THE MACROBIOTIC CONTRIBUTION TO UNDERSTANDING NUTRITION
The world wide macrobiotic movement has been a driving force behind the revolution of public attitudes toward the importance of diet in both the prevention and reversal of serious illness. Based on the pioneering work of George Ohsawa and his students Michio and Aveline Kushi and Herman and Cornelia Aihara a new generation of macrobiotic men and women have developed a dynamic approach to diet and food preparation that can be adapted to a wide range of personal needs. The result of this experience is the modern macrobiotic approach to health is driven by principles and practices that are essential to the development of a healthy society and a healthy planet.
The core teachings of Macrobiotics are about developing a way of living that speaks to the needs of the individual, society and the web of life we exist within. As this new century unfolds we are seeing the devastating results of a way of life that actually depends on environmental destruction in order to function. This is a terrible legacy that we leave for the next generations.
It becomes obvious that the very nature of politics and other social mechanisms are not capable of withstanding the unchecked power of the food industry and the vested interests that live on the wages of environmental destruction and sickness. The hope of our children and future generation’s lie in our collective ability to take our individual physical, emotional and spiritual health into our own hands and to let our presence be felt and our voices heard. Part of this movement toward a sustainable way of life is the food we eat. Our choices of food have a direct impact on our health, as well as the economy and environment.
IS MACROBIOTICS A HEALTHY DIET?
Macrobiotic dietary principles have been developed over the past 50 years in America, Europe and Japan. They are based on the traditional philosophy of Asian medicine as practiced in China and Japan. These concepts reflect physical, environmental and social observations for a period of over 5,000 years. Although the philosophy bears little relationship to Western nutritional science, the conclusions are remarkably similar.
While the diet associated with macrobiotics is the “Standard Macrobiotic Diet” this way of eating is not a diet in the strict sense – it is a way of choosing foods and can be applied flexibly depending on the needs of the individual. Michio Kushi developed the Standard Diet in the early 1980’s with assistance from Bill Tara, Edward Esko, William Spear and Murray Snyder. The standard diet was presented to describe general principles to the growing number of people seeking help with their health who were dealing with cancer, heart disease and a variety of serious illnesses. While thousands of people found assistance in recovering their health using variations of the standard diet, the association of macrobiotics and healing is often misunderstood.
The application of macrobiotic principles to nutrition is not essentially an attempt to therapeutically correct the symptoms of disease. The macrobiotic approach to eating is focused on assisting the body to recover from nutritional stress, often the result of the modern diet, and return to a more sensible state of biological balance. In the process of returning to a more balanced state many people experience a natural recovery of health and in some cases a complete remission of serious symptoms. The diet helps the body exercise its own self-healing capacity.
Those who have serious health problems and begin eating a diet inspired by macrobiotic principles often use the services of an experienced macrobiotic “counselor” or “health coach” to design a program that is most suited for their personal needs. The purpose of this counseling has the greatest long-term value if the individual learns the principles of health and assumes responsibility for their own wellbeing.
During the 1970’s and 1980’s macrobiotic practitioners came under attack from some nutritionists as being “unscientific” and mistaken in the view that there was a direct connection between diet and serious disease. The focus by conventional nutrition on nutritional deficiency ignored the fact that the degenerative diseases of modern society are diseases of excess. The macrobiotic view has been proven true.
The overwhelming evidence of contemporary science is that food is a major contributing cause of many cancers, stroke, diabetes, heart disease and a variety of major illnesses. The particular dietary factors most implicated in this relationship are the over consumption of meat, dairy and simple sugars. Diets that are dominated by these foods are also usually devoid of whole cereal grains, vegetable protein, adequate fresh vegetables as well as fruits, seeds and nuts.
The world wide macrobiotic community has played an important and fundamental role in advocating dietary reform, establishing the first wave of natural foods stores, manufacturing and producing high quality products with no additives, promoting organic farming, introducing Asian soy products such as miso, tempeh and natural soy sauce to the West and encouraging individuals and families to become more conscious of food choices and a return to meals prepared in the home. One of the most controversial topics introduced by the macrobiotic community was the possibility that diet and lifestyle could halt the progress and even reverse many common health problems. The very same statements regarding the role of diet in healing that were rejected and ridiculed in the 70’s and 80’s are now commonly accepted and promoted by many physicians and teachers of natural approaches to health.
As a result of governmental neglect, an unregulated food industry and a health bureaucracy that is focused on treatment of disease as opposed to prevention, the suggested importance of food groups has been reversed. Meat and Dairy have become the foundation of the modern diet, most grain products are refined and the consumption of simple sugars has increased by several hundred percent in the last 100 years. This pattern of eating is usually accompanied by negligible consumption of fruits and vegetables. Without clear guidance and practical guidelines for food choice and preparation the population is easy prey to advertising, the latest diet or miraculous nutritional product.
One of the most cited results of dietary confusion and the growth of the fast food industry is obesity. Of course, the problem is not really obesity – obesity is a symptom. The real problem is an increase in diabetes, cancers and heart disease. These are the result of the modern diet and reflect a major shift in eating patterns throughout the world. One of the most accurate signs of this change is world meat production. The 400% increase in production over the past fifty years far out runs the rise in population. People who ate meat in 1961 are eating more and an increasing number of people are being introduced to meat and dairy foods, particularly in emerging economies, as a sign of wealth and promised nutritional improvement. Promoting a high animal protein diet runs contrary to the overwhelming epidemiological evidence against it.
