Macrobiotic Diet Review: What Is It and What Can You Eat

(Last Updated On: August 3, 2018)

Diets; the word alone conjures up deprivation, misery and yo-yo weight loss and gain. There are countless diets out there that promise quick fixes, that promise to help us live longer and much more. But which ones truly work?

The word diet comes from the Latin word ‘diaeta’, meaning ‘a way of life’ or a regimen. A healthy diet should be a way of life, but it doesn’t have to mean deprivation. A healthy diet means eating the right foods in the right amounts to get all the nutrients our body needs to stay healthy.

Unfortunately, the typical western diet doesn’t do this. It is high in sugar and fat which increases the risk of serious disease and can increase the risk of early death.

Popular diets of recent years

Popular diets of recent years

Atkins Diet

The Atkins diet is infamous. It gained notoriety in recent years and was hailed as a wonder way to lose weight while still eating foods such as bacon and cream. The diet made carbs the enemy. People experienced rapid weight loss but the problem was that by consuming higher fat proteins in place of carbs, they also increased their saturated fat intake, which is bad news for heart health. Dr. Atkins himself also reputedly had heart disease when he died, so make of that what you will!

The Zone Diet

The Zone Diet involves consuming a ratio of nutrients at each meal. Each meal should consist of 40% carbohydrates, 30% fats, and 30% protein. The focus of the diet is to control insulin and blood sugar levels to enable weight management and loss. The diet advocates the consumption of healthy, whole grain carbs and healthy fats, such as olive oil, avocados, and nuts.

Vegetarian Diet

There are different variations of a vegetarian diet, such as pesco vegetarian, where fish is eaten but not meat, and lacto-ovo-vegetarian, where dairy and eggs are consumed but no meat or fish. Most vegetarians are the latter. Studies carried out in recent years have demonstrated that vegetarians often find it easier to control their body weight, they suffer from less diseases and they tend to live longer.

Vegan Diet

Veganism is of a way of life, as opposed to just being a diet. A vegan does not eat any animal products at all. Vegans tend to follow this type of diet for environmental and ethical reasons, as well as for health reasons. They believe that if we only ate plant-based foods, it would be better for the environment, animals would not suffer and we would be healthier.

Weight Watchers Diet

The Weight Watchers approach focuses on losing weight through diet, exercise, and support groups. It was started by a housewife in the 1960’s and now there are branches all over the world. People who join can either attend meetings, or get online support, and there is a lot of focus on educating people about healthy food choices and portion sizes.

South Beach Diet

A cardiologist founded the South Beach Diet, and developed it with the help of a nutritionist. The diet focuses on controlling insulin levels by eating healthy carbs, which would send sugar into the bloodstream a lot more slowly, and provide more sustained energy.

Raw Food Diet

The Raw Food Diet consists of consuming foods which are organic, plant-based and unprocessed. Advocates of this diet say that at least ¾ of your food should be raw, and believe that the body absorbs nutrients more fully this way.

Mediterranean Diet

The Mediterranean Diet is often hailed as the world’s healthiest diet. It is based on the general diets of the people of southern Italy, southern France, and Greece. The diet includes lots of plant-based foods, fresh fruit, oils, small amounts of red meat and wine. This diet is one that has been touted as the best regime to follow for longevity.

But the new diet on the block is the Macrobiotic diet. It is not just a diet as such, it is a way of living. So, what is it and does it really work?

What is the macrobiotic diet?

macrobiotic diet

The term macrobiotic comes from the Greek words macro, which means long/large and bio, which means life. The diet was put together in the 1920’s by a Japanese philosopher, George Ohsawa, who He believed that we could live in harmony with nature by eating a simple healthy diet. He also believed that the diet could cure cancer, though current scientific evidence does not support any such claims. The principle behind the diet is that it can help you achieve balance in your life. It’s not just about managing your weight, it’s about a long-term lifestyle choice that focuses on mental outlook and wellbeing as well. Those following the diet are advised to eat regularly, chew their food well, stay active and think positively to affect their overall wellbeing.

The diet also based on the principle of balancing Yin and Yang. In Chinese philosophy, Yin and Yang are opposites. It is believed that if we eat whole foods, our bodies will be able to balance the yin and yang. Yin attracts disease, yang cures disease but the body needs both for balance. If the body is out of balance, then we do not function at our best.

The actual diet consists of a vegan diet with no dairy or meat, and no toxins. Some people include small amounts of organic meat and fish in their diets however. The diet is based on whole grains, vegetables, and beans, so it’s high in fibre, which is why some people believe that it can treat or prevent cancer.

