Macrobiotics: A Review

Submitted by Miss Danielle on Sat, 12/27/2008 - 11:15am.

I decided that instead of focusing on foods I shouldn't eat, it was time to look for foods to include. One of the diets (or rather, eating lifestyles) I hadn't paid much attention to was macrobiotics. This holiday, I read two books: Hip Chick's Guide to Macrobiotics by Jessica Porter, and The Macrobiotic Path to Total Heatlh by Michio Kushi (one of the main innovators of the macrobiotic movement) and Alex Jack.

The following is a review of these books and this diet from my perspective. Feel free to pick these up at your local library and form your own opinions.

The Basics

'Macro' means large, and 'bio' means life. Part diet, part spiritual journey, a macrobiotic diet is based on teaching people to live a full life by eating food that is good for the body, but also food that nourishes energy: the yin and yang of the universe.

Michio Kushi created the standard Macro Diet in the 1970s. It included:

  • whole grains
  • vegetables (except items from the nightshade family like potatoes, peppers, eggplant and tomatoes)
  • Beans and bean products
  • sea vegetables (seaweeds)
  • soups (miso soup, to be specific)
  • pickles (or pickled foods)
  • desserts
  • Condiments
  • non-aromatic teas

Jessica Porter's book is an easy read and a good introduction to the concept of living a macrobiotic lifestyle. She comments on how the diet is different for everyone (which I have as my own mantra when it comes to food). And she sings the praises of whole grains, saying that if you do nothing else, try to incorporate these into your daily food intake.

The macrobiotic diet believes that all food has energy - yin and yang. Our job is to incorporate a balanced diet of both energies into our food. Ok. I'll buy that, even just for the general idea that you should be buying an array of vegetables, and trying to incorporate different colours on the plate for the various nutrients they supply you with.

According to their theory, not only does the food itself contain a yin or yang property, but the method of preparation (raw vs cooked) contributes to the energy of the food. Again, I'll buy that in the sense that chemical reactions take place when you cook something and it can affect how you digest certain foods.

We've heard it before: chew your food. But the macrobiotic diet takes it a step further. For example, if I am eating a bowl of rice, each mouthful should be chewed at least 50 times while the ultimate goal is 100 times. As a good sport, I tried this and was only able to get to 32 chews per mouthful.

And Then They Lost Me

I applaud the diet's approach to eating seasonally and locally. They say you should stick to vegetables that occur naturally in your climate, and foods that your ancestors would have eaten. The theory is that if the earth doesn't produce the food where you live, your body isn't getting what it needs without some stress or strain.

If this is true, then how can you tell North Americans to eat soybean products everyday in the form of miso soup or shoyu (i.e. tamari/soy sauce)? Or even sea vegetables? Or umeboshi plums? I don't know about where you live, but these aren't produced locally, nor were they part of my ancestor's diet. This inconsistency does not sit well with me at all. We won't even go into the controversy about soy beans and what affect they could have on people with food intolerances.

Reading on (in both books), I read why we shouldn't eat meat. Neither books focused on the way we metabolize meats or even how non-organic mainstream meat products have chemicals, hormones etc in them. No, the argument was that if we eat meat, we behave like the animals.

That's right.

Apparently, eating beef supports being self-centred, and is a cause for wars and aggression. Not because of any scientific reason, just because of the energy of the animal.

And when you eat meat, you take on the qualities of the animal. According to Michio Kushi, if you eat pork, you will be a slob and piggish. If you eat chicken, you will start suffering twitchy movements. And on and on.

So perhaps if I eat root vegetables, I will be like a turnip with my head in the sand, ignoring all logic and accepting this theory as why I shouldn't eat meat? Give me a break.

I'm not even making the argument that people SHOULD eat meat; I'm just saying that if you want people to eat or avoid certain foods, you better give them better reasons than they'll start chewing cud or crowing at sunrise.

And then there is the whole dairy thing. According to followers of the macrobiotic diet, milk is the number one cause for lung cancer - worse than smoking. But again, they offer little in scientific proof.

What little facts they offer through the books are studies done by followers of the macrobiotic way of life, and as you may know, I don't recommend you rely on studies done by insiders of any product or diet.

I also question the claim that no supplements - be it vitamins or enzymes - are good for you.

While I whole heartedly appreciate the concept of living a balanced life - nutritionally and spiritually - in order to have good health, spiritual theory is no replacement for science or facts when it comes to food and their affect on the body (especially for people with serious food-related illness).

I don't trust a diet that contradicts its main rule (eating locally) and I don't like when spiritual theory is a replacement for factual arguments.

Of course, this is all my personal opinion and I always urge people to do their own reading and form their own opinions!


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