The Mac­ro­bi­otic Diet

Yoga Journal - - TEACHER’S TABLE -

AS YO­GIS, WE’RE CON­STANTLY think­ing about bal­ance, and the mac­ro­bi­otic diet was de­signed with the quest for equi­lib­rium in mind. The move­ment was founded in the 1930s by Ja­panese-born Ge­orge Oh­sawa, and it’s a style of eat­ing (and be­ing) based on Ja­panese tra­di­tions. It draws on the the­ory of bal­anc­ing yin and yang—con­trary forces that are be­lieved to be com­ple­men­tary. Many yo­gis have adopted a mac­ro­bi­otic phi­los­o­phy, which fo­cuses on bal­anc­ing the en­ergy and prop­er­ties of the foods we eat. Yang foods are denser, heav­ier, and gen­er­ally warm (red meat and poul­try, for ex­am­ple), while yin foods are light, dif­fu­sive, and cool (like cit­rus and trop­i­cal fruits).

The idea is to achieve har­monic nu­tri­tion by com­bin­ing yin-and-yang­bal­anced foods, like grains, with fresh veg­gies and lean pro­tein (read: tofu) into sa­ti­at­ing meals that re­vi­tal­ize the mind and body. Foods that are ex­tremely yin (al­co­hol, caf­feine, sugar) or yang (pork, beef, eggs) are rarely con­sumed, and foods that are fairly yang (fish, whole­grain bread) must be bal­anced with those that are equally yin (beans, fi­brous fruits). Cooked whole grains like brown rice, bar­ley, oats, wheat, corn, and rye make up about 40–60 per­cent of this diet, with lo­cally-grown fruits and vegeta­bles, beans, and legumes gen­er­ally mak­ing up an­other 30–40 per­cent. Seafood, nuts, and seeds are con­sumed in mod­er­a­tion— just a few times per week—while most an­i­mal prod­ucts and highly pro­cessed re­fined foods are avoided.


Mac­ro­bi­otic devo­tees be­lieve this way of eat­ing can treat or pre­vent cancer—but so far, re­search is in­con­clu­sive. Find­ings from a 2015 study in the jour­nal Nu­tri­tion and Cancer in­di­cate that a mac­ro­bi­otic diet plan has po­ten­tial for dis­ease pre­ven­tion, but it ul­ti­mately called for fur­ther study. What we do know is that eat­ing a mostly plant-based diet that’s high in fiber can lower your risk for heart dis­ease and cer­tain types of cancer, and a mac­ro­bi­otic diet can fit this bill. Sim­i­larly, a new study pub­lished in Fe­bru­ary in the jour­nal Me­tab­o­lism found that a diet char­ac­ter­ized by whole grains, legumes, and fruits and vegeta­bles— when com­pared to a diet high in re­fined grains and added sug­ars—may have ben­e­fi­cial ef­fects on blood-sugar reg­u­la­tion, which re­duces in­flam­ma­tion.

This diet may also help you ac­ti­vate your parasym­pa­thetic ner­vous sys­tem (also called the rest-and-digest sys­tem). The key mac­ro­bi­otic prin­ci­ple of cre­at­ing a habit of mind­ful­ness around the foods

we eat pro­motes re­lax­ation, aid­ing in di­ges­tion and the ab­sorp­tion of nu­tri­ents, says nu­tri­tion­ist Charles Passler, creator of the Pure Change detox pro­gram. (The high-fiber as­pect of the mac­ro­bi­otic diet also con­trib­utes to these ben­e­fits.) Passler says that a mac­ro­bi­otic diet staves off di­a­betes be­cause it’s low in sugar, and it pro­motes heart health and healthy blood pres­sure be­cause it’s rich in min­er­als, an­tiox­i­dants, and choles­terol-low­er­ing plant sterols.


“Un­for­tu­nately, for some of my pa­tients, the mac­ro­bi­otic diet doesn’t pro­vide enough calo­ries and pro­tein—lead­ing to mus­cle loss and fa­tigue,” says Passler. To com­bat this, he rec­om­mends a plant­based pro­tein pow­der (with 20 grams of pro­tein per serv­ing) once or twice a day, blended with chilled wa­ter.

Cal­cium, mag­ne­sium, and iron also tend to be low in peo­ple who eat mac­ro­bi­otic, so yo­gis who make mac­ro­bi­otic food choices should con­sider a daily mul­ti­vi­ta­min and min­eral sup­ple­ment.

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