and other sugary, hot, pungent, aromatic, or stimulant seasonings are avoided or minimized.


Condiments are placed on the table for use, if desired, to balance the meal. Condiments for daily use include gomashio (toasted sesame seed salt), made usually from 16 to 18 parts roasted sesame seeds to 1 part roasted sea salt, half ground together in a small earthenware bowl called a suribachi; roasted wakame or kombu powder, made from baking these sea vegetables in the oven until black and crushing them in a suribachi and sometimes adding toasted sesame seeds and storing in a small container or jar; umeboshi plums, small salted plums that have been dried and pickled for many months with sea salt and flavored with shiso (beefsteak) leaves; tekka, a root vegetable combination of carrot, burdock, and lotus root chopped finely and sautéed in sesame oil and miso for many hours; and green nori flakes. Other condiments may be used from time to time.


A small volume of homemade pickles is eaten each day to aid in digestion of grains and vegetables. A variety of vegetables may be used to make pickles, including daikon, red radish, turnip, carrot, cabbage, cauliflower, and turnip. These are made with bran, brine, miso, shoyu, or umeboshi and are aged from several hours to weeks, months, and even years. Lighter pickles (pickled for a shorter time) are recommended in spring or summer or for persons who need to reduce their salt intake. Saltier pickles (pickled for a longer time) can be eaten during colder weather or by those who need to strengthen their condition. Sauerkraut is a traditional pickle and may be eaten regularly. Commercial pickles made with spices, sugar, and vinegar are avoided or minimized.


To balance various dishes and make the meal more beautiful, garnishes may be used frequently. These include grated fresh ginger root, chopped scallions, grated daikon, grated rad- ish, grated horseradish, green mustard, lemon slices, orange slices, red pepper, black pepper, and others.


Natural water is used for drinking, cooking, and preparing teas. Spring water, well water, or filtered water are most suitable. Bancha twig tea is the principal beverage, while roasted barley tea, brown rice tea, and other grain-based teas or any traditional, nonstimulant, nonaromatic beverage may be used occasionally.



A small volume of fish or seafood may be eaten a few times per week. White-meat fish is less fatty and oily than red-meat and blue-skin varieties. This includes cod, haddock, flounder, trout, and many others. It should be taken with grated daikon, lemon, or horseradish as a garnish and plenty of fresh vegetables at the meal. Infrequently, other types of fish, seafood, or shellfish may be taken. All other animal food is customarily avoided in the modern macrobiotic community, including meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy foods of all kinds.


Fruit may be taken several times a week, preferably temperate-climate fruit such as apples, pears, apricots, berries, or melons. It may be taken stewed or cooked, naturally dried, or fresh in season with a pinch of sea salt. Tropical fruits such as bananas, pineapples, mangoes, papayas, figs, dates, and kiwis are avoided or minimized. Citrus fruits such as orange, tangerine, and grapefruit may be taken in small volume, especially in season or in warmer weather. Juice is very concentrated and has more expansive effects than fruit. A small volume of cider or temperate-climate juice may be taken, preferably in season and at room temperature or warmer.


A small volume of nuts and seeds may be taken, about 1 cup a week. Almonds, walnuts, pecans, and other smaller nuts are preferred over large or tropical varieties of nuts, such as cashew, macadamia, and Brazil nuts. Sesame, sunflower, pumpkin, and other seeds may be eaten lightly blanched or roasted as an occasional snack. Nut and seed butters are highly concentrated and may be taken in small volume.


Delicious snacks and desserts may be taken in moderate volume two or three times a week and may include a wide array of sweet dishes prepared with natural ingredients. Often desserts can be prepared with sweet vegetables such as squash, pumpkin, and parsnip; fruits such as apples, berries, or melon; chestnuts; adzuki beans; and other naturally sweet foods without a concentrated sweetener. However, for dishes that need a strong taste, a grain-based sweetener is recommended, including amasake (a fermented sweet rice beverage), barley malt, or brown rice syrup. Soft snacks such as mochi, sushi, noodles, puddings, kanten, and chest- nuts are preferred over hard baked snacks and desserts. Cookies, cakes, pies, pastries, rice cakes, popcorn, and puffed grains, however, may be taken in small volume. For custards, whipped toppings, and frosting, agar-agar, tofu, tahini (roasted sesame butter), or kuzu (a white root that is used to thicken dishes) may be used instead of eggs, cream, milk, and other animal products. In macrobiotic households today, sugar, chocolate, brown sugar, honey, molasses, fructose, saccharin, and other highly refined or artificial sweeteners are strictly avoided. Maple syrup is used sparingly for special occasions. BEVERAGES

Recommended daily beverages include bancha twig tea, roasted brown rice tea, roasted barley tea, and other traditional nonstimulant, nonaromatic teas. Spring water, well water, or filtered water is used for daily drinking, cooking, or preparing teas. Occasional-use beverages include kombu tea, umeboshi tea, mu tea, and grain coffee (made without figs, dates, or tropical sweeteners). Carrot or other vegetable juice may be taken several times a week. Infrequent-use beverages include green tea, soy milk, beer, sake, and other light to moderate alcoholic beverages. Stimulants such as coffee, decaf, black tea, and aromatic herbal teas such as peppermint, rose hips, and chamomile are avoided or minimized. Chlorinated, fluoridated, and other chemically treated water is avoided, as are distilled water, carbonated and bubbling waters, soft drinks, very cold beverages, and hard liquor.

Way of Eating

The standard way of eating provides a complete balance of energy and nutrients. There is no need to count calories or calculate individual nutrients. You may eat regularly 2 to 3 times a day, as much as is comfortable, provided the proportion of each category of food is generally observed. Thorough chewing is essential to digestion, and it is recommended that each mouthful of food be chewed 50 times or more until it becomes liquid in the mouth. As Gandhi wryly observed, drink your food, and chew your liquids. Eat when you are hungry, but it is better not to overeat. Leaving the table satisfied but not full is recommended. Similarly, drink only when thirsty, but do not unnecessarily restrict liquid. Avoid eating for three hours before sleeping, as this can cause stagnation in the intestines and throughout the body, overburden the pancreas and contribute to hypoglycemia, and disturb the kidneys and bladder.

Before and after the meal, express your appreciation to God, the universe, or nature for the food you have received, and reflect on the health and happiness it is dedicated to creat- ing. Appreciation may take the form of grace, prayer, chanting, or a moment of silence. Express your gratitude to parents, grandparents, and past generations who nourished us and whose dream we carry on, to the plants and animals that gave their lives so we may live, and to the farmers, manufacturers, distributors, retailers, and cooks who contributed their energies to making the food available. Every day it is also helpful to reflect on your physical, mental, and spiritual condition. Take just a few minutes to review the events of the day, including thoughts, feelings, and behavior. Try to connect them with your way of eating, especially foods consumed in the last 24 hours. Soon a clear pattern will emerge, and you will know intuitively what kind of effects different foods and beverages have on your daily health and happiness.

Excerpted from

The Macrobiotic Path to Total Health: A Complete Guide to Preventing and Relieving More Than 200 Chronic Conditions and Disorders
by Michio Kushi, Alex Jack
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