The Macrobiotic Diet

Medical Author: Melissa Conrad Stoppler, MD
Medical Editor: Jay W. Marks, MD

What is a macrobiotic diet?

Macrobiotic diets combine the concepts of Buddhist spirituality and certain dietary principles with the goal of balancing spiritual and physical wellness. Macrobiotic diets aim to avoid the "toxins" that come from eating dairy products, meats, and oily foods. A macrobiotic diet consists largely of whole grains, cereals, and cooked vegetables.

Are macrobiotic diets overly restrictive?

Early versions of macrobiotic diets could be quite extreme, for example, requiring the consumption of only cooked whole grains and limited beverages. Currently, macrobiotic counselors do not recommend these extremely restrictive diets. A specific macrobiotic diet prescription is determined for an individual, taking into account his or her age, sex, level of physical activity, and native climate.

Is the concept of macrobiotics a recent development?

The macrobiotic philosophy and diet were first described by the Japanese philosopher George Ohsawa, who began teaching his philosophies of health and dieting in the 1930s. In the 1960s, the philosophy of macrobiotics was brought to the US. Interest in the diet increased in the 1980s following a book written by physician Anthony Sattilaro, who believed that a macrobiotic diet helped treat his own prostate cancer.

Are there health benefits associated with macrobiotic diets?

Proponents of macrobiotic diets claim that it can prevent and cure disease, including cancer, although there is no firm scientific evidence to prove that a macrobiotic diet can cure or treat cancer. Since the diet consists largely of whole grains, cereals, and vegetables, those who follow this eating plan may experience some of the health benefits that are associated with eating low-fat, high fiber foods.

Are there risks associated with macrobiotic diets?

If not properly planned, macrobiotic diets can lead to poor nutrition. The macrobiotic diet is not recommended for pregnant women or children and may not provide sufficient protein and nutrients for others.

Is a macrobiotic diet the same as a vegetarian diet?

Not necessarily. There is no underlying vegetarian philosophy in the concept of macrobiotics. Early versions of the diet did not include meats, but newer versions discourage the consumption of heavy meats and may include limited servings of fresh whitemeat fish. Not all fruits and vegetables are considered acceptable for a macrobiotic diet. Potatoes, tomatoes, eggplant, peppers, asparagus, spinach, beets, zucchini, and avocados are examples of excluded vegetables. A macrobiotic diet also recommends consumption of locally-grown produce and avoidance of fruits that do not grow locally, such as bananas, pineapples and other tropical fruits.

Does macrobiotics involve specific cooking and food preparation methods?

Macrobiotic diets recommend cooking with pots, pans, and utensils made only from certain materials. Glass, wood, stainless steel, ceramic, and enamel cookware all are considered acceptable materials for cookware. People who practice the diet do not usually use microwaves or electricity for food preparation.

Reference: American Cancer Society Web site (http://www.cancer.org), "Macrobiotic Diet", accessed 5/24/06.


Last Editorial Review: 6/2/2006