Macrobiotics: Lifestyle and Diet

Farrah Sarafa - Columnist
Posted on Wednesday 23rd September 2009

Raw, vegan, or South Beach Diet? None of these methods really caught my attention like macrobiotics did. Macro means big and biotic means life, so the term, “big view of life,” refers to a balanced, wholesome system of eating first coined by George Ohsawa in 1959. A Japanese philosopher, Ohsawa claimed to cure his own tuberculosis by applying Chinese and Japanese folkloric techniques. Subsequently, he consolidated his knowledge into a life practice, dietary regimen and philosophy. Further developed by Michio Kushi of the Kushi Institute, macrobiotics are widely used today by cancer patients and people around the world who wish to achieve physical, spiritual balance, eat locally and be synchronistic with the seasons.

Eating macrobiotically entails avoiding under- or over-cooked foods, foods that are out of season, alcohol, caffeine, etc. This restrictive regime in turn leads to generalized good health; it is naturally low in fat and dairy free without denying or depriving oneself of his or her favorite sweets, carbs, fruit, etc. Governed by the Taoist cosmological forces of yin and yang, the practice of macrobiotics advocates a balanced lifestyle. Yin is the expansive, feminine force of dispersion and night. Yang is the masculine power that gathers and holds things together. These two forces operate both antagonistically and constructively and the food that we eat contains in it the play of these two primary powers.

Foods that are too yin (nightshade vegetables such as tomatoes, green peppers, or eggplant, tropical fruit and foods that are too sweet) or yang (meat, coffee, dairy) are to be avoided or used sparingly; food that is well-integrated, moderate, and less extreme such as grains, legumes and local, seasonal fruits and vegetables are to be eaten regularly. The Macrobiotic diet consists of grains (short grain brown rice, spelt, soba noodles, oats in the winter), green leafy seasonal vegetables (seaweed, kale, Chinese cabbage, daikon, collards, carrots), miso soup and legumes (azuki beans, lentils, chickpeas). Fish, nuts, fruit and designated macrobiotic-balanced beverages and veggies are to be used occasional sparingly, while processed food, sweeteners, red meat, dairy and tropical foods are to be eliminated entirely. Following this dietary regimen is supposed to have long-lasting health benefits such as lower cholesterol, reduced heart disease, and fewer emotional extremes.

As a lover of sweet foods, ice cream, chocolate, coffee and alcohol, I’ve learned to turn to macrobiotic substitutes when cravings overwhelm me. This means using brown rice syrup, agave nectar or maple syrup instead of sugar. I’ve taken to slightly cooking fruit and nuts with syrup instead of indulging in overly yin, decadent desserts, and I’ve learned to drink sake instead of commercial, chemical-filled beer or wines. Amasake, a thick fermented rice beverage, is a particular favorite of mine. A milk and soy alternative, amasake is not too sweet, even while it remains savory and delicious! It can be found at Whole Foods, local health foods stores and Japanese supermarkets. Umeboshi plums or plum paste is another favorite. Umeboshi is an extremely alkalinizing condiment that can be added to stew, tea, or eaten alone. Some diseases are caused by overacidity pH imbalances in the body, and umeboshi, one of Japan’s best-kept secrets until now, is highly medicinal because it neutralizes that acid. Macrobiotics, therefore, is more than a system of eating but is rather an entire lifestyle to help us to live wholesomely and moderately. The American Cancer Society recommends a low fat, high fiber diet filled with vegetables and fruits; macrobiotics accords well with that diet. It has been used to treat cancer, cardiovascular diseases and other ailments by aligning the yin and yang forces. It helps repair organ deficiencies or excesses through proper diet, philosophy, and lifestyle.

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