What is Macrobiotics?by Bonnie Kramer
What is "macrobiotics" and how does it differ from the usual American diet? What makes it so healthful, and why do people tend to refer to it as the "anti-cancer" diet?
Macrobiotics is neither a diet nor a fad, nor is it extreme in restrictions. The word itself comes from combining two Greek words "macro" and "bios,"meaning "large" or "great" and "life." It is a holistic approach that starts with eating nutritionally balanced foods that strengthen the body and promote the optimal performance of our vital organs without excess stress. It is literally what our body is designed to eat. Beyond food, this lifestyle choice includes shiatsu therapeutic massage, which increases blood circulation and removes stagnant energy areas such as muscle knots. Healthy exercise is also included, with walking, yoga, and many other choices suggested, depending on one's condition and needs. When it comes to food, the macrobiotic approach focuses on organic and unprocessed high fiber foods, while reducing and avoiding meat, sugar, dairy, and highly refined products because these foods create an acidic condition that weakens the functions of vital organs, including the liver, pancreas, and kidneys. It is best to eat foods native to the temperate area we live in, as tropical foods would be for those who live in the tropics.
Whenever possible, consume vegetables that are in season and grown organically. Complex carbohydrates, like brown rice and barley, are preferable to simple carbohydrates like potatoes and bagels because the complex carbs metabolize more slowly, providing the stable blood sugar levels that not only give us energy but also don't cause hypoglycemia. Most of the protein in this way of living is plant-based, such as beans and tofu because they are a great source of protein, fiber, and non-saturated fats (the good fats that don't cause high cholesterol, while allowing proper absorption of vitamins and minerals), and are low in cholesterol. Some white meat fish is also included, especially for those who maintain an active lifestyle or are receiving medical treatments. Deep-sea fish, such as salmon, tuna steak, and sardines, are more limited options even though they are sources of omega 3 fatty acids. Recently published studies focus on the value of omega 3s, which prevent sudden death, enhance memory, and decrease the risk of Alzheimer's disease, and act as an anti-inflammatory for arthritis. A daily bowl of miso soup is recommended to provide enzymes for proper digestion, and enzyme therapy is now being studied by the National Institutes of Health for the treatment of cancer. Umeboshi plum, used sparingly in salads and pickles, helps the blood and digestive tract in the same way.
The above foods have healing properties and are used in macrobiotics to help reverse various diseases and conditions, not just cancer. Sea vegetables, such as non, arame, wakame, hiziki, and kombu, provide the essential minerals in a superior form compared to animal foods, and these sea vegetables assist in the discharge of accumulated toxins from the body and blood, including radiation (poisoning). Daikon and shiitake mushrooms help dissolve deep-hardened fats in the body. Burdock root strengthens the large intestine, and a drink consisting of grated lotus root and ginger will clear congested lungs.
Years ago, doctors like Neal Barnard, Dean Ornish, Andrew Weil, and our own Robert Silverstein were considered radicals in the medical community because they focused on the values of a wholesome diet for their patients' health, while the science of their day was more focused on developing drugs and surgery. Today, they command the respect of their peers as the scientific community continues to validate what these doctors have observed through their own research and practices. Tofu is now touted to relieve menopausal symptoms in women and to reduce prostate cancer in men. The food pyramid has been changed to include more whole grains, vegetables, and plant-based proteins, thanks to a large effort by Dr. Neal Barnard, of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine. Transfatty acids found in deep-fried foods and pastries are overconsumed by our society and have been identified as carcinogenssomething I learned over 16 years ago when I first began my macrobiotic lifestyle.
Macrobiotic counselors complement and enhance medical experts, like Dr. Silverstein, because these counselors are studied in the science of food as medicine. The National Institutes of Health and the Centers for Disease Control are now studying documented cases of disease reversal through the macrobiotic approach and will publish the results of their research. We, of the Preventive Medicine Center, are also hopeful that one day soon the health insurance industry will realize that health care costs can be contained and reduced by covering holistic programs such as those offered by the PMC.
Americans love options but seem resistant to their own change. Yet we experience change every day in the seasons, the weather, and as we age. Change can prevent stagnation and complacency. When we choose to make healthful lifestyle changes, we give ourselves more self-control in our own lives and more of the independence we so cherish. The mind, the body, and the spirit comprise our whole being. When one segment is compromised, it can affect the others. For example, it has been documented that depression can affect our physical health, and physical illness can bring about depression. With a positive attitude, change can be an adventure and a lot of fun as we break out of the old mold and feel better. Need help to get motivated? Please call our office for our free literature or a list of books you can purchase to provide you with more information on the macrobiotic approach to lifestyle change. Or sign up for our autumn program that includes lectures with Edward Esko and our ever-popular cooking classes.
If you have questions, please let us know, and we will address them in our upcoming newsletters.
Bonnie Kramer is Director, Nutritional Services for the Preventive Medicine Center and a macrobiotic cooking teacher.