What Is A Macrobiotic Diet? And Is It Healthy?
“Work-life balance” may be a myth, but when it comes to nutrition, balance is vital (and achievable). Some believe the macrobiotic diet can help you find that dietary equilibrium. Let’s take a look at this practice and what it can mean for your nutritional goals.
What is a macrobiotic diet?
The macrobiotic diet (macro = whole; biotic = life) encourages the consumption of whole, organic foods produced without pesticides or toxins, mostly vegetables and grains. The principles of the macrobiotic diet extend to how food is cooked (with natural materials only) and how it’s eaten (mindfully).
“The macrobiotic diet is an eating plan that promotes balance in all areas of life, including foods,” says Natalie Allen, MS, RD, a registered dietitian and instructor of biomedical sciences at Missouri State University. “The approach claims to be holistic and healthy. The diet promotes certain foods and limits others. Regular exercise is encouraged, as is eating slowly and thoroughly chewing foods.”
What Do You Eat on a Macrobiotic Diet?
According to Amanda A. Kostro Miller, RD, LDN, a registered dietitian based in Chicago, a typical macrobiotic diet breaks down like this:
- 40% to 60% of your calories come from organic whole grains (such as brown rice, barley, corn, millet, or oats)
- 20% to 30% of your calories come from local vegetables
- 5% to 10% of your calories come from soy-based products (like tofu, miso, tempeh) and sea vegetables (such as seaweed)
- Fish, nuts and locally grown fruit are to be consumed in moderation
- Foods and beverages that are discouraged include spicy foods, excessive water, alcohol, soda, coffee, chemically preserved foods, processed foods, meat, dairy, and eggs
A typical daily macrobiotic menu might include oatmeal or a tofu scramble for breakfast; sushi and salad for lunch; and steamed fish with vegetables and miso soup for dinner.
Some proponents of the macrobiotic diet claim it’s more environmentally friendly and sustainable than traditional food production. It discourages the consumption of meat, poultry, and eggs, the farming of which adds to pollution and the earth’s carbon footprint.
Can You Lose Weight on a Macrobiotic Diet?
Processed foods, junk foods, and added sugars — significant contributors to weight gain in the modern diet — are banned in the macrobiotic diet. Eliminating these types of foods from your diet may help you create a calorie deficit that will help you lose weight.
“Weight loss will depend on what you’ve been eating before,” says Allen. “But yes, most likely weight loss will occur, as many foods common in Americans’ diets are being reduced or eliminated.”
Eating Practices on a Macrobiotic Diet
Eating a macrobiotic diet is as simple as incorporating the following practices.
1. Cooking with natural materials
Cook foods with pots, pans, and utensils made of natural materials, like untreated wood, stainless steel, and enamel — no plastic.
2. Eating mindfully
“Mindful eating is a method to be more present during mealtime, such as limiting distractions, focusing on your meal, avoid watching TV during meals,” says Kostro Miller.
People on a macrobiotic diet are encouraged to chew their food thoroughly to improve digestion.
Macrobiotic diet and disease
A macrobiotic diet may be beneficial to blood sugar levels. One study found that when a group of people with Type 2 diabetes ate a macrobiotic diet for six months, they were able to stop insulin therapy, having experienced better control of their weight and body fat, and fat metabolism. More research is needed to validate these results.
Is a macrobiotic diet healthy?
The macrobiotic diet is grounded in healthy foods — including those high in fiber and whole grains, and protein-rich, soy-based foods — but it can lead to some nutritional deficiencies, including:
- vitamin B12, which is present in meat
- vitamin D, found in milk and eggs
“The macrobiotic diet is a healthy plan, emphasizing vegetables and whole grains,” says Allen. “However, I would caution it may be hard to stick with this diet. Eliminating many common protein sources could be an issue, and I would worry about bone health without dairy. Therefore, if someone wanted to follow this diet, he or she would need to see a dietitian to ensure they’re getting proper nutrients.”
Practicing mindfulness at any time of day — not just at mealtime — has been correlated with better mental health. And reducing the number of processed foods and added sugar in your diet is a worthy goal. Just don’t expect miracles from going macrobiotic.
“If someone was interested in having a more holistic, mindful dietary pattern, this diet may be a good place to start,” says Kostro Miller. “This diet has several positive components: emphasizes eating local, whole grains, plant-based proteins, and fish.”