The Macrobiotic Diet
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.