15 Steps to Maintaining a Macrobiotic Diet

( - The origin of macrobiotics begins with a military doctor named Sagen Ishizuka. One of his students studied Ishizuka’s theory on balancing mineral salts, and the I-Ching. This student was George Ohsawa and a translation of his research introduced macrobiotics to America in 1965. He created what you know as macrobiotics today.

Macrobiotics focuses on balancing the yin and yang energies present in food. This also relates to the acids and bases in the food you eat. According to the Bone Metabolism Laboratory at the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center, excess acid in your diet leads to premature bone breakdown.

At the same time, studies reported by the Research Center have shown increased alkaline diets decrease muscle loss and increase bone density. A lot of food in the typical American diet like cheese and sugar, are more acidic than alkaline. These foods have a lot of yin and yang.

Yin and yang can be defined in many ways. As far as macrobiotics is concerned, it is defined as a nervous system division between the parasympathetic nervous system – yang — and sympathetic nervous system – yin. Finding a balance between the two is how the macrobiotic diet maintains good health.

The good thing about this diet is that it is adaptable. Although it’s intended to be pescatarian (a diet including fish), you can make it gluten-free, vegetarian or vegan. You may be asking, “Is this a lifestyle or a diet?” How far down the rabbit hole of Eastern philosophy you go is up to you, but reducing toxins by following a macrobiotic diet is very beneficial.

Here are 15 steps on how to maintain a macrobiotic diet:

Step 1: Go Local

If you’re a fan of supporting local businesses, you’re in luck, because the macrobiotic diet emphasizes eating locally sourced foods. When you eat food imported from other climate regions, you lose adaptability to your current living environment. This creates an imbalance that can lead to the development of sickness.

This is one of the reasons the macrobiotic diet limits the type of fruits consumed. This includes tropical or semi-tropical products, such as sugar, citrus fruit, bananas, pineapple, spices, coffee and other yin foods eaten in North America.

In the warmer temperate climate of America sickness can result from excessive consumption of heavy animal food more suited to the polar regions.

It is recommended to eat foods within a 300 to 500 mile radius from your home. If that is not possible, it’s suggested to find foods that are grown in areas with climates similar to North America, such as Japan or Europe.

This will also help to reduce your carbon footprint. You’ll want to eat as many organic foods as possible, and avoid all processed foods. So put that macaroni and cheese back on the shelf and switch to grain porridge or quinoa salad.

Step 2: Take It Slow

Your body need time to adapt to any changes in your diet. Don’t rush adopting a new diet too quickly. You may want to start gradually, and when you feel comfortable, go completely macrobiotic.

Step 3: Chew Your Food

Chewing your food well is important to avoid bloating. The macrobiotic diet advises to chew each bite of food at least fifty times. You actually begin digesting food while it is in your mouth. Your saliva contains digestive system enzymes produced by the body to extract nutrients.

Chewing more times makes it easier on your stomach to process food, and you’ll actually feel a lot fuller than if you scarfed down a meal in a few seconds.

Step 4: Elements of Yin and Yang Foods

When the macrobiotic diet excludes or includes certain vegetables, drinks, or fruits, this is based on the concept of yin and yang. Some foods have more yin and other foods have more yang.

Here are four guidelines to follow when determining if a food is yin or yang:

• How the food grows (including speed and direction).
• Where the food was grown (in northern or southern climates).
• The sodium-potassium content.
• The effect the food has on the body (hot or cold effects).

In regards to the mineral elements, yin represents foods rich in potassium,
while yang foods have a lot of sodium.

Yin food groups have less salt, contain potassium, or grow above soil. Yin foods are considered “cool.” Yang foods are high in sodium, or grow below the soil and are thought of as “warm” or “hot.”

One of the practices of the macrobiotic philosophy is to eat “cool” foods when it is hot, and “hot” foods when temperatures outside are cold.

Step 5: Dairy, Meat and Spicy Foods

On this eating regime there are certain foods you should avoid. Meat and dairy products, such as milk, cheese and eggs, are not part of the macrobiotic diet because they’re much more acidic.

