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A macrobiotic diet is a strict whole-foods pesco-vegetarian (a diet that includes fish but no meat or poultry) diet. It is appealing to health-minded people who are practicing a holistic approach to physical and spiritual well-being. It focuses on balancing yin and yang foods, which are described below. There have been numerous anecdotal reports of the macrobiotic diet curing people of cancer or other serious diseases, but very little scientific evidence exists.
Best bets: Brown rice, barley, whole wheat, fresh broccoli, cauliflower, butternut squash, chickpeas, tofu, sea vegetables like kombu and nori, and vegetable soups. A few servings of nuts and seafood per week are allowed.
The earliest recorded usage of the term “macrobiotics” is found in the writings of Hippocrates. Translated literally, macro is the Greek word for “great” and bios is the word for “life.” Macrobiotics is used by its practitioners as a tool that allows one to learn to live within the natural order of life. Throughout history, philosophers and physicians from many parts of the world have used this term to signify living in harmony with nature, eating a simple, balanced diet, and living to an active old age.
The modern practice of macrobiotics was started in the 1920s by a Japanese educator named George Ohsawa. Ohsawa is said to have cured himself of a serious illness by changing to a simple diet of brown rice, miso soup, and sea vegetables. At the core of Ohsawa’s writings on macrobiotics is the concept of yin and yang. In Chinese philosophy, the opposing forces of yin and yang govern all aspects of life. Yin—representative of an outward centrifugal movement—results in expansion. On the other hand, yang—representative of an inward centripetal movement—produces contraction. In addition, yin is said to be cold while yang is hot; yin is sweet, yang is salty; yin is passive, yang is aggressive. In the macrobiotic view, the forces of yin and yang must be kept in balance to achieve good health.
The macrobiotic diet, therefore, attempts to achieve harmony between yin and yang. To this end, foods are classified into yin and yang categories, according to their tastes, properties, and effects on the body. The two food groups—grains and vegetables—that have the least pronounced yin and yang qualities, are emphasized in the macrobiotic diet. Eating these foods is thought to make it easier to achieve a more balanced condition within the natural order of life. Foods considered either extremely yin or extremely yang are avoided. The standard macrobiotic diet recommendations are as follows:
Macrobiotic principles also govern food preparation and the manner in which food is eaten. Recommendations in this area include: avoid using a microwave oven to prepare food; cook rice in a pressure cooker; eat only when hungry; chew food completely; eat in an orderly, relaxed manner using good posture; and keep the home in good order, especially where food is prepared.
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The information presented in Aisle7 is for informational purposes only. It is based on scientific studies (human, animal, or in vitro), clinical experience, or traditional usage as cited in each article. The results reported may not necessarily occur in all individuals. Self-treatment is not recommended for life-threatening conditions that require medical treatment under a doctor's care. For many of the conditions discussed, treatment with prescription or over the counter medication is also available. Consult your doctor, practitioner, and/or pharmacist for any health problem and before using any supplements or before making any changes in prescribed medications. Information expires June 2014.