The Macrobiotic Diet: All About Balance
"Macrobiotic diets promote balance and harmony both in your body and the environment around you."
Today’s Live Show with Dr. Nancy Lin, PhD is about a controversial diet from Asia that reportedly has people living healthy, happy lives well past the age of 100. It’s found in certain places known as longevity "blue zones" around the world and is often misunderstood.
Watch with Dr. Nancy as she takes us through this diet – called the macrobiotic diet, explains the scientific reasons why it’s so effective, and compares it with her anti-inflammatory diet.
- 00:30: Introduction
- 03:19: The Macrobiotic Diet
- 10:20: The Yin/Yang Philosophy
- 11:37: Compliant Foods
21:05: Non-compliant Foods
- 27:54: Health Benefits of the Macrobiotic Diet
- 29:39: Anti-Inflammatory Supplementation
33:44: Additional Health Benefits Of Macrobiotic Diet
37:45: Tips for following the Macrobiotic diet
- 44:57: Wrap-Up
We talk a lot about the importance of doing everything you can to ensure you are living your best, balanced life — from diet, to exercise, to social life, balance is so important in ensuring a well-rounded, quality, and satisfying life.
The diet we’re discussing today is grounded in traditional Chinese medicine and was originally based on the belief that achieving balance within the body has profound and positive effects on both physical and mental health, as well as environment and overall outlook on life. Although this diet has caused some controversy over the years, research has shown it can result in significant health benefits. As with other diets we’ve discussed, Dr. Nancy’s anti-inflammatory diet differs from this one in multiple respects, but we’ll be taking a look at how the two overlap and how they differ.
The Macrobiotic Diet
You have no doubt heard of the Paleo diet, the Keto Diet, and a million other types of diets, but the Macrobiotic Diet gets less press. During the 1960’s, the macrobiotic diet was also known as the “brown rice diet”. This original version of the macrobiotic diet involved 10 progressively restrictive stages, with the final stage consisting only of brown rice and water. By 1971 the American Medical Association had condemned macrobiotics, labeling it a major public health problem that posed “not only serious hazards to the health of the individual but even to life itself.” This dangerous approach is no longer recommended by proponents of the macrobiotic diet.
As it has evolved, this once controversial diet has found renewed popularity and support today. Research has cleared up the confusion surrounding the diet and scientific studies have reported that people following the newer version of macrobiotic diets often have lower blood pressure and lower cholesterol levels than people not following the diet.
Macrobiotic means “great life” and the core concepts central to the macrobiotic diet, including the Traditional Chinese Medicine belief of achieving balance both within the body and in your environment, date back many centuries in ancient Eastern traditions. As the Kushi Institute — one of the world’s leading authorities on the macrobiotic diet — puts it, this is not simply a ‘diet’ but instead a recognition of the profound effects food, environment, activities, and attitude all have on our body, mind, and emotions.
Supporters of macrobiotic eating approaches encourage people to eat natural, whole foods that not only support the health of their bodies, but also the ecosystem and natural order of life. But what macrobiotics is truly all about is balance. Strictly speaking, it is not as much a diet as a way of living that emphasizes the importance of diet and the importance of balancing foods to achieve maximum health and happiness.
Although every person reacts differently to different dietary approaches, evidence shows that macrobiotic-style diets can help improve heart health, lower inflammation and support a healthy body weight well into old age.
As we start to discuss the macrobiotic diet, You might notice that macrobiotic diets are really similar to the Okinawa Diet. This is a diet that follows the eating habits of people living on the Ryukyu Islands in Japan, people who enjoy some of the longest life expectancy in the world. The Okinawa Diet is practiced primarily in an area known as the Blue Zone — an area where people are most likely to live past 100 years old. Macrobiotic diets are similar to the Okinawa diet or Blue Zone diets.
Interestingly, the average life expectancy in the United States is 78.8 years, but in Japan, it’s between 80 and 87 years — nearly 10 years longer.
The Yin/Yang Philosophy
The principle of Yin and Yang is that all things exist as inseparable and contradictory opposites; for example, female-male, dark-light, old-young, black-white.
