Macrobiotics as medicine
When you hear the word ‘macrobiotic’, do you think ‘Hollywood fad diets’? In fact, macrobiotic philosophy is based on centuries-old principles which seek balance in mind, body and spirit via food and lifestyle choices.
In today’s world, we are constantly running a marathon which doesn’t allow time to think about what we are eating or how, where and when we eat it. But macrobiotics teaches that poor eating habits are about more than food choices; they are about understanding and respecting our food – where it comes from, and how its energy feeds us, not just physically, but mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.
Life in harmony
The word ‘macrobiotic’ comes from the Greek, macro meaning long and bios, meaning life. The founder of the philosophy and diet was George Ohsawa, who first recognised how certain combinations of food affected a person’s physical, emotional and mental wellbeing. His student, Michio Kushi developed these principles, teaching that eating involves understanding every element of the food, and preparing it in a way that demonstrates the utmost respect for life.
The macrobiotic diet and lifestyle is based on the principles of yin and yang energies inherent to traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), and the understanding that in order to create a balance in overall life energy, or chi, the energies in food need to be in equilibrium. According to Kushi, “Everything in the universe is eternally changing and this change proceeds according to the infinite order of the universe. Opposites attract each other to achieve harmony, the similar repel each other to avoid disharmony. These cycles occur everywhere throughout nature and the universe.”
In macrobiotics, food energies are said to come in the form of limitless pairs of yin and yang opposites: the yin principle is passive while yang is active and stimulating. Yin foods are sweet, cooling, and ‘relaxing’, e.g. yoghurt, fruit, rice syrup, cashews, and tofu, while yang foods are salty, heating, and ‘active’, e.g. meat, eggs, soy sauce, and cheese. Foods are also synchronised according to their characteristics of sour, sharp, bitter, sweet or salty.
Those that are deemed toxic to overall health are eliminated, e.g. refined sugar, alcohol, very hot spices, and any foods containing caffeine, artificial colours, flavours or chemical preservatives. Natural, whole, seasonal foods are favoured, and they are prepared in a traditional manner, being boiled or steamed in purified water, sautéed in a small amount of unrefined oil, or baked, rather than microwaved. Agricultural and transport methods influence a food’s nutrition and energy levels, so local, seasonal, and organic foods are preferred.
Macrobiotics teaches that food should be presented in a way that nourishes the eye and spirit, and shows utmost respect for that food. The basic macrobiotic diet plan includes:
Wholegrains, such as millet, oats, corn, rye, whole wheat, buckwheat, brown rice, and barley, should make up 50-60 percent of your daily food intake and are considered the most balanced food on the yin and yang continuum.
Fresh vegetables should comprise 25-30 percent of your diet. Cabbage, cauliflower, kale, bok choy, daikon, onion, pumpkin, squash, turnip and its greens are all highly recommended in the macrobiotic diet.
Beans, especially adzuki, chickpeas, lentils and soya products, like tofu, should make up around five to 10 percent of your food intake.
Sea vegetables, such as wakame, hiziki, kombu, kelp and nori, are great sources of nutrients, especially iodine, and should be eaten at every meal - about 1 teaspoon per day is recommended.
Fermented foods, such as tempeh and miso, help to repopulate the gut with healthy probiotic bacteria. Soups and broths based on miso, vegetables and beans are a staple of macrobiotic cuisine.
Seafood, fruit, meat, dairy, and nuts and seeds are included, but only in moderation. Processed condiments should be avoided – use brown rice syrup and barley malt to sweeten, and tamari sauce and sea salt for savoury dishes.
Michio Kushi explains, “Macrobiotics stems from an intuitive understanding of the orderliness of nature. Macrobiotic philosophy offers a way of living that closes the widening gap between humans and the natural world. Macrobiotic theory suggests that sickness and unhappiness are nature’s way of urging us to adopt a proper diet and way of life, and that these troubles are unnecessary when we live in harmony with our environment.”
Marla Bozic, a nutrition and health coach from Vitamin L, says she introduces aspects of macrobiotics to every client she sees. “My favourite macrobiotic teachings are the benefits of eating a mostly plant-based diet, including sea vegetables, beans and a variety of whole grains. The lifestyle suggestions, which are such a large part of the macrobiotic philosophy, are also brilliant. I definitely witness a major shift when a client applies macrobiotic principles to their life.”
Bozic’s key suggestions are:
* treating yourself to daily quiet time
* exercising daily
* minimising TV
* chewing food very well - 30 seconds per mouthful, or more
* respecting food and gaining an understanding of where it comes from
* serving food in an art form
* creating a positive attitude and environment, and enjoying the process of becoming healthier and happier every step of the way
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