The macrobiotic diet is part of a philosophy and lifestyle that incorporates concepts of balance and harmony from Asian philosophy and beliefs about diet from Traditional Chinese Medicine. It is not intended to be a weight-loss diet, although people who switch to this diet often lose weight.
The macrobiotic diet is a set of life-long dietary guidelines that has its origin in Asian philosophy. It traces its roots to the Shoku-Yo or “food” cure movement founded in 1909 by Japanese healer Sagen Ishizuka (1893–1966). George Ohsawa (1893–1966) brought the movement to the United States in the 1950s and coined the name macrobiotics out of the Greek words “macro,” meaning large or great, and “bios,” meaning life. Michio Kushi expanded upon Ohsawa's work and opened the Kushi Institute in 1978. Though not its original purpose, the macrobiotic diet has been touted as a form of cancer treatment and prevention, though no evidence supports these claims.
The macrobiotic diet has changed somewhat over the past years. Originally it recommended moving through stages of food elimination to achieve a diet that consisted only of brown rice and water. These nutritionally unsafe dietary guidelines have mostly been replaced with a more moderate and balanced approach to eating. Today, the macrobiotic diet is a dynamic set of guidelines that change with geographical location, season, the availability of local foods, and even the time of day.
At the heart of the diet is the Asian concept that everything has an energy or force that is either yin or yang. Yin represents female or cool, dark, inwardly focused energy. Yang represents male or warm, light, outwardly focused energy. For good mental and physical health and a harmonious life, yin and yang forces must be balanced. This balance must be reflected in the food the individual eats. Because environmental yin and yang forces change with the seasons, with climate, and time of day, the diet must change with them. For example, spring and summer foods should be lighter and cook more quickly than winter foods. In addition, diet is adjusted to reflect the individual's age, gender, activity level, and health.
Proponents of the diet tout favorable benefits such as prevention of menopausal symptoms, cancer, heart attacks, and strokes; however, no scientific data has been noted to support these benefits.
The macrobiotic diet is very restrictive and may put individuals at risk of vitamin and nutrient deficiencies. Proper planning with a doctor and registered dietitian (RD) will help ensure that a person's nutritional needs are being met. Individuals may benefit from having a health assessment and learning more about the macrobiotic food and cooking methods before embarking on this diet.
Macrobiotics made little impression on the American public until the publication of Ohsawa's book Zen Macrobiotics in the 1960s. The diet and the philosophy it encompassed then attracted members of the 1960s counterculture movement including Beatle John Lennon and his wife Yoko Ono. According to the American Cancer Society, there have been no studies published in support of the diet's role in cancer treatment or prevention.
See also Cancer diet ; Fiber ; Soy ; Vegetarianism ; Whole grains .
Kushi, Michio, and Alex Jack. Book of Marobiotics: The Universal Way of Health, Happiness & Peace. Garden City Park, NY: Square One, 2012.
McCoy, Margaret. Macrobiotics: Ancient Diet for Health & Longevity. New York: Golden Age Press, 2011.
Lerman, R. H. “The Macrobiotic Diet in Chronic Disease.” Nutrition in Clinical Practice 25, no. 6 (December 2010): 621–26.
Cancer Research UK. “Macrobiotic Diet.” http://www.cancerresearchuk.org/about-cancer/cancer-in-general/treatment/complementary-alternative-therapies/individual-therapies/macrobiotic (accessed April 11, 2018).
American Cancer Society, 250 Williams St. NW, Atlanta, GA, 30303, (800) 227-2345, http://www.cancer.org .
Cancer Research UK, Angel Building, 407 Saint John St., London, UK, EC1V 4AD, +44 20 7242 0200, https://www.cancerresearchuk.org .
Kushi Institute, 198 Leland Rd., Becket, MA, 01223, (413) 623-5741, (800) 975-8744, http://www.kushiinstitute.org .
National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine Clearinghouse, PO Box 7923, Gaithersburg, MD, 20898, (888) 644-6226, Fax: (866) 464-3616, firstname.lastname@example.org, http://nccam.nih.gov .
Tish Davidson, AM
Revised by Laura Jean Cataldo, RN, EdD