In terms of the macrobiotic diet, yin foods include vegetables, grains, beans and seaweed. Foods like beef, chicken, fish, and salt are labeled as yang. The premise of the philosophy is that extremes should be avoided, which is why sugar (extremely yin), and meat (extremely yang), are often avoided in the diet.
Macrobiotic diets often present foods as compliant (or foods you should eat), and non-compliant (meaning food you should avoid).
Compliant foods include:
In most cases, whole grains like brown rice, quinoa, barley, buckwheat, and millet make up about 50 to 60% of each meal. In addition, flour-based products like pasta and bread can be eaten occasionally as part of a macrobiotic diet. If you follow our page, you know we recommend avoiding gluten entirely, as it’s very inflammatory. So we’d recommend modifying the macrobiotic diet to make it gluten-free.
Fresh, Organic Vegetables
Vegetables typically comprise 25 to 30% of daily food intake in the macrobiotic diet. Up to one-third of your total vegetable intake can be raw.
Otherwise, vegetables should be steamed, boiled, baked, or sautéed.
Macrobiotic diets avoid nightshade vegetables like potatoes, tomatoes, eggplant, and peppers but recommend all sorts of fresh vegetables other than nightshades, especially daikon radishes, cooked or fresh leafy greens like bok choy, cabbage, mushrooms, scallions, leeks, broccoli, carrots, beets, various squash varieties, watercress, and cauliflower.
About 10% of the macrobiotic diet consists of beans. This includes soybeans, which can be eaten in the form of such products as tofu, tempeh, and natto.
This is one area where Dr. Nancy’s anti-inflammatory diet parts ways from the macrobiotic diet recommendations. We suggest avoiding soy unless it's in its natural form. Soy contains isoflavones and, when eaten in excess, can produce extra estrogen in the body because isoflavones act like estrogen. This could contribute to breast cancer and fertility issues according to some health experts. Soy can also have an affect on the thyroid, since it contains goitrogens, a substance that prevents iodine absorption, which the thyroid needs to adequately produce thyroid hormones. The isoflavones can also have an impact on thyroid function because they block the production of thyroid hormones altogether.
Rather than soy, we suggest choosing chickpeas and all types of bean, including black beans, kidney beans, and navy beans.
The macrobiotic diet involves eating 1 to 2 cups or bowls of soup each day. In most cases, these are soy-based soups like miso.
Again, the anti-inflammatory diet recommends avoiding soy altogether, so you could opt for a mug of bone broth instead of a soy-based soup.
Soups are also a great way to make a quick, healthy dinner, and it’s easy. Sauté garlic and ginger, toss in your favorite vegetables — they can even be left over — such as carrots, broccoli, and celery. Then add any protein source — black beans or some leftover chicken — your favorite herbs, salt and pepper, and organic chicken, vegetable, or bone broth and let it cook together for 15 minutes. You can even toss in some leftover rice or quinoa, and voila! Easy, delicious healthy lunch or dinner in no time.
People who follow the macrobiotic diet generally use unrefined vegetable oil for cooking, and dark sesame oil for flavoring. Unrefined oil is oil that was processed with minimal to no heat. They are usually referred to as cold pressed or expeller pressed oil. Oils that you find labeled as raw, pure, or virgin, are all unrefined oils.
Vegetable oil is really not great for you, so stick with olive oil, avocado oil, and coconut oil. Sesame oil is also wonderful, so give that a try for adding some great, different flavors to any dish.
Along with spring water or high-quality well water, the macrobiotic diet includes various herbal teas. Alcohol, caffeinated drinks, and sweetened drinks are not recommended.
Foods considered non-compliant by the Microbiotic diet include:
- Meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy products
- Fish and seafood (in excess)
- Fruit (in excess)
- Most sugars and sweeteners
- Seeds and nuts (in excess)
While meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy are usually avoided in the macrobiotic diet, a small amount of fish or seafood is typically consumed several times per week.