Macrobiotic foods

Grains

Grains are the basis of the macrobiotic diet, and every meal is based on them. Wholegrains make up around 50% of each meal. Grains such as brown rice and millet are recommended.

Vegetables

Cooked or raw vegetables should make up around 30% of your meal. Leafy greens are the most recommended vegetables in the diet. Ideally, vegetables should be in season and locally grown.

Beans

Miso, lentils, and chickpeas should form around 10% of your meal. Tofu is also recommended as it is a natural probiotic, so it promotes healthy digestion.

Fruit

You should not eat too much fruit on this diet. They should be eaten as snacks or desserts no more than 3 times per week. Bananas and pineapples are avoided on this diet.

Sea Vegetables (Seaweed)

Seaweeds such as kelp are rich in vitamins and minerals that promote good health.

Soup

Soups should be eaten daily on the macrobiotic diet. Soups containing grains, vegetables and beans are ideal choices.

Condiments/Oils

Oils like sesame oil and corn oil are recommended as part of the diet, as well as sea salt, brown rice vinegar and miso paste.

Fish

The diet allows you to eat organic fish 1-3 times a week.

Other guidelines

The diet advocates only eating when you’re hungry, and chewing your food thoroughly until it virtually becomes a liquid.

Vitamin and mineral supplements are not recommended, neither are any foods with artificial colours or preservatives.

You should only drink when you’re thirsty. Only water and herbal teas are recommended.

All cooking should be done in in pots made of wood, glass, steel, or china. This also applies to cooking utensils you use.

Cooking with microwaves or using electricity is not recommended.

So how healthy is the Macrobiotic diet?

 

Pros

People who follow macrobiotic diets often have less body fat and cholesterol, which reduces their risk of getting disease like heart disease and cancer. The diet is rich in vegetables and fish and low in fat and sugar, so it can help if you have diabetes, high blood pressure or high cholesterol.

The diet is easily modified for vegetarians or vegans.

It takes a wide view of health. Exercise and good mental health is encouraged.

Cons

The diet does not contain dairy or some animal products, which can mean that you miss out on some nutrients if you follow it too strictly.

It’s certainly not a cheap diet to follow. Organic foods, and ingredients such as seaweed can be expensive.

Because the diet is a lifestyle, it takes a bit of effort. Chewing each mouthful of food 50 times, not cooking with electricity, and making everything from scratch might not be overly practical for you either.

Does It Work?

The diet is rich in nutrients, and you do get a lot of nutrients for relatively few calories. Research suggests that a diet consisting of fruits, vegetables and whole grains can reduce the risk of heart disease and cancer. However, whatever food groups you eat, if you eat too much you will gain weight. So, don’t fall into the trap that many vegetarians fall into; eating too many carbs.

Macrobiotic recipes

If you want to give the diet a go for yourself, here’s a little taster of the meals you could be having;

Lemon garlic shrimp            

Lemon garlic shrimp        

Ingredients

1 lb. large shrimp, peeled and deveined

2 garlic cloves, minced

2 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil

2 tbsp. Italian parsley, minced

½ tsp. ground coriander

Grated zest of 1 lemon

½  tsp.  brown rice syrup/honey

Sea salt and pepper to taste

1 cup breadcrumbs, whole wheat

1 lemon, cut into four pieces, for garnish

Place the shrimp in a bowl. Add the garlic, oil, parsley, coriander, lemon zest, and brown rice syrup, and mix well. Leave in the refrigerator for 30 minutes. Preheat the oven to 375f. Season the shrimp with the salt and pepper, and cover with the breadcrumbs. Place the shrimp on a baking tray lined with foil. Bake until the breadcrumbs are golden, for about 8 minutes. Serve hot or warm with the lemon wedges.

Fruit and nut couscous      

Ingredients

Whole wheat couscous

3 cups water

1/3 cup dried cranberries

2 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil

Juice of ½ lemon

¼ cup almonds

2 tbsp. Italian parsley

sea salt and black pepper to taste

Bring some water to the boil and add a pinch of salt. Add the couscous and cook until the water is absorbed. Put the cranberries on top. Let it sit for 5 minutes then pour into a large bowl. Add in the remaining ingredients and mix well.

Pear trifle with cashew nut dream cream     

Ingredients

200g cooked cashew nuts           

500ml white grape juice

2 soft sliced pears

300ml apple jelly

4 organic biscuits

Heat the apple juice, crush the biscuits, and place them in a dessert glass. Layer the sliced pears over the biscuits. Pour the apple jelly over the pears and put in the fridge to set. Blend the cashew nuts and grape juice, until the becomes thick and creamy. Pour the mixture over the top of the trifle and garnish with mint leaves.         

