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Health > Food And Diet > Macrobiotics


An ancient oriental theory of diet, macrobiotics is based on the belief that we are what we eat: that our food directly affects our lives. Like all diets, it should only be followed on advice from a doctor.

Macrobiotics is a theory of diet. Its roots are in Far Eastern views of life and it is much influenced by the teachings of thinkers such as Buddha and Lao Tse. Its Western name, however, comes from a combination of two Greek works: macro, meaning ‘great’ or ‘long’ and bio, which means ‘life’.

The first principle of macrobiotics is that we are what we eat. If we choose to eat in order to be healthy, this will have a direct effect on our lives, on the way we feel and think and behave, and consequently on the lives of those around us, for just as people who are constantly unwell or depressed colour their surroundings, so too, do those who have good health and vitality. In the macrobiotic view, the characteristics of a whole society are determined, to a large extent, by the way in which the majority of its individual members eats.

The macrobiotic diet is based on the belief that everything in nature, including the health of the body, depends upon the relationship between complementary opposites such as acid and alkaline, expressed by the Chinese words yin and yang.

In the macrobiotic view, food, like everything else, has yin or yang characteristics: it can be warm or cool in colour, produce an effect of heat or coldness, be heavy or light in texture, and so on. The healthy diet is the one that balances these correctly, so that the mixture of nutrients in the body is kept steadily at the right level.


Macrobiotics has room for a variety of foods. Vegetables, particularly beans, are included in many dishes, and fruit is used, too, in dried and fresh form. Both vegetables and fruit are very much seen as pleasant additions to the essential items in the diet.


Brown, unpolished rice, whole wheat, millet, corn, oats, rye, barley-are the staple part of the diet. Their importance is based on the belief that they contain all the nutrients needed for health: a balance of carbohydrates, proteins, vitamins and minerals.


Made by fermentation from soya beans, into thick, creamy liquids, added to such dishes as soups, broths and sandwich spreads. Their function is to help the digestive process.


A mixture of roasted sesame seeds and sea salt, is used in place of salt, to help reduce acidity in the body.


Is a compound of sesame seed paste and miso, for use in stews, soups, sauces, mayonnaise, sandwich spreads. In the macrobiotic view, it strengthens the brain and nervous system.


Is used for frying vegetables: the macrobiotic diet contains no animal fats or oils-indeed, no animal products at all.


Rich in Vitamin E and often lightly roasted, are an ingredient of biscuits and muesli, and indeed to salads, vegetables and pastry.


Green plums preserved in sea salt. They are used to stimulate the appetite, and to help cure indigestion and other stomach disorders.


Is used in cooking to give a creamy texture to soups, sauces, puddings and cooked vegetables. It helps digestion and is a useful food when the stomach is upset.


A cream made of a number of grains, including whole rice, whole wheat flour, oat flakes and millet, is a food for people with digestive problems, for convalescents and for young children.

Ordinary tea and coffee are entirely excluded from the macrobiotic diet. Teas which do have a place in the scheme are mu, a mixture of ginseng and a number of herbs, lotus, mint and thyme tea. In place of coffee there is yannoh, made from roasted and ground grains, beans, dandelion and burdock. Other coffee replacements made from plants are dandelion and bardan, both, like yannoh, a good source of minerals. All fluids should be drunk sparingly and all food chewed well to bring out its moisture and so make it more easily digestible.

Sugar, in any form, has no place in the diet, being regarded as a major cause of ill-health: constipation and digestive troubles, bad teeth, blotchy skin. It is replaced by honey or barley male extract, or simply by skilful cooking, to bring out the natural sweetness of vegetables and fruits. (Macrobiotic foods are obtainable at health food stores.)


Macrobiotics excludes only one large category of food: everything which is, or is derived directly from animal products, such as meat, butter, eggs, cheese, cows’ milk and cream, regarding them as a source of poisonous substances that harm the health of the whole body.

However, since the foundation of macrobiotics is a belief in balance, anyone following the diet is advised to eat things from time to time purely for enjoyment, without worrying about their food value and whether they are yin or yang.


Nutritionists tend to look critically at some aspects of macrobiotics because of its reliance upon plant foods. They point out that no plant contains all the ingredients necessary for making the body work with complete efficiency. Vitamin B12 for example, is not found in plants; a deficiency of it affects every cell in the body and can cause pernicious anemia. Vitamin D is essential to the formation of healthy bones (some is made in the skin). Vitamin A is necessary for good eyesight and an all-rice diet could result in night blindness. Scurvy is caused by an absence of fresh fruit and vegetables.

Much of the regular diet of the average Indian is macrobiotic. About two-thirds of the people in the world live, from necessity, on something very closely approaching a macrobiotic diet: their staple food is rice; they seldom eat meat or dairy produce. While it has been found that a great many of them suffer to some degree from one of the deficiency diseases, On the other hand, the likelihood that they will die from cancer, heart disease or athersclerosis is considerably less than it would be if they regularly ate an ordinary Western diet.

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