Because of its inflammatory properties, the anti-inflammatory diet also recommends avoiding all dairy, but it’s not necessary to avoid lean meats and eggs, especially egg whites. They are great sources of proteins and several essential fatty acids and minerals, but we do recommend limiting your meat to organic chicken or turkey and limiting it to a few times a week.
Local fruit can be consumed several times a week in the macrobiotic diet. Tropical fruits like mango, pineapple, and papaya are generally avoided
The Macrobiotic diet’s focus on eating fresh, local fruits and vegetables is one of its best features. It’s best to buy local and especially direct from farmers whenever you can — get out and support your local farmers market!
Unlike the macrobiotic diet, the anti-inflammatory diet does not recommend avoiding tropical fruits, especially mango, pineapple, and papaya. They have so many amazing health benefits, especially for supporting digestive health. Just make sure you choose the organic versions of these and other fruits. And remember that fruits are high in natural sugars, so they can affect your blood sugar — balance and moderation is key.
Seeds and Nuts
This is probably the biggest difference between macrobiotic diets and the anti-inflammatory diet. The macrobiotic diet recommends consuming seeds and nuts “not in excess”. We’re not sure what “not in excess” means, but it’s probably a bit different for all of us!
Seeds, nuts, and nut butters can be eaten pretty much every day with the anti-inflammatory diet, and they have a lot of nutritional benefits.
Of course, you should be mindful of your serving size when eating nuts, seeds, or nut butters — a little bit goes a long way. They are typically nutrient-dense, so a 1 oz. serving is all you need.
Sugars and Sweeteners
Macrobiotic diets avoid sugar, honey, molasses, chocolate, and carob. Naturally sweet foods such as apples and dried fruit make good macrobiotic desserts.
The anti-inflammatory diet, on the other hand, allows a little dark chocolate and raw local honey — in moderation of course!
So, you can see that the macrobiotic diet is pretty closely aligned with the Anti-Inflammatory Diet plan, once you modify it a bit.
The bottom line is, the macrobiotic diet really is a great base diet that supports balance, improves health, reduces inflammation in the body!
Health Benefits of the Macrobiotic Diet
The Macrobiotic Diet is High in Essential Nutrients and Has Been Shown to Help Reduce Inflammation.
Recently, the School of Public Health at the University of Memphis released findings from a study investigating the anti-inflammatory and anticancer potential of macrobiotic diets. The study compared the nutrient composition of a macrobiotic diet plan compared to national dietary recommendations (RDA).
Findings showed that the macrobiotic diet plan had a lower percentage of calories from fat, higher intake of dietary fiber, and higher amounts of most micronutrients.
Nutrients in the macrobiotic diet often met or exceeded RDA recommendations, with the exception of vitamin D, vitamin B12, and calcium. Plus, macrobiotic diets were found to be more anti-inflammatory than other ways of eating.
It’s often difficult to get enough of all essential nutrients, even with the best eating or diet plans. That’s why it’s best to fill in the gaps with supplementation. For fighting inflammation specifically, we recommend making sure to take a Curcumin supplement daily.
Chronic inflammation is dangerous for your health, and especially as you age, so you really need to make sure your inflammation is in check. Remember our mantra:
Less Inflammation in + More Inflammation out = Healthier You!
The National Institute of Health (NIH) has found that long-term use of curcumin, which is found in turmeric, as an inflammation-fighting agent is an effective way to fight against the damaging effects of chronic inflammation
Specifically, turmeric’s active ingredients, the curcuminoids, are able to effectively fight off the underlying causes of inflammation, which severely inhibit your ability to build and repair muscle. In order to get the full inflammatory-fighting benefit of turmeric, and especially for preventing muscle loss as you age, you need to make sure you are taking in enough to benefit from its active ingredient — curcumin. It’s difficult to get enough curcumin from just eating turmeric, which is why we recommend Smarter Nutrition’s Curcumin.