 

Paella

Ingredients

2 cups short grain brown rice

½ cup vegetable stock

1 tsp. saffron

¼ cup. olive oil

Salt and pepper

1 cup onion

¼ cup carrot, diced

¼ cup celery, diced

2 tbsp. garlic, minced     

1 cup mushroom, sliced        –

¼ cup. Burdock, diced

1 bunch parsley, minced,

2 lemons, quartered

Prepare the vegetable stock. Sauté the onion, garlic and olive oil for 10 minutes, stirring well. Add the rice and saffron, cook for 10 more minutes. Add the vegetable stock slowly and cook for 30 minutes on reduced heat. Add the carrot, celery and burdock then cook until tender. Add the mushrooms, season with the salt and pepper and cook for 10 more minutes. Serve with chopped parsley and the lemon wedges.

Braised carrots with cherry ginger glaze

Ingredients

2 tablespoons light sesame oil

6-8 carrots, cut into ¼ inch thick pieces        

1-inch piece fresh ginger

1 tablespoon brown rice syrup

½ cup unsweetened dried cherries

Spring or filtered water

Soy sauce

1/4 cup chives, for garnish

Heat the sesame oil in a saucepan and sauté the carrots pieces for about 30 seconds. Add the ginger, rice syrup, cherries, a splash of water and a few drops of soy sauce. Cover and bring to the boil gently. Reduce the heat and cook until the carrots are tender. Season with the soy sauce and simmer until all liquid is absorbed. Stir in the chives and serve hot.

Barley Cakes

Ingredients

2 cups cooked pearled barley

2 garlic cloves, minced

1 medium onion, diced

½ cup fresh or frozen sweet peas

½ cup corn

1 cup cooked black soybeans, drained

½ cup carrot, washed and cut into diced pieces

2 different leafy greens (collards, kale, bok choy), washed and thick stems removed

¼ cup fresh parsley, washed and chopped

1 cup organic white pastry flour

Green & Yellow Bean Puree

1 cup fresh green string beans, washed and cut into 1-inch pieces

1 cup fresh yellow string beans, washed and cut into 1-inch pieces

Spring water

Toasted sesame oil garnish:

Toasted black sesame seeds and sliced scallions

Place the string beans into 2 separate saucepans with ¼-inch water. Bring to the boil. Reduce to a simmer, then cover with a lid. Simmer for 5 minutes then remove from the heat. Place the yellow string beans in a blender or food processor and puree. Place the puree in a small bowl and set aside. Repeat this method using the green beans. In a large pan, sauté the garlic in the sesame oil. Remove the garlic from the oil and set it aside. Stack the leafy greens and slice them very thinly. Heat some sesame oil in a pan over medium-high heat and add the sliced greens. Cook for 1 minute. Remove the greens from the heat and set them aside. Place the barley, onion, peas, corn, soybeans, carrot, leafy greens, and parsley in a bowl and mix together. Make a small patty from the mixture. If the mixture is too soggy, add some flour. Brush the bottom of a pan with some sesame oil. Heat the oil over a medium heat. Spoon in the patty and cook it until golden brown. Turn it over and cook until golden brown on the other side. Drizzle the patty with the yellow and green bean purees. Sprinkle with the scallions and sesame seeds.

Final thoughts

We are faced with countless diets every day that are touted as being great for weight loss and helping us to live longer. But how many of them work? The ones that work are more of a lifestyle than a fad diet. The diets that are healthiest require you to make changes to your activity levels, your stress levels, and the amount of sleep you get among other things.

Any diet that increases vegetable intake, decreases sugar and fat, and includes a lean source of protein can only be good. But it can be difficult to adjust to a completely new lifestyle at first. If you can stick to the diet and include a variety of nutrient-rich foods, you’ll be on your way to better health and better energy. As the diet eliminates dairy, make sure you include non-dairy sources of calcium and vitamin D, such as soy or almond milk.

Written by Irina Radosevic MD
Irina graduated from the University of Belgrade, School of Medicine as a Doctor of Medicine (MD) and spent over 3 years working in the Clinical Hospital Center Zvezdara, in the Department of Emergency Medicine. She also undertook a postgraduate in Cardiology from the same University and had previously worked for over a year as a Physician and Nutritionist Dietitian for the Fitness club Green Zone. She eventually left her chaotic but fulfilling job in the ER to pursue her passion of writing, travelling and mountain climbing which has included writing a first aid course for the alpine club of Belgrade. Irina currently works as a VA for PintMedia focusing on medical and travel writing. Feel free to connect with Irina on LinkedIn and FaceBook. Her CV can be seen here.