A History Of Macrobiotics

Macrobiotics was one of the more popular diets in the 70s and in the past decade there has a resurgence in popularity. The macrobiotic diet isn’t a traditional “diet”, but more of a holistic way of living that’s based on seeking balance in everything we do. The macrobiotic theory places...


Macrobiotics was one of the more popular diets in the 70s and in the past decade there has a resurgence in popularity. The macrobiotic diet isn’t a traditional “diet”, but more of a holistic way of living that’s based on seeking balance in everything we do. The macrobiotic theory places special emphasis on diet, since regulating what we eat and drink is the most basic and practical way to change our cells, tissues, organs, and minds.

Macrobiotics and you

Balance is somewhat of a buzzword in the wellness space. We close our laptops at 6 p.m. to achieve work/life balance. We go to yoga to strengthen our physical and mental balance. We even use toner to restore our skin’s pH balance after cleansing. With so much focus on creating harmony in our lives, diet is also a very valuable part of the overall harmony equation. Essentially, those who follow macrobiotics believe that what we eat and how we prepare our food can bring us in closer harmony with our environments and ourselves.

Yin and Yang

Macrobiotics is grounded in yin and yang – a theory of complementary forces rooted in Chinese philosophy. Everything has both yin and yang aspects, including food.

Foods considered yin include fruits, vegetables, alcohol, and sugar. Yang foods are warm and grounding and include chicken, eggs, meat, and salt.

When a person eats too much yin food or too much yang food, it creates an imbalance in the body. Macrobiotics is about eating balanced foods like whole grains, leafy vegetables, beans, legumes, and sea vegetables to keep our lives in harmony with our communities, society, nature, and the universe.

The Origins of Macrobiotics

George Ohsawa brought macrobiotics to the United States in the 1950s and is credited as the founder of the diet and philosophy. He coined the term using two Greek words: “Macro,” meaning large, and “bios,” meaning life. The macrobiotic theory is based on the teachings of Sagen Ishizuka, an imperial army doctor who combined the principles of Eastern medicine and Western science in his book, Diet for Health.

Ohsawa suffered from tuberculosis and ulcers as a teenager. He claimed he cured himself by following a diet based on Ishizuka’s teachings as well as yin and yang. After recognizing the link between diet and wellness, Ohsawa wrote multiple books on macrobiotics. One of his best known was called You Are All Sanpaku, in which he argued that westerners were physically and spiritually out of whack because of unhealthy diets and habits.

The legacy continues

One of Ohsawa’s most dedicated followers was named Michio Kushi, who arrived in the United States with his wife, Aveline, in 1949. Kushi and Aveline were responsible for igniting the macrobiotic craze in the 1960s. They opened the nation’s first natural foods store, Erewhon, and wrote macrobiotic cookbooks to spread the message. The lifestyle caught on with the counterculture and was famously adopted by John Lennon and Yoko Ono.

Today, macrobiotics is looked to as a healing diet for people with heart disease and high cholesterol, as animal fat is limited. The macrobiotic lifestyle is also well suited for healthy for individuals who thrive on a vegetarian diet and have a desire to live in peace and harmony with their environments. It’s very compatible with certain elimination diets, including the 21-Day Cleanse.

Basic principles of macrobiotics

Following a macrobiotic lifestyle is all about finding balance and using natural cooking methods. Here are the basic principles of macrobiotics:

  • Whole grains like millet, quinoa, brown rice, and wild rice should make up 50 to 60 percent of each meal.
  • Vegetables should make up 20 to 30 percent of each meal, with an emphasis on leafy greens, root veggies, squash, and cabbage.
  • Most vegetables should be cooked, as raw foods are more difficult for the body to digest.
  • Nightshades, like tomatoes and eggplant, are not included in a macrobiotic diet because they can cause inflammation in some people.
  • Beans should make up 10 percent of a macrobiotic meal. While not included in the 21-Day Clean Program, soy is commonly consumed in macrobiotics.
  • Sea vegetables should be eaten regularly for their rich vitamin content and trace minerals.
  • Soup should be eaten every day. According to Chinese philosophy, our bodies process food best when heated between 98.6 and 100 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Condiments and spices are used minimally; they can be harsh on digestion. Miso, sea salt, tamari, brown rice vinegar, and tahini are used most often.
  • Caffeine and alcohol are not included in macrobiotics because they are too stimulating. Cold beverages are rarely consumed because they affect our digestion.
  • Processed, refined, and artificially sweetened foods are not included on a macrobiotic diet.
  • Vegetables should be steamed or sautéed over an open flame, not over an electric burner or in a microwave.
  • Food should be prepared in cookware made of natural materials, like cast iron or clay.

Stay tuned for our next post where we explore a cleanse-friendly macrobiotic recipe!

Written by Kate Kasbee

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