Understanding Macrobiotic Diets

When I’m on a holiday, I allow myself to let go a little around what I should be eating. It’s much easier to enjoy each moment and a new culture when you dive in and avoid spending the entire trip chasing vegetables.

That said, after a recent weekend in Lisbon, including several unnecessary custard tarts trials, I returned home with a strong urge to eat super clean. My usual go-to clean-food of choice is Kichidi: the Ayurvedic comfort food that brings the body tremendous relief via its digestive simplicity. However, because I follow my intuitive eating and shopping skills, I found myself with a cart full of Japanese staples such as tofu, miso, and wakame. As I started preparing my miso soup the next morning, I was flooded with the intuitive urge to return to eating Macrobiotics for a while

SEE ALSO: How To Know When It’s Time To Let Go

The Basics of Macrobiotics

One (fabulous) thing about this diet is that it’s relatively loose in its structure. Macrobiotics doesn’t have a strong or rigid outline or mandate; this is especially true around the concept of eating animal protein, which of course I LOVE since I not a supporter of dogmatic diets.

Below are the outlining principals of the Macrobiotic diet:

  • No-processed foods
  • Eat only local foods and seasonal foods
  • Eat light and simple seasonings
  • Big on whole grains: brown rice, millet, oats, quinoa, spelt and rye
  • Big on vegetables, local, seasonal + chemical free
  • Big on fermented vegetables and soya
  • Big on natural salt sources such as seaweed and sea veg
  • Vegan, vegetarian or animal-protein flexible
  • Yin and Yang balancing foods: understanding the energetics of food in your diet.
  • Recognition of the dietary adaptations for a specific age, gender, lifestyles and ambitions.
  • Little to no nightshades
  • No sugar; most desserts sweetened with date syrup or rice syrup

Personally, I totally dig this list. It checks so many of my smart-nutrition boxes. The macrobiotic diet, which just never became as trendy as some diets (I’ll resist the urge to rant here) may still have its day of glory in the West, and I think it should. Here is a closer look at some of the highlights for me:

No Nightshades

Nightshades are a classification of plants known as Solanaceae. Although the list of nightshades plants is extensive, the most commonly consumed are sweet or bell peppers, tomatoes, eggplant, and potatoes. Some lesser-known nightshades include goji berries, cayenne pepper and ashwagandha. Although many people have the enzymes needed to properly break down the toxic alkaloids in nightshades, many do not.

Because all vegetables have nutrients, it can seem counter-intuitive that your vegetable choices may be at the root of your troubles. For those who cannot tolerate nightshades, they result can be extreme inflammation, producing low-level toxicity that can lead to many health issues. Almost all autoimmune protocols eliminate nightshades and for many, it can be a fairly easy adjustment to make with big results. One would simply go 30 days without nightshades to see if there are any noticeable positive changes.

Yin and Yang Food Energetics

The fundamental ideology of Macrobiotics is in the understanding of the Yin/Yang qualities of the food you eat. Similar to the Ayurvedic principles of the Rasa’s, knowing your inherent qualities (both fixed and changeable) guide you to food choices that best serve you.

An example of yin/yang in macrobiotics: Yin foods are wet and cold, whereas Yang foods are dry and warm. The food that grows in the environment we live in hold the same beneficial energies we need. In other words, eating imported fruits that are out of season in a “green smoothie” all winter long could easily throw you out of balance.

In macrobiotic thinking, it is believed that if we eat foods that are whole, local and in season, our bodies will get the perfect yin and yang and yang qualities needed from the natural environment in which we live. Macrobiotics teaches that when we harmonize with nature and our natural environment we experience strength, freedom, flexibility, and great happiness.

In Defense of Grains

I fully acknowledge that there is substantial evidence showing the over-consumption of grains as the root of many digestive and health issues. I think the key word though is ‘over-consumption’. The term ‘ancient grains’ means that ancient civilizations survived by both cultivating them and consuming them. We humans seemed to do well with grains for a very long time.

In Peru, the three ancient grains of the Incan empire are Quinoa, Kiwicha (Amaranth) and Cañihua: all still thoroughly enjoyed today. Besides being gluten-free grains, collectively these three grains provide very impressive amounts of iron, fiber and many other nutrients. I believe that if grains work for your constitution they can be a wonderful ingredient to incorporate into a healthy diet.

Intuitive Eating: Food for Thought

Intuitive eating to me means being tuned-in and turned-on to the innate intelligence of your body. There is nothing to learn, nothing to follow, just a conversation that becomes more and more prolific and informative the more you hone your intuitive skills. Intuitive eating has nothing to do with following specific diets or food trends; it is, in fact, quite the opposite.

That said, what the diet trends, such as Paleo or Macrobiotic bring to the experience of intuitive eating is simply more material with which you can play and experiment. Hope you feel inspired to play with some macrobiotic dishes.


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emily shaw

Emily facilitates transformational experiences through her detox protocols, which create quantum shifts in a short period of time. Her detox…

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