Although the macrobiotic diet now takes many forms, its origins are in Ancient Japan. Today, this way of eating is growing in popularity fast. While many people follow the diet as a way of losing weight, others embrace it in their everyday lives.
The macrobiotic diet is linked directly to modern-day Japanese delicacies such as sushi. It relies heavily on whole grains, fruits, vegetables and legumes. The only meat allowed is fish, and even then it is used sparingly. In very simple terms, a macrobiotic diet is veganism with just a little bit of fish. Of course, this statement is an oversimplification, as there are certain rules about exactly how much of each food group you can consume.
What does a macrobiotic diet include?
Macrobiotic diets involve specific percentages of foods. For example, vegetables may account for between 20 and 30 percent of the food eaten, while grains can account for anything between 40 and 60 percent. Typically, fish is only around 10 percent of the diet, and is rarely eaten more than twice a week. Processed foods and ingredients of any kind are forbidden, and so is red meat, poultry and dairy.
As well as a prescribed list of foods to be eaten in very specific quantities, the macrobiotic diet involves certain lifestyle and eating processes. Exercise is crucial to the success of this particular way of eating, and mastication is also considered to be of crucial importance. Some versions of the diet recommend chewing food at least 50 times to aid digestion.
What can I eat on a macrobiotic diet?
In the simplest of terms, you can eat anything a vegan would eat, as well as a little fish every now and then. The purest forms of the diet are very prescriptive, however, and they include lots of Asian vegetables such as daikon, seaweed and fermented soy beans. Lentils, grains, beans and peas usually play a central role in the diet, as does brown rice.
But like any diet, you can tailor it to your own needs. For instance, you might want to follow the macrobiotic diet every other week, or you may prefer to introduce a little red meat once a week.
What are the benefits of the macrobiotic diet?
There is evidence to suggest that the nutrient-rich macrobiotic diet helps to reduce inflammation. High in fibre, low in saturated and trans fats, and rich in most vitamins and minerals, the diet can reduce the effects of inflammatory conditions. Several studies have also concluded that this low-fat diet can improve heart health. Other studies have linked the diet with a reduced risk of cancer, but these claims have been questioned by various research bodies around the world.
What are the drawbacks of the macrobiotic diet?
The macrobiotic diet requires careful planning; without it, the diet can prove expensive and leave you deficient in vitamin B12, calcium, iron and magnesium. The diet can also be a cause of protein deficiency if you don’t get the balance of grains, vegetables and legumes right. And because the diet is very low in fat, the body can struggle to absorb fat-soluble vitamins such as A, D, E and K. Of course, all of these issue can be resolved with careful planning, which is why commercial macrobiotic diets are very prescriptive about the percentage of each food group you should be eating.
A few tips for following the macrobiotic diet successfully
Like any diet, you may not know if it’s right for you until you’ve given it a go. For some people, the thought of going without meat and dairy completely is just too extreme. However, if you’re in two minds as to whether the diet will work for you, there are a few tips you should follow:
- Get into the habit of cooking at home from scratch more often
- Make vegetables the basis of all your meals
- Try to make meals with lots of different colours — ensuring lots of different antioxidants are on your plate
- Drink lots of water and tea, but avoid caffeine, alcohol and sweetened drinks
- Chew your food between 25 and 50 times before swallowing
Any diet that is low in fat, high in fibre and high in essential vitamins and minerals has the potential to improve your overall wellbeing — but only if you’re giving your body everything it needs.