George Ohsawa (1893–1966) coined the term macrobiotic to describe a philosophy towards life, health, and healing. Macrobiotic means "way of long life." Macrobiotics is best described as a way of living according to the principles of yin and yang. Ohsawa, in his book, Zen Macrobiotics, describes twelve principles of yin and yang. On the simplest level, it means that individuals eat foods that keep them in balance with their environment (i.e., in a hot (yang) climate, more cooling (yin) foods are eaten, and vice versa). Oshawa outlined a ten-stage "Zen" macrobiotic diet in which each stage gets more restrictive. The diet is alleged to overcome all forms of illness. At the "highest level," the diet is nutritionally inadequate and has resulted in several deaths. Oshawa devoted much of his time trying to understand the "Order of the Universe," and eventually succumbed to the efforts of his experimentation.
More recently, macrobiotics has come to mean a dietary regimen used to prevent and treat many diseases. The macrobiotic diet is actually several diets ranging in restrictions from severe to moderate. The severe diet consists exclusively of whole cereal grains, while the moderate diet consists of whole cereal grains and certain types of vegetables, fruits, and soups. Today's leading proponent is Michio Kushi, who reformulated and popularized macrobiotics in the United States.
The standard macrobiotic diet avoids many foods including meat, poultry, animal fats, eggs, dairy products, refined sugar, and foods containing artificial sweeteners or other chemical additives. All recommended foods are preferably organically grown and minimally processed. Consumption of genetically modified, irradiated, processed, canned, and frozen foods is discouraged. The diet consists of five categories of foods (with a recommended weight percentage of total food consumed):
- Whole cereal grains (40%–60%).
- Vegetables, including smaller amounts of raw or pickled vegetables (20%–30%).
- Soups (which may be made with vegetables, sea vegetables, grains, or beans).
- Beverages including any traditional tea that does not have an aromatic fragrance or a stimulating effect and spring water or good-quality well water, without ice. Not recommended are tropical or semitropical fruits and fruit juices, soda, artificial drinks and beverages, coffee, and colored tea.
- Occasional foods include fruit, white fish, seeds, and nuts.
- Foods to eliminate from the diet include meat, animal fat , eggs, poultry, dairy products, refined sugars, chocolate, molasses, honey, vanilla, hot spices, artificial vinegar, and strong alcoholic beverages.
Although the range of intakes varies, macrobiotic diets are generally low in energy , protein , and fat. They are also likely to be inadequate in vitamin D , folic acid, vitamin B 12 , riboflavin, calcium , and iron . Clinical cases of malnutrition and growth failure in children have been reported.
Proponents of the macrobiotic diet recommend it for cancer patients. It is alleged to slow progression of cancer by starving the rapidly reproducing cells responsible for the disease. Many patients with HIV/AIDS also turn to a macrobiotic diet to help combat the disease. However, these patients and others with immune-suppressed diseases are already losing alarming amounts of weight, and they also have other medical and nutritional complications. The macrobiotic diet may only exacerbate their problem and cause more nutritional deficiencies .
Delores C. S. James
Bowman, B. B.; Kushner, R. F.; Dawson, S. C.; Levin, B. (1984). "Macrobiotic Diets for Cancer Treatment and Prevention." Journal of Clinical Oncology 2(6):702–711.
Kushi M. (1987). The Book of Macrobiotics: The Universal Way of Health and Happiness. Tokyo: Japan Publications.
Horowitz, J., and Tomita, M. (2002). "The Macrobiotic Diet as Treatment for Cancer: Review of the Evidence." The Permanente Journal 6(4). Available from <http://www.kaiserpermanente.org/medicine/permjournal>
Kushi Institute. "What is macrobiotics?" Available from <http://www.kushiinstitute.org/whatismacro.html>