The core concepts central to the macrobiotic diet, including the traditional Chinese medicine belief balancing yin and yang both within the body and one’s environment, date back many centuries in ancient Eastern traditions. Proponents of macrobiotic eating approaches have long encouraged people to eat natural, whole foods that not only support the health of their bodies, but also the ecosystem and natural order of life.
As a counter-culture eating approach, macrobiotic diets became trendy in the United States during the 1960s because they encouraged living with more harmony, practicing a positive mind-set and viewing food as much more than just simply calories or fuel.
Although every person reacts differently to different dietary approaches, evidence shows macrobiotic-style diets can help improve heart health, lower inflammation and support a healthy body weight well into old age.
What Is a Macrobiotic Diet?
The macrobiotic diet is a plant-based diet rooted in yin-yang theory that stems from Asia. According to macrobiotic theory, balancing yin and yang is accomplished through eating a mostly vegetarian, low-fat diet with a balance of different macronutrients –proteins, carbs and fats– foods that have different energetic qualities, and a wide range of vitamins and minerals from plants. This approach to eating is believed to best support agriculture, local farming, digestion and even mental well-being.
Other recommendations for eating a macrobiotic diet include buying locally grown produce, purchasing organic foods that are not treated with chemical pesticides, eating foods that are in-season, consuming mostly fresh and raw foods, and emphasizing plant foods over meat, dairy and other animal products buy zithromax.
Most macrobiotic diets emphasize consumption of a wide variety of plant foods, which means these diets tend to be relatively high in carbohydrates. However, some carbohydrates, such as refined sugar and processed and packaged foods are not part of the macrobiotic plan; carbohydrates must be complex, which contain great sources of dietary fiber, and are chock-full of antioxidants and other nutrients.
Although there are many different varieties of macrobiotic diets eaten around the world, most have roughly the following breakdown:
- 50 or more percent of calories coming from complex carbohydrates – sometimes up to 80 percent – 15 to 30 percent healthy fats, and 10 to 20 percent proteins. Even though carbs are eaten in high quantities, refined carbs like processed grains and sugar are avoided.
- A high proportion of the carbs in macrobiotic diets – 25 to 30 percent of total calories – comes from fresh or cooked vegetables. This is a very high percentage considering how low-calorie vegetables naturally are.
- Complex carbs, such as brown rice, barley, millet, oats and organic, non-GMO, corn also make up 30 to 40 percent of total calories.
- Many obtain about five to 10 percent of their calories from legumes or beans, often the types that are fermented, such as tempeh, miso or tofu.
- Sea vegetables are a staple in most macrobiotic diets, making up five to 10 percent of total calories.
- A small percentage, about five percent of calories, tend to come from fish or seafood – usually consumed several times per week on average.
Macrobiotic Diet Benefits
1. High in Essential Nutrients and Shown to Help Reduce Inflammation
In 2015, the School of Public Health at the University of Memphis released findings from a study investigating the anti-inflammatory and anticancer potential of macrobiotic diets. Data indicates that – as compared to national dietary recommendations (RDA) based on the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) – the macrobiotic diet plan had a lower percentage of energy from fat, higher intake of dietary fiber and higher amounts of most micronutrients. Nutrients in the macrobiotic diet often met or exceeded RDA recommendations, with the exception of vitamin D, vitamin B12 and calcium. Based on the dietary inflammatory index (DII) scores, the macrobiotic diet was found to be “more anti-inflammatory compared to NHANES data,” and the researchers concluded that overall findings indicated potential for disease prevention when following a macrobiotic eating approach.
2. May Help Improve Heart Health
Certain studies have found evidence for macrobiotic-style diets supporting cardiovascular health – in particular, lowering serum lipid levels and lowering blood pressure levels. This isn’t surprising considering how many high-antioxidant, anti-inflammatory foods are encouraged in a macrobiotic diet. For example, the macrobiotic diet is rich in dietary fiber, including all sorts of high-fiber foods, such as veggies, beans and unprocessed ancient grains. Eating plenty of fiber has been correlated with improvements in cardiovascular disease risk factors through multiple mechanisms, including lipid reduction, body weight regulation, improved glucose metabolism, blood pressure control and reduction of chronic inflammation.
3. Can Help Support a Healthy Weight and Relationship to Eating
Proponents of the macrobiotic diet focus not only on eating the right foods, but also eating them in the right amounts. Eating mindfully, slowing down and savoring meals, paying attention to physical sensations – also called biofeedback – and thoroughly chewing food are all emphasized in the macrobiotic diet.
This approach can help you better manage how much you eat, give you more enjoyment from having less, teach you to avoid emotional eating out of boredom or other negative feelings, and achieve satiety more easily. Rather than trying to lose weight simply by eliminating many foods or consuming less, which can lead you to feel overly hungry and deprived, eating mindfully and choosing foods wisely can help you feel more in touch with your body’s needs.
4. Includes foods very low in sugar, gluten and packaged foods
Similar to other whole food based diets that eliminate junk foods, packaged products, bottled drinks, fried foods and fast foods, the macrobiotic diet is very low in sugar, empty calories and artificial ingredients. This makes it a very nutrient-dense diet, high in things like vitamin C, vitamin E and fiber, but overall low in calories.
It can also be potentially beneficial for those with food allergies because it eliminates common allergens that can cause indigestion, such as dairy products, almost all gluten and nightshades. However, one drawback and point of critique is that macrobiotic diets tend to include lots of salty, high-sodium foods, mostly from things like soy sauce, fermented soy products and sea veggies.
5. May Be Able to Help Prevent Cancer
Although diet is only one piece of the total puzzle when it comes to preventing cancer, and results vary from person to person, research suggests that consuming a macrobiotic diet can help lower the risk for cancer, partly by providing high levels of antioxidants and phytoestrogens.
A 2011 report published in the Journal of Nutrition states, “On the basis of available evidence and its similarity to dietary recommendations for chronic disease prevention, the macrobiotic diet probably carries a reduced cancer risk.” Women consuming macrobiotic diets tend to have modestly lower circulating estrogen levels, which has been tied to a lowered risk of breast cancer.
Macrobiotic diets provide high amounts of phytoestrogens from foods, such as fermented soy products and sesame seeds, and these may help regulate production of natural estrogen by binding to estrogen receptor sites. While too much estrogen comes with its own risks, in the case of women over age 50 who naturally experience decreased levels during menopause, extra estrogen in their diets may help decrease cancer risk, among other benefits.
People are looking to the ancient tradition of macrobiotic diets to solve modern day health concerns and potentially prevent disease. Begin your own journey today by exploring specific foods and tips for starting and staying on a macrobiotic diet.
This article originally appeared on DrAxe.com and is republished here with permission.