What is Macrobiotics?

About Macrobiotics

Macrobiotics is not a radical theory or an extreme diet, but it is a basic traditional way of living, providing fundamental principles of how to live in harmony with nature. Macrobiotics is about balanced eating and can be used as a preventative for illness, both physical and mental, healing, energetic purposes or as a general day-to-day philosophy.  It is a style of cooking, eating and living that became popular in Europe and America during the 1960s and 70s, thanks to the influence of George Ohsawa, who is credited with inventing this philosophy of food, nature and human health. The word macrobiotic comes from the Greek words macro meaning big and bios, meaning life. So in short, a macrobiotic philosophy is one which promotes a big or a long healthy life.

Today, macrobiotics is less well known, but we feel that macrobiotics is more important than ever, thanks to the huge rise in the popularity of vegan cooking. In recent times the term 'macrobiotic diet' overlaps somewhat with the term 'wholefoods plant-based diet', as advocated by the highly influential dietician Dr. Colin Campbell, author of the best-selling book The China Study.

21st century macrobiotics still stays true to its roots, but is also much more diverse, interesting and tasty than its critics would believe. The emphasis of locally-grown (or foods from a similar climate), organic and seasonal vegetables, combined with wholegrains and proteins from sources such as tempeh, (non GM) tofu, seitan and legumes is one that optimises human health, along with health for the planet we live on. A vital component of macrobiotics is understanding how we can harmonise our way of living with our personal makeup, the environment and the seasons, all of which are the key to our health and happiness.

Macrobiotics is a complex field of study which you may wish to pursue elsewhere. Here we provide a basic guide to some of the essentials and the table below contrasts a macrobiotic diet with today's popular vegan one.

 

Macrobiotic diet

Vegan diet

Main concerns

Human health, harmony with environment, world peace.

Animal cruelty, environmental impact, general human health.

What does a typical meal look like?

Miso/vegetable soups, wholegrains, vegetables, tofu/tempeh/seitan, seaweed. Pickles and fermented foods. Seasonal fruit desserts.

Often much like a western diet, but with meat/dairy substitutes.

Advice on meat and fish

Not forbidden, but macrobiotic people are generally vegan or primarily vegan. Limited amounts of fish and meat can be OK if they are from a good source, such as an unpolluted river or wild game. However the environment must be considered, as most commercial fish and meat today is heavy in toxins and should be avoided. Meat should only be eaten once or twice per week at most, regardless of any other factors.

Forbidden, but meat substitutes are popular, vegan ham, mince, etc. from soya. This can often be GM soya.

Advice on dairy products

Must be avoided. Some use of nut and soya milks, used sparingly.

Forbidden, but dairy substitutes are popular, vegan cheese, cream, etc. from soya.

Sugars

Only complex and unrefined sugars are used. Sweeteners can come from either vegetables themselves (such onions and carrots as when roasted or bolied) or natural sources such as rice, amazake, barley malt or maple syrup.

No special considerations.

Food sources

Locally sourced,organic and in harmony with local climate and soil. For example in northern Europe consumption of tropical fruits is discouraged.

No special considerations, frequent consumption of exotic fruits and vegetables such as coconut and avocado.

Spices

Limited use of spices.

No special considerations.

Cooking techniques

Meal should use a balance of cooking techniques, e.g. steaming, frying, boiling. This will vary with the season and the condition of the person, i.e. 'food as medicine'.

No special considerations.

Use of vegetables

Should be local and organic. Vegetables are generally cooked using a variety of styles to suit the time of year and condition of the person. In spring and summer a few raw vegetables and wild leaves are used. Fermented vegetables are also important.

No special considerations. Salads are popular.

Use of fruits

Should be local to the environment you live in, seasonal and organic. Consumption of fruit is therefore limited as fruit is local and seasonal. Dried fruits may be eaten throughout the year.

No special considerations.

Use of fermented foods and pickles

Should be important part of diet. Miso, pickles, sauerkraut, and kimchi (with limited/no use of chilli) are all popular. Fermented foods aid digestion and may also release nutrients such as B12, but this is not proven.

No special considerations.

Use of grains

Must be wholegrain.

No special considerations.

Use of supplements

Strongly discouraged, as nutrients should come from a good diet and not supplements.

Supplements such as B12 are common.