Stacey Frattinger, RD, CHFS, Certified Integrative Health Coach, currently resides in Sparks, NV. She owns a virtual health coaching and nutrition counseling practice, mainly focusing on one-on-one, individualized whole body wellness practices.
A macrobiotic diet is one that focuses on the promotion of real, whole foods, while avoiding processed, pre-packaged ones. The aim of the somewhat strict guidelines is ultimately to avoid foods containing toxins, which often leads to followers choosing to eat a completely vegan diet with no dairy products or meats; however, some individuals may choose to incorporate small amounts of organic fish and meat. Whole grains—brown rice, barley, oats, rye, buckwheat—make up the bulk of your day’s foods. Vegetables, including leafy greens, root, and sea varieties, along with beans and soybean products like tofu and tempeh, are also encouraged. Fruit, fish and seafood, seeds, and nuts might be on the menu once or twice a week, but dairy, eggs, poultry, red meat, and anything artificial, processed, or with chemical additives will almost certainly be absent.
The Macrobiotic Diet is a generalized plan that is used to describe a lifestyle that focuses on the incorporation of a simple, balanced diet in an effort to promote health and longevity. The earliest recorded use of the term “macrobiotic” can be traced back to Greek literature, as found in the writing of some of the greatest Philosophers, including Hippocrates. Translated from Greek roots, macro means “large” or “great” and bios means “life.” The original “macrobiotic diet” plan was developed in the 1920s by Japanese philosopher George Ohsawa. Today there are many variations of a macrobiotic diet, but most are essentially a vegetarian diet, promoting consumption of a natural, organically and locally grown, whole foods diet. Because the macrobiotic diet seeks to achieve putting your body in balance to create a more peaceful and harmonious existence, you are encouraged to follow your body’s lead, fueling with the foods that make you look and feel your best.
Following a true macrobiotic diet requires complete compliance to changing your eating patterns and habits, which may limit your ability to eat out at restaurants, engage in social activities, and travel without the added stress of being able to easily eat on the road. Given that we live in a society that many at times demand convenience foods, the macrobiotic diet may be one of the most difficult to adhere to because there is little wiggle room for adjusting the diet for special occasions or unique situations.
Following a macrobiotic diet and lifestyle can be rather expensive. Eating only organic, locally grown, whole foods typically requires a larger investment financially. Depending on your geographic location, you may find it cost prohibitive to buy locally grown fruit and vegetables, if and when you can find them to purchase. If you are following strict guidelines, you may also have to invest in new kitchen utensils, including the pots and pans you use.
Education takes time, and properly educating yourself about the macrobiotic philosophy and way of life, can be extremely time consuming. If you choose to go all out with the lifestyle principles as part of the macrobiotic diet, not only will you find yourself investing a lot of time applying these principles to your entire lifestyle, but you’ll be spending a lot more time properly preparing and cooking your foods according to the basic principles.
In general terms, the macrobiotic diet is safe, but remember, there are all sorts of variations to be found. Keep in mind that the omission of any food group could lead to a nutritional deficiency. For example, B-12 is an essential vitamin that is mainly found in animal protein, fish and shellfish, so if you avoid eating these foods, you may become deficient. Monitor your personal signs and symptoms, including energy level or change in your hair, skin, and nails, to better assess the development of a deficiency.
Research indicates that extreme versions of the macrobiotic diet can lead to serious, harmful effects. In the alternative medicine and holistic health field, some proponents of the macrobiotic lifestyle have suggested that individuals diagnosed with cancer will be able to heal from the disease, and possibly even cure their cancer. There is no scientific evidence to prove that a macrobiotic diet can treat or cure cancer or any other disease.
Benefits: Because the macrobiotic diet promotes eating foods that are low in fat and high in fiber, you may notice improvements in your digestive system, less frequent food cravings, and better stabilized hunger throughout the day. In addition, as you work towards the elimination of processed foods, you’ll be getting in larger amounts of whole, real food filled with beneficial nutrients from fruits, vegetables and healthy fats.
Downsides: The macrobiotic diet can be rather restrictive considering that it basically mimics that of a vegetarian eating plan. While some will find themselves eating whole grains more frequently by follow the macrobiotic diet, it is not a well-rounded nutrition plan, thus making it more difficult to properly meet your body’s needs.
The Bottom Line: Food most definitely impacts our health and well being, but there is no one perfect plan to follow to help you achieve whole body wellness. While the macrobiotic diet places an emphasis on whole, “living” foods to keep you living in harmony with the world, for most it requires a complete lifestyle overhaul and a true commitment to adhering to this for the long haul.