What is macrobiotics?
At first glance, the word ‘macrobiotic’ might look a little intimidating, but there’s no need to fear. Contrary to popular belief, it is not a complicated practice. Simply put, macrobiotic cuisine refers to whole, unprocessed food. The macrobiotic diet is based on an understanding that food is energy and that everything we eat becomes a part of us. This diet emphasizes locally grown, organic whole grains and fresh vegetables and avoids heavily processed foods containing chemical additives and most animal products.
The standard macrobiotic diet consists of 50-60% whole cereal grains, 20-30% vegetables, 5-10% beans and sea vegetables, and 5-10% soups. Up to 5% of the diet also consists of condiments, beverages and fish. The macrobiotic diet is not necessarily vegetarian, as fish comprises up to 5% of the diet. However, it is easily made vegetarian by omitting fish. Macrobiotics also stresses the importance of eating locally grown foods. Eating foods that are grown in the same conditions as those in which we live enables us to adapt more successfully to the changes taking place around us. By doing so, we are living in harmony with our environment.
Why practice macrobiotics?
Large scale corporate farming, wide-reaching, highly efficient food distribution systems and “advances” in food science have made North Americans dependent on unhealthy diets. Most North American diets rely on heavily processed foods containing additives and preservatives, artery-clogging animal foods, and foreign produce that has been sprayed with chemicals and allowed to ripen en route.
The modern diet is much too high in saturated animal fats, cholesterol, highly refined vegetable fats, salt, sugar and chemical additives. It is also deficient in complex carbohydrates, fibre, and natural vitamins and minerals. Accordingly, diet-related diseases, such as cancer and heart disease, are killing thousands of people annually in North America. Because the macrobiotic diet is based on whole foods and is low in saturated fat and high in fibre, vitamins and minerals, it encourages well being. Several medical studies have shown that macrobiotics has been proven to normalize blood pressure and lower blood fat and cholesterol levels.
The energy principle
Macrobiotics is an exercise in harmony. It involves the recognition of the interrelationship between opposite, yet complimentary, forces at work within our bodies and the environment that surrounds us; forces termed yin and yang. The principle of yin and yang forms the foundation of macrobiotics. Yin represents energy that has an outward movement resulting in expansion while yang denotes energy with an inward movement resulting in contraction. Animal foods are extremely yang, while sugary, processed foods are extremely yin. Light and watery plant foods are considered yin, while denser and heartier plant foods are considered yang.
Food preparation methods can also be classified in a similar manner. Methods involving a longer cooking time are yang while shorter cooking methods are yin. Macrobiotics is centred around foods and cooking methods that are balanced in terms of yin and yang. Because of this, it enables one to experience a harmonized sense of well being.
Grains for regular use include whole barley, buckwheat, corn, short- to medium-grain brown rice, oats, wheat and other whole cereal grains. Vegetables include broccoli, bok choy, Brussels sprouts, burdock, carrots, daikon, various leafy greens and various squashes to name a few. Recommended sea vegetables consist of arame, dulse, hijiki, kelp, kombu, nori and wakame. Beans are also used on a regular basis, including aduki beans, chickpeas, lentils, miso, tempeh and tofu. Sea salt, tamari, gomashio, miso and umeboshi plums, paste or vinegar are commonly used seasonings.
Since refined sugars do not form a part of the macrobiotic diet, natural sweeteners are used in moderation instead. Amasake, apple juice, barley malt, rice syrup and dried fruit provide a pleasantly mild and naturally sweet taste to dishes. In terms of beverages, amasake, bancha tea, roasted barley tea, roasted rice tea and spring water are preferred. All of these foods are energetically balanced and contribute to good health.
The cooking methods
In the fall and winter, longer cooking methods are preferred as they provide strengthening energy to foods. Using a pressure cooker to prepare grains, beans and root vegetables is quite common. In the summer, shorter and lighter cooking methods are used to prepare vegetables. Such techniques include stir-frying and steaming. Pickling with sea salt and/or umeboshi vinegar is another popular way to prepare vegetables. Stainless steel, cast iron, wooden or earthenware pot, pans and utensils are used. Plastics and other synthetics are avoided.
The end result
By following a macrobiotic diet, one can prevent health problems and rejuvenate the body. The foods contained within the diet are highly nutritious and nourishing. Living in such a manner promotes well being and longevity.
Kushi, Michio, The Macrobiotic Way : The Complete Macrobiotic Diet & Exercise Book, 1993 (3rd edition 2004).
Pirello, Christina, Cooking the Whole Foods Way, 1993.
Ohsawa, Lima, Macrobiotic Cuisine, 1984.
Kushi, Michio & Aveline, The Macrobiotic Diet
Esko,Wendy, Aveline Kushi’s Complete Guide to Macrobiotic Cooking
Turner, Lisa Mostly Macro
Kushi, Michio, The Cancer Prevention Diet & Diet for a Strong Heart
Kushi, Michio & Van CawenBerghe, Marc, M.D. Macrobiotic Home Remedies
Gagne, Steve, Energetics of Food
Steinman, David, Diet for a Poisoned Planet
Dufty, William, Sugar Blues
Summer is quickly approaching and there’s no better time to enjoy the bounty of fresh vegetables available to us. Below are two summer salad recipes taken from: Cooking the Whole Foods Way by Christina Pirello.
Grilled Vegetable and Green Salad
1 red onion, cut into thick wedges
1 or 2 zucchini, cut into 1/4 inch thick diagonal slices
1 or 2 celery stalks, cut into 2 inch thick pieces
1 red bell pepper, cut into thick strips
1 bunch watercress, large stems removed
2 tablespoons pine nuts, toasted
Lemon miso dressing:
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
Juice and grated zest of 1 lemon
1 tablespoon sweet white miso
1 to 2 tablespoons soy sauce
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Pinch of dried basil
Preheat grill or broiler. Whisk together dressing ingredients, seasoning lightly with salt to taste. Toss all the vegetables, except watercress, with dressing. Arrange vegetables on grill and cook, turning, until tender, about 5 minutes.
Bring some water to a boil in a saucepan over high heat. Drop watercress into boiling water, drain, and cool in iced water. Drain and cut into bite-size pieces. Arrange the watercress around the edges of individual salad plates and heap the grilled vegetables in the centre.
Makes 4 servings.
Oriental Noodle Salad with Cashew
8 ounces whole wheat udon noodles
2 to 3 cups shredded Chinese cabbage or bok choy
1 yellow summer squash, cut into matchsticks
1 zucchini, cut into matchsticks
1/2 cup matchstick pieces of daikon
1 carrot, cut into matchsticks
3 or 4 green onions, cut into thin diagonal slices
1/4 cup cashews, lightly toasted
2 tablespoons dark sesame oil
2 tablespoons soy sauce
Juice of 1 orange
2 tablespoons sweet brown rice vinegar
2 teaspoons mirin
1 clove garlic, minced
Pinch of powdered ginger
3 to 4 tablespoons black sesame seeds, lightly pan-toasted and partially crushed
Cook noodles, drain, rinse well and set aside. Combine cabbage, summer squash, zucchini, daikon, carrot and green onions in a large bowl.
To prepare marinade, warm oil and soy sauce gently in a small saucepan over low heat 3 to 4 minutes. Whisk remaining ingredients into oil mixture and pour over the vegetables. Allow to marinate 30 minutes, tossing occasionally.
Just before serving, toss marinated vegetables and any remaining marinade with noodles. Stir in cashews and serve at room temperature or chilled.
Makes 2 servings.
From the July / August 1999 issue of Lifelines. Updated: Wed Mar 07, 2007