Also, this is part of the principles of a macrobiotic lifestyle. One of the goals is to change from a diet based on meat and sugar to a diet based on grains and vegetables.

In fact, eating red meat can create cravings for sugar, so you are hitting two birds with one stone by not eating meat.

If you like hot salsa, jalapeños, or curry, then it’s time for a break, because spicy foods are not allowed. Spicy foods have too much yin according to the macrobiotic diet.

Step 6: Drinks to Avoid

Liquids in the no-fly zone are:

• Soda
• Coffee
• Alcohol

Alcohol isn’t on the menu; so put the brakes on those late night benders while you’re following the macrobiotic lifestyle. Soda and coffee contain a lot of acids, and alcohol has a lot of empty calories and no nutritional value.

A macrobiotic rule of thumb is to only drink when you’re thirsty, and avoid drinking anything super processed.

Step 7: Vegetables You Don’t Eat

Although vegan and vegetarian diets encourage an almost limitless consumption of vegetables, the macrobiotic diet actually excludes certain vegetables based on their yin and yang content.

Vegetables not to eat:

• Asparagus
• Avocado
• Eggplant
• Okra
• Potato
• Spinach
• Zucchini

Retraining your body to eat more intuitively can be a benefit of the macrobiotic diet. Instead of eating because you have the munchies, you’re eating because you feel your body needs food.

Step 8: Macrobiotic Vegetables You Do Eat

Here’s a list of veggies on the diet:

• Acorn Squash
• Butternut Squash
• Bok choy
• Cauliflower
• Carrots
• Green cabbage
• Kale
• Mustard greens
• Parsley
• Turnips
• Watercress

These vegetables are part of the menu because they have only slight yin and yang attributes. Leafy green vegetables are packed with vitamins A and C, iron, betacarotene, calcium, and phytonutrients.

These vegetables are very filling, high in fiber and low in calories. They are also alkalizing, and the chlorophyll they contain helps the body purify itself. Keeping with the theme of going local, make sure these vegetables come from nearby. Ideally, up to 30 percent of your diet should be vegetables.

You won’t be eating the majority of these vegetables raw, but either steamed, blanched or sautéed. You can eat raw salads, but this will be less frequent than eating blanched vegetables.

Other vegetables on the menu include:

• Lettuce
• Celery
• Cucumber

Although these vegetables are on the diet, macrobiotic practitioners discourage eating them more than a couple of times a week, as they are more moderate yin vegetables.

Step 9: Eat Whole Grains

The backbone of the macrobiotic diet is whole grains. When you’re at the grocery store, put these grains on your list:

• Brown rice
• Barley
• Buckwheat
• Corn
• Millet
• Oats
• Rye

In macrobiotics, it’s suggested to fill up to 60 percent of your diet with organic whole grains. Whole grains have antioxidants not found in fruits and vegetables. They also have vitamin B, vitamin E, magnesium, iron and fiber.

Step 10: Fiber and Fruit

Did you know that fruit juice and pasta turn into sugar when you digest them? Although tropical fruit, tomatoes, and fruit juice aren’t allowed, other types of fruit are still an option on this diet. Find a farmer’s market and buy these fruits:

• Apples
• Apricots
• Blackberries
• Blueberries
• Cherries
• Grapes
• Peaches
• Pears
• Plums
• Raspberries
• Watermelon

Similar to lettuce, celery and cucumber, hold back on eating fruit more than two or three times a week. Another option is to eat dried fruit, though, due to high sugar content, try not to eat too much.

The reason why berries are on the macrobiotic diet is because berries have tons of vitamin C, fiber, and phytonutrients.

