The macrobiotic diet is a plant-based diet that promotes a more balanced and calmer way of life by eating fresh vegetables and fruits, whole grains, beans, and seafood.
First advocated by Japanese educator George Ohsawa, the macrobiotic diet emphasizes eating various natural and organic foods for optimal health. It’s believed that eating in harmony with nature creates balance within our bodies.
What Is the Macrobiotic Diet?
The Macrobiotic Diet involves eating whole foods balanced between ancient Chinese philosophical forces known as “yin” and “yang.” This concept is widely popular in Eastern culture and is believed to make up all aspects of our lives in varying proportions. It’s also believed that particular foods contain yin and yang qualities, where:
- Yin: An energy force that describes foods growing upwards and outwards, making us feel alert when eaten in moderation. These generally include most fruits and vegetables.
- Yang: An energy force that describes food with downwards and inwards growth, making us feel warm and relaxed when eaten in moderation. These generally include sea vegetables, fish, and whole grains.
It’s challenging to categorize foods as being either yin or yang as the groupings are relative and depend on the foods being compared. It can also rely on the food’s pH, taste, temperature, texture, and how it’s prepared and eaten.
The goal of macrobiotic eating is to balance the two forces while learning to empower your choices by thoughtfully choosing what you eat.
How the Macrobiotic Diet Works
The macrobiotic lifestyle heavily emphasizes whole natural foods, so organic and locally grown produce is recommended. As suggested by Michio Kushi, the pioneer of modern macrobiotics, the recommended intake is roughly divided as below:
40–60% whole grains. This is the most energetically balanced food group and includes:
- Brown rice
20–30% fruits and vegetables. This includes locally grown fresh vegetables, such as:
10–25% bean products and sea vegetables. These are plant-based sources of proteins which include:
- Nori (edible seaweed)
- Tempeh (fermented soybeans)
The diet should avoid any processed foods and discourages meat, dairy products, caffeinated beverages, artificial sweeteners, and junk food. The macrobiotic diet recommends cooking with utensils made from natural materials such as glass, wood, and ceramics.
The macrobiotic diet is complemented with lifestyle recommendations. In addition to the diet, the macrobiotic lifestyle involves:
- Regular exercises such as yoga, walking, or meditation.
- Practicing mindful eating involves slowly chewing your food until it liquifies before swallowing.
- Regularly drinking only water when thirsty and making a conscious effort to avoid caffeinated or flavored drinks.
There are no costs for the macrobiotic diet other than groceries and products purchased. The macrobiotic diet can become pricey due to buying local and organic vegetables and grains.
However, it’s offset by not having to spend money on meats and other animal products. You may incur additional costs when you consult a nutritionist.
Dos and Don’ts
- Consult a nutritionist. The macrobiotic diet can be restrictive and may lead to nutritional deficiencies. Consulting a nutritionist for a personalized plan while ensuring proper nutrition is recommended.
- Plan your meals. Meal planning reduces the time taken for shopping and meal preparation. You can find recipes online to help provide some ideas if you need inspiration.
- Over-limit your food options. It’s recommended to approach the diet intuitively. Hence, if you find that eliminating certain macrobiotic foods is more harmful than helpful, don’t remove them.
- Substitute the diet for medical treatment. No scientific evidence supports the macrobiotic diet as a cure for health conditions. Like many other diets, the macrobiotic diet should only be a complementary therapy to encourage a healthy lifestyle.
Sample Diet Plan
Here’s what a day on the macrobiotic diet may look like:
Breakfast: Whole-grain cereal with soy milk
Lunch: Vegetable sushi with brown rice
Dinner: Brown rice with broccoli and steamed fish garnished with nori flakes
Snacks: Vegetable sticks, dried fruits
Drinks: Water or roasted rice/dandelion tea
Health Benefits and Drawbacks
Develop Mindful Eating Habits
In addition to being conscious about our food choices, the macrobiotic diet encourages practicing mindfulness to be fully aware of our surroundings, thoughts, and feelings.
The diet stresses the importance of eating mindfully through slowly chewing food to appreciate the food’s flavor and nutrients more conscientiously.
May Improve Certain Health Conditions
Since the main components of the diet are fish and vegetables, the macrobiotic diet has been used to help improve health conditions such as diabetes and heart disease.
For people with type 2 diabetes, following the macrobiotic diet for 21 days significantly reduced blood sugar levels, total cholesterol, and body weight. The diet was also believed to lower blood pressure, making it a potential preventative diet for heart disease.
Certain Health Claims Lack Evidence
Currently, no evidence supports the diet as a cure for cancer. However, research to understand the relationship between diet and the risk of cancer development is ongoing.
Risk of Nutritional Deficiencies
While the diet contains some animal products (white fish) and a variety of fruits and vegetables, there are a lot of restrictions.
Researchers noted that people on the macrobiotic diet are likely to lack calcium, vitamin B12, and vitamin D. The additional restriction of supplements in this diet may make sticking to the diet a challenge.
The Bottom Line: Is the Macrobiotic Diet a Healthy Way to Lose Weight?
The macrobiotic diet may help with weight loss as it is a low-fat, high fiber, and high carbohydrate diet that primarily consists of fruits, vegetables, and whitefish. While it cuts out processed foods and sugar, it also cuts out other important nutritional sources such as most meats, dairy, and eggs, so caution is advised.
Meagan Morris is the editor in chief of Celebribody. She's veteran health and wellness editor with over 15 years of experience. Her work has been featured in The Atlantic, Yahoo Health, Cosmopolitan, SELF, and Women's Health, among others. She spends most of her time writing, but her favorite part of the day is spent under a barbell doing squats.