Macrobiotic methodology was brought to Europe from Japan by George Ohsawa (1893-1966). Oshawa was a Japanese philosopher, who was encouraged to formalize macrobiotics by Kaibara Ekiken, Andou Shōeki, Mizuno Nanbaku, and Sagen Ishizuka and his disciples Nishibata Manabu and Shojiro Goto.
Oshawa was influential on Nishibata Manabu (who taught extensively in Paris), who subsequently brought macrobiotic theory to North America in the late 1960s, together with his pupils Herman Aihara, Michio Kushi and Aveline Kushi, among many others.
Before the word "macrobiotics" came into global usage, it was known as the Unique Principle (a direct translation of its name in the Japanese language).
Followers of macrobiotics believe that food, and food quality, affects our lives more than is commonly thought. It is thought to affect our health, well being and happiness. They claim it is better to choose food that is less processed, more natural, use more traditional methods of cooking for family, friends, and oneself.
Macrobiotics emphasize locally grown, whole grain cereals, pulses (legumes), vegetables, fruit, seaweed and fermented soy products, combined into meals according to the principle of balance between yin and yang properties, rather than scientific dietary guidelines. Cereals (and in particular, rice), which are seen as being naturally balanced in terms of Yin and Yang make up the main part of the diet. Foods which are either extremely Yin in nature (e.g. very sweet foods, dairy products) or extremely Yang in nature (e.g. very salty foods, red meat) are eaten very rarely if at all.
Ohsawa described ten diets in total, with varying proportions of the following food groups: cereals, vegetables, soups, animal foods, salad and fruits, desserts, and beverages. The ideal diet of the ten, according to Ohsawa, was named "Number 7" and consists almost entirely of cereals with a minimal amount of beverages.
Some followers try to extend the diet into a macrobiotic lifestyle. People who practice a Macrobiotic lifestyle try to observe yin and yang in everything they do. They strive for balance and happiness in their daily lives and living in harmony with nature and their physical surroundings.
Macrobiotic Diet composition
Whole cereals: 50-60%
The remainder is composed of white fish, seeds and nuts, oil and spices, sea salt, desserts.
The composition of a macrobiotic dishes in theory
is subject to:
the time of the year (spring, summer, autumn, winter)
the time of day (morning, noon, evening)
the oil/salt amount (note: only 1/4 salt amount used in western macrobiotic diet, vs. Japanese MBD)
the yin/yang amount of the products used in the dish (dependant on time of year/day, the sum must be -,0,+ )
the color of the products used in the dish (5 colors must be used in a standard dish: red, white, blue, yellow, and black)
the flavours of the products used in the dish (5 flavours must be used: sweet, bitter, sharp, sour, salt)
the temperature of the products used in the dish (sum must be -,0,+ dependant of the time of year/day)
Food preparation techniques
Food is prepared in various ways, most are listed here: Steaming, boiling, raw, ohitashi, nishime, nitsuke, kinpira, sukiyaki, nabe, oven baking, baking in a pressure cooker, tempura, frying
Cooking according to the time of the year
food with decreasingly powerful energy
wild plants, germs, lightly fermented food, grain species, fresh greens
light cooking style: steaming, cooking for a short time, etc...
food with less powerful energy (more yin-style energy)
large-leaved greens, sweet corn, fruit, summer pumpkins
light cooking style: steaming, quick cooking, etc...
food with increasingly powerful energy
root vegetables, (winter) pumpkins, beans, cereals, etc...
hot, powerful food
round vegetables, pickles, root vegetables, etc...
more miso, shoyu, oil, and salt
Switching to a macrobiotic diet
For those wishing to adopt the diet, it is recommended, as for all diets, to read more about it, and consult a dietitian or physician before starting, or in the case of illness. Some even consult a macrobiotic counselor. It is generally recommended that any diet be adopted gradually, for instance, reducing animal products, refined flour, sugar, dairy products and adding more whole grain and vegetable quality foods.
Amount of Yin and Yang in the products
Macrobiotic diets follow the idea of yin and yang. Products that are very yin or very yang, are generally not used in the macrobiotic diet. The following list, contains some of those products that are very yin or very yang. But it is important to know that on the scale from yin to yang, there are products that are in between or half about between 'in between' and yang/yin. Thus there are 3 (or 5 in total) more gradients then just 'very yin' or 'very yang'. (see also the 5 transformations of yin and yang)
soft dairy products
firm dairy products
Between these, neutral food products are stationed. These include: whole cereals, fruit from our own environment, beans, nuts, vegetables, seaweed,... Foods such as these are used in a macrobiotic diet.
Macrobiotics vs. normal Japanese cooking
Since macrobiotics originally came from Japan, it is no surprise that it has much in common with normal Japanese cuisine. Many macrobiotic ingredients are also standard ingredients in Japanese cuisine.
A few examples:
sake and mirin
kudzu and arrowroot
brown rice, sweet rice, round rice, and semi-long rice
seitan and fu
Macrobiotics vs. vegetarianism
Although there is no vegetarian philosophy present in MBD, in practice there is very little animal-derived food consumed, or in some cases none at all. This is because most animal products are extremely yin or extremely yang in nature. Thus they are not used, except in special cases.
Examples of Macrobiotic Dishes
sweet miso-flavoured rice
brown rice with lotus-seed
standard miso soup
miso soup with daikon
Following the macrobiotic diet is not universally accepted as a healthy practice. The diet has been studied by Western nutritional and medical experts, and some conclude that, when strictly followed, the diet could actually be harmful to some individuals. An extreme example of such criticism is:
"The Council of Foods and Nutrition of the American Medical Association and the Committee on Nutrition of the American Academy of Pediatrics have roundly condemned the more restrictive of the macrobiotic diets for their nutritional inadequacies. Strict adherence to these diets could result in scurvy, anemia, hypoproteinemia, hypocalcemia, emaciation due to starvation, loss of kidney function due to reduced fluid intake, other forms of malnutrition, and even death."
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