Additional Health Benefits Of Macrobiotic Diet
Helps Improve Heart Health
Certain studies have found evidence for macrobiotic-style diets supporting cardiovascular health and lower blood pressure levels. This isn’t surprising considering how many high-antioxidant, anti-inflammatory foods are encouraged in a macrobiotic diet. For example, the macrobiotic diet is rich in dietary fiber, including all sorts of high-fiber foods, such as veggies, beans, and unprocessed ancient grains. Eating plenty of fiber has been correlated with improvements in cardiovascular disease risk factors through multiple mechanisms, including lipid reduction, body weight regulation, improved glucose metabolism, blood pressure control and reduction of chronic inflammation.
Very Low in Sugar, Gluten, and Processed foods
Like other whole food-based diets that eliminate junk foods, processed foods, and sugary drinks the macrobiotic diet is very low in sugar, empty calories, and artificial ingredients. This makes it a very nutrient-dense, healthy, and efficient diet.
Macrobiotic diets can also be potentially beneficial for those with food allergies, since it eliminates several common allergens that can cause digestive issues, gut health issues, immune issues, and contribute to inflammation, such as dairy products, almost all gluten and nightshades vegetables.
So, macrobiotic diets are not just about what you eat, they also put a lot of focus on how you eat. Remember, it’s all about balance.
Tips for following the Macrobiotic diet
Ideally, the macrobiotic diet recommends that you eat only two or three times a day, and stop eating before you feel full. When you do eat, slow down and eat mindfully. This will allow your brain and stomach to communicate, sending signals that you’ve had enough which will help prevent overeating.
One of the more interesting tips, and one that is really beneficial, is chewing each mouthful of food thoroughly and mindfully to aide in digestion.
Proponents of macrobiotic diets believe that complex carbohydrates, such as whole grains, need a particular enzyme in your saliva in order to be absorbed completely. As a result, you should chew each mouthful of food 50 to 100 times. You’ll be amazed to see how you digestion improves and how chewing your food that much gives your brain time to signal your belly that you are full. It can really cut down on overeating!
You can improve digestive enzyme health through natural food sources, but it’s also really helpful to use Smarter Nutrition Enzymes as a supplement. These enzymes support the stomach’s natural enzymes and improve the body’s ability to digest foods faster and more efficiently with a team of enzymes; each enzyme targeting a different material – protein, carbohydrates, fat, and fiber. These enzymes increase the availability of nutrients and actually provide your body with more energy.
A high-grade Enzyme Digestive Aid that is Scientifically proven to:
- Improve the immune system
- Increase nutrient absorption
- Help food pass through the digestive tract more quickly
- Relieve stress on your pancreas, liver, and kidneys
Today we talked about macrobiotic diets — which are as much about lifestyle as they are about eating. Macrobiotic diets promote balance and harmony both in your body and the environment around you. While the anti-inflammatory diet doesn’t line up with the macrobiotic diet in every aspect, we do appreciate that it is grounded in mindfulness, gratitude, awareness, and balance.
Today we reviewed the foods to include and the foods to avoid as recommended by macrobiotic diet experts, and we compared these recommendations to Dr. Nancy’s Anti-Inflammatory Eating Plan and provided a few additional recommendations.
We also shared some of the reported health benefits of following a macrobiotic diet plan, including reduced inflammation, improved heart health, and reduced exposure to processed foods, gluten, sugar, and other known allergens.
We recommended chewing your food between 50 and 100 times, which is really beneficial for mindfulness and digestion.
Here are a few more interesting Macrobiotic diet plan and lifestyle tips for improving balance:
- Cook fresh foods at home more often, especially over a gas stove and reduce the amount of leftovers and microwaved, frozen, or canned food you consume.
- Make plants the center of every meal
- Aim to eat a variety of colored fruits and veggies every day
- Drink plenty of clean water and tea, avoiding sweetened drinks, alcohol and caffeine
- Use glass to store food and water instead of plastic products.
- Opening your windows daily to let fresh air
- Keeping plants indoors,
- Walking outside on a daily basis
- Stick to a regular sleep/wake schedule,
- Practicing gratitude daily
- And wear clothes made from natural fibers
We hope you enjoyed learning a bit more about the macrobiotic lifestyle! Please make sure you continue to send us your recommendations for show topics, and tell us what you’d like to learn about!