Many people think of brown rice when they think of a macrobiotic diet, but the macrobiotic food pyramid is much more complex and includes much more than brown rice. The macrobiotic diet is a dietary approach that draws on principles of Chinese medicine such as yin and yang. It does use specific guidelines for what to eat, but these guidelines are not fixed in stone. The diet changes depending upon what climate you live in, your environment, your health, your age, your sex, and your activity level. All of these factors determine what foods you will eat from the macrobiotic food pyramid.
1. Yin and Yang
One of the most important aspects, if not the most important aspect, of the macrobiotic diet is balance between yin and yang. Yin and yang are opposites, with yin representing things such as dark, cold, passive, and feminine and yang representing the opposing forces. The yin and yang within a person and in the food they eat needs to be balanced for total health. Except for certain cases, the macrobiotic diet avoids foods that are excessively yin or yang in energy. Yin foods include alcohol, coffee, tea, soft drinks, tropical fruits, saturated vegetable oils, milk, yogurt, and soft cheeses. Eggs, meat, seafood, flour, baked foods, roasted foods, fried foods, and hard cheeses have excessive yang energy. To achieve well-being, the macrobiotic food pyramid is based upon foods that have a more balanced energy like the ones I am going to talk about next.
Whole grains make up 40 to 60 percent of the macrobiotic diet. They are considered to be the foundation of human development and are said to give a “strong, peaceful energy”. While brown rice isn’t the only food eaten on a macrobiotic diet, it is featured prominently because it has a near perfect balance between yin and yang. However, other grains are eaten as well. For instance, barley is another staple grain, and is thought to have a cooling energy that is good for the liver and gall bladder. Millet, whole wheat grains, oats, corn, and buckwheat are also included in the macrobiotic diet, and these grains benefits specific organs and have specific energies.
Cooked vegetables are an important part of the macrobiotic diet as they make up 20 to 30 percent of the diet. Macrobiotics divides vegetables into 3 categories, leafy greens, round vegetables, and root vegetables. Almost every diet emphasizes the importance of eating leafy green vegetables. In the macrobiotic diet, greens are considered important because they are cooling and calming, have a gentle upward energy that is good for the heart and brain, and are abundant in minerals that support bones. All of the round vegetables, like onions and squashes, provide a balanced energy, and the root vegetables, like carrots and radishes, have a strong downward energy. Did you notice that the energy assigned to each food represents how it grows and how it looks? Personally, I find this fascinating.
You might be surprised to learn that beans only make up a small portion of the macrobiotic diet, roughly 5 to 10 percent. However, even though they are only a small portion of the diet they are very important. They are an excellent source of protein and essential vitamins and minerals, they support specific organs, and they provided specific energies. For example, adzuki beans have a strong, yang energy, and lentils are soothing and good for digestion. Soy is often used in the form of tofu and tempeh since it is such a rich source of protein and minerals.
5. Sea Vegetables
You probably aren’t surprised that sea vegetables play an important part in the macrobiotic diet considering its Asian roots. Sea vegetables are eaten for their high mineral content which is extremely strengthening. Kombu is often soaked in water and used to cook beans to make them more digestible and impart more minerals. Wakame, nori, and arame are also eaten in the diet. Sea vegetables do have an acquired taste, but, if you can get used to them, they are incredible healthy and should be eaten whether or not you follow macrobiotics.
In the macrobiotic diet, seasonings have a greater purpose than to simply make food taste better. Unlike most diets, macrobiotics does not shy away from salt, but it does stay away from refined salt. Sea salt is often used because it is a good source of trace minerals and supports the brain, digestive system and nervous system. Other seasonings, such as miso and umeboshi plums (salty, pickled plums), contain salt and are used to help balance energy. Actually, miso soup is eaten almost daily and is an important staple in the diet.
Yes, water is included in the macrobiotic food pyramid. It is considered one of the three most important things for a person to consume, with the other two being grains and salt. Natural spring water is preferred because it has trace minerals and has a strong energy. It also helps support digestion and absorption of nutrients.
The macrobiotic diet is very complex, and I have only provided a very basic overview. There is so much more you can learn about the principles of the diet. If you are interested in the macrobiotic diet, there are many books, like the one listed below, that go into great detail about macrobiotics and how it can be used to improve health. What are your thoughts about macrobiotics?
Kushi, Michio and Alex Jack. The Macrobiotic Path to Total Health. New York: Random House, 2003. Print