A great source of fiber in any diet is nuts and seeds. Take your pick of these nuts:

• Almonds
• Chestnuts
• Peanuts
• Pecans
• Walnuts


• Pumpkin
• Sesame seeds
• Sunflower seeds

Avoid eating these nuts:

• Brazil nuts
• Cashews
• Hazelnuts
• Macadamia nuts
• Pistachio nuts

Nuts may be high in fat content, but it’s mostly unsaturated fat, which helps heart health. The reasons why certain nuts are recommended over others are their nutritional value and amount of processing.

Walnuts have a high omega-3 fatty acids count that not only increase heart health but also circulation. Nuts are a great source of dietary fiber, magnesium, copper, folic acid, protein, potassium, and vitamin E.

Step 11: Macrobiotic Protein Sources

Since aside from fish, meat is excluded from the diet, you’ll need another source of protein.

Soybean products, such as tempeh and tofu, are a good choice. These can be sautéed in an iron skillet with cold-pressed oils like peanut, sunflower or olive oil.

Plants provide a great source of protein without the additives often found in commercial meat. The macrobiotic menu includes beans and sea vegetables, and only certain kinds of beans are recommended. Usually, you’ll eat beans only once a day. These are the beans you can eat:

• Adzuki
• Chickpeas (what hummus is made from)
• Lentils

Pair beans with sea vegetables such as:

• Dulse
• Kombu
• Wakame

Fish on the diet include:

• Carp
• Cod
• Flounder
• Halibut
• Trout

It is suggested to eat fish only two to three times a week, and as always go local. Fish have heart healthy omega fatty acids that help reduce cholesterol.

The macrobiotic diet discourages the consumption of fatty fish and any that are not locally sourced. Fish that are included are a great source of lean protein and omega fatty acids.

Step 12: Learn What You’re Missing

The macrobiotic diet shares a lot of similarities to a vegan or vegetarian diet, though traditionally it includes fish. If you are vegetarian or vegan be sure to cover nutrition to maintain a healthy immune system.

For those not eating meat it’s a good idea to stock up on vitamin D, B-12, iron, and omega-3 fatty acids.

Many foods included in the macrobiotic diet are already rich in nutritional content. For example, sea vegetables have lots of iron, and leafy greens contain large amounts of calcium.

Step 13: No Snacking

Snacking in between meals is discouraged when on a macrobiotic diet. In a nation with an overabundance of fast food, the body is often confused on what real hunger is. You end up wanting to satiate your taste buds rather than eat when you are hungry.

If you’ll look into the wild, very few animals are overweight. This is because they eat only what’s needed, not satisfy late night cravings after seeing an ad on TV.

A macrobiotic lifestyle can retrain your hunger instincts more in line with what your body needs to eat, versus what you want to eat.

Now along these lines, as you become more in tune with your body’s natural hunger, if it’s too difficult at first to eat only two or three times a day, feel free to snack on roasted raw nuts (listed in Step 6), or steamed edamame beans.

One of the tenets of macrobiotic diets is to never stuff yourself. Eat only until almost full, this helps increase body-awareness and intuitive eating skills.

Step 14: Go Gourmet

Just because you’re eating healthier now doesn’t mean you can’t do it up with class and style. There are tons of excellent macrobiotic meals with a variety of flavors that’ll satisfy anyone’s palate.

Here are a few delicious dishes:

• Buckwheat Noodles With Ginger and Scallions
• Fresh Wakame Sea Vegetable Salad With Kale
• Sweet Chocolaty Adzuki Bean Kanten Dessert
• Nori-wrapped Tofu With Miso
• Raw Pickled Burdock Root

Step 15: Stay the Path: Do What Works For You

It may be tough at first to shift your eating habits, that’s why Step 2 suggests taking it slow. Always consult a physician or dietitian if you have questions or concerns and don’t try to take anything to an extreme.

Implementing some, or only part of the macrobiotic diet to your normal routine is always a possibility.

Keeping a food journal of what you’ve eaten during the day is also helpful. At the end of the week you can review what you’ve eaten and see how close you are to staying on the path of a macrobiotic diet.

Either way, whether you try out the macrobiotic diet for one day, or one week, reducing the dependency on refined sugars and processed foods is a good goal to have.


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