The results of one such study, “The Nurses Study” was published in 1990 and showed the increased risk of cancer of the colon with increased meat consumption. This study was published in the New England Journal of Medicine. The study was conducted with a cohort of 88,759 nurses between the ages of 35 to 59 who were followed for a period of 6 years. Those who ate meat daily had a cancer risk of over double those who only had it once a month.
This study conforms to hundreds of international studies that show the same results for heart disease, and many cancers. According to the American Institute for Cancer Research and the World Cancer Research Fund, from their 1997 report on diet and cancer prevention:
“There is no essential lower limit of intake of any type of meat, and diets including no meat are not only compatible with good health and low cancer risk, but may be preferred in some settings, especially when plant foods are abundant, reliable and varied.”
The macrobiotic approach to diet acknowledges the overwhelming proof for dietary reform and also recognizes the positive opportunity to change existing dietary patterns in line with a way of eating that focuses on vegetable quality protein, a good variety of vegetables and fruits and a return to whole cereal grains as a dietary staple. Making these simple changes holds great promise for a healthier future for society.
The Macrobiotic approach to health reflects thousands of years of experience, observation and research in Asia. The medical traditions of the Far East understood that the body is a self-healing organism when treated well. Our bodies are designed to strive toward a special balance referred to in Western science as homeostasis. Macrobiotics is about stimulating the body’s natural desire for wellbeing and capacity to heal itself rather than attacking the symptoms of disease. In this process of self-generated healing every aspect of life is considered to play a part. The type of physical activity, the emotional state, family relationships and spiritual outlook are all-important aspects of the healing process.
Diet plays a special role since it is essential to blood quality and can be easily controlled. Macrobiotics has become closely associated with the use of diet to establish and maintain health as well as conforming to modern wisdom regarding the prevention of disease. The macrobiotic dietary principles are closely aligned to the kind of nutritional requirements prescribed by the World Health Organization and many governmental agencies. The diet conforms to the modern need for eating in a way that is low in saturated fats, simple sugars, refined carbohydrates and animal protein while supplying adequate calories, unsaturated fats, vegetable protein, dietary fiber, minerals and vitamins.
The philosophy of Yin and Yang is used to classify foods according to the season and patterns of their growth, nutritional density, the environment of their origin and how their effect on digestion and assimilation. This understanding enhances modern nutritional analysis and allows for a more creative approach to food selection. It is this dynamic method of classification that makes Macrobiotics so unique. The system has the flexibility to meet personal needs regardless of age, sex, activity, environment or physical condition.
A NOTE ON MACROBIOTIC
Macrobiotics is sometimes referred to as a “Healing Diet” or a way of eating that is particularly for those suffering from disease, the truth is that while many people have reversed serious illness using a macrobiotic program, macrobiotics is not a “diet” in the usual use of the word. Macrobiotics is a way of understanding the effect of various foods and which foods work best for individual needs. It is important to remember that the vast majority of Non Communicable Diseases (NCD’s) are caused by diet. The macrobiotic general guidelines outlined below are a prudent first step toward preventing these illnesses. These diseases include, but are not limited to, Coronary Heart Disease, Stroke, Type Two Diabetes, Most Common Digestive Disorders and many Cancers. This relationship is not a fanciful theory but a scientific fact with broad agreement. The problem is with the modern, highly processed diet.
The creation of the modern diet has been driven by the desire for profit and a total disregard for health. The modern diet is characterized by a dominance of meat, dairy, sugar and chemical additives. The diet is excessive in the concentration of calories, fat and simple sugars and is often devoid of vegetable fiber and the diverse range of nutrients essential for good health. It is a diet of excess. This is the exact opposite of a diet with the low-calories and nutritional density of a plant based macrobiotic diet; one causes nutritional stress and the other provides the range of nutritional factors that are needed for good digestive health.
When people eliminate the offending foods from their kitchen and replace them with a diverse range of good quality nutrient dense foods the body is able to fulfill its potential for self-healing and good health. This is not a mystery, get out of the way and let the body do what it is designed to do. This process is the first step of a macrobiotic approach to food choices. It is a method of self-education, learning the power of food through experience.
Some of those with serious health issues may wish to accelerate this learning process by working with a macrobiotic advisor. A Health Coach or Counselor suggests a specific dietary program with emphasis on particular food choices, cooking styles and other lifestyle suggestions to assist in getting the best results. This advice should never be confused with medical advice or treatment, most counselors are not doctors and are simply there as guides or mentors offering education in basic life-skills and their own experience.
Macrobiotics is not a panacea but with proper application a macrobiotic way of eating can be a powerful influence in attaining good health and in many cases has proven to be the most important factor in reversing serious disease.
One of the keys to eating well on a consistent basis is having food that is well prepared, delicious and fills nutritional needs. Good cooking is an important part of the macrobiotic way of life. If you are new to cooking in this way invest in several good cookbooks to help and guide you or discover a qualified macrobiotic cooking teacher who can teach you. It will make all the difference in your enjoyment of the diet. Cooking is not only an issue of taste and presentation. Good cooking maximizes the good digestion of your food. While some nutrients are lost in cooking, many foods do not digest well if not properly cooked. Cooking the macrobiotic way assures that the food you select is used to its greatest nutritional impact.
The best results come with the best quality ingredients. Find the most reputable distributors of macrobiotic foods in your area and always try to use those foods that have been grown organically. The increased use of pesticides, herbicides and chemical fertilizers has introduced toxic elements in the food chain, reduced the nutritional quality of the food and contributed to environmental damage. Eating organically grown Non- GMO foods supports optimum health for you and the environment.