What Is The Macrobiotic Diet? (2024)

A Note From the Editors

The Spruce Eats does not endorse this diet; rather, we are providing some information that can contribute to your decision. Please talk with your doctor or a registered dietitian before making any significant changes to your diet.

The macrobiotic diet has been around for hundreds of years and started as a way to eat that focused on nutrient-dense, seasonal foods harvested locally. This diet also focuses on balancing life, restorative exercise, and the elimination of any chemicals or artificial ingredients in both food and personal health products. Since coming to the United States in the 1970s, the diet has become a bit of a fad, both for good and not so good reasons.

Macrobiotic Diet Basics

The macrobiotic diet has been around since the 4th century BC, started as a concept in ancient Greece by the philosopher Hippocrates. It was then, as it mainly is today, a way of eating seasonal, local foods, mainly plants, exercising outside, sleeping well, and balancing life to the best of one's ability. Prussian physician Dr. Christoph Wilhelm Hufelan was the next to reintroduce the macrobiotic diet in 1796 with his book, Macrobiotics: The Art of Prolonging Life.

Again this concept faded away until the mid 19th century when, in Japan, Dr. Sagan Ishizuka started incorporating the macrobiotic diet principles into his own practice, which had relied heavily on Western medicine. Ishizuka had witnessed poor health among his army patients who weren't eating well, so he implemented a diet based on unrefined, whole, and fresh seasonal foods, cutting out any artificial ingredients, dairy and non-fish protein. The menu included foods such as whole grains, sea veggies, beans, locally grown and seasonal produce, nuts, seeds, and the occasional fish.

Like the other doctors before him, once Ishizuka died his practice faded away, and once again the macrobiotic diet was somewhat forgotten. That is until the 1920s when George Ohsawa, who was dying of tuberculosis, found Ishizuka's research and decided to try the macrobiotic diet himself. The results were extraordinary and Ohsawa made a full recovery. Ohsawa, along with his wife Lima, started teaching the philosophy and principles behind the macrobiotic diet, and eventually, the concept grew from Japan to Europe, and then all over the world. The macrobiotic diet was well received in the United States thanks to Michio Kushi, a student of Ohsawa and the founder ofErewhon Natural Foods, who popularized it in the 1970s.

The macrobiotic diet has changed over the centuries, and become more of a diet fad and lifestyle. It revolves around three main food principles including: Yin and yang, which, in the context of food, means ingredients that warm up the body also give the body more energy, and are the yang, where yin foods cool us down and can be more refreshing; the second is acid and alkaline, meaning one should consume foods with a high pH balance in order to create an alkaline-forming diet; finally, harmony with nature, one of the main reasons the macrobiotic diet is plant-based. This diet also follows the principles of loving life and following the five elements—fire, wood, water, metal, and earth—though these don't relate to the food as much as they do the lifestyle of the macrobiotic diet.

How to Cook For the Macrobiotic Diet

The main methods of cooking on the macrobiotic diet include steaming, sautéeing, eating raw, boiled, and baking. The main thing to think about when cooking for this diet is what is being prepared.

What to Eat on the Macrobiotic Diet

  • Grains: The main crux of the macrobiotic diet is whole grains, and many meals contain around 50-percent of this food. This includes anything from millet to quinoa to wheat berries.
  • Produce: Fresh, seasonal, and locally sourced vegetables are another major part of the diet, especially leafy greens like kale, bok choy, and chard. This part makes up about 30-percent of the daily food intake, and vegetables can be steamed, boiled, sautéed, or baked. There are some who follow the diet that recommend avoiding nightshades such as potatoes, tomatoes, eggplant, and peppers, as well as beets, summer squash, and spinach, but these foods are not rigorously prohibited. However non-local fruit is highly discouraged.
  • Protein: A bit of fresh seafood or fish for protein is allowed, though it's not usually eaten every day. Mostly the protein in the macrobiotic diet comes from beans, especially soybeans. While processed food, in general, isn't part of the diet, soybeans made into tofu, bean curd, or tempeh are allowed. Soy also comes into play in miso form, namely as a soup. A broth-based soup, in fact, is to be eaten twice a day, every day. Lightly roasted and salted nuts and/or seeds too can be added, but no more than one ounce every few days.
  • Oils and Spices: To cook foods, avoid olive or coconut oil. Instead, the approved types of cooking oils for the macrobiotic diet include light or dark sesame oil, unrefined vegetable oil, corn oil, or mustard seed oil. Spices can be used and often the macrobiotic diet features Japanese condiments and flavorings such as fermented pickles, shoyu, grated ginger, brown rice and umeboshi vinegars, umeboshi plums, and roasted seaweed.

What Not to Eat on the Macrobiotic Diet

The main thing to remember when cooking for or following a macrobiotic diet is to eschew chemicals, processed food, dairy, and non-fish meat. The list of banned foods also includes eggs, refined sugar, honey, molasses, coffee, black tea, and alcohol. Once those are eliminated, cooking for the macrobiotic diet doesn't prove difficult. More, it's challenging to plan, and takes effort to prepare the right foods for each meal of the day.

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What Is The Macrobiotic Diet? (2)

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Macrobiotic Diet Recipes

The basic cooking techniques in the macrobiotic diet are baking, sautéeing, boiling, steaming, and eating raw. These recipes highlight a variety of ingredients approved in the diet as well as methods to make them, though sometimes olive oil has to be substituted for light vegetable oil.

  • Mushroom Barley Soup
  • Macrobiotic Pressed Salad
  • Collard Greens and Kale

Nutrition and Benefits

Nutrition is the main reason people go on the macrobiotic diet. It's dense in whole foods, fresh foods, and local produce. There's no sugar, added chemicals, artificial ingredients, caffeine, or alcohol on this diet, all of which can be unhealthy when not consumed in moderation. Due to the lack of meat, nuts, and oils, this diet doesn't give the eater much fat either. While the overall diet plan is nutritious, it may also help with diabetes since there's no added sugar. Another way the macrobiotic diet may help the body is by lowering inflammation, which can lead to many health problems.

While overall nutritious, there are a lot of restrictions in the macrobiotic diet that can make it challenging. Another downside to this diet is a lack of protein, iron magnesium, calcium, and vitamin B12. Because this diet condones artificial ingredients and additives to foods, finding a vitamin supplement to help balance out these deficients can be difficult. The macrobiotic diet also takes a lot of time and energy to make sure enough of the good foods are getting on the plate, which involves planning, shopping, and mainly cooking at home.

The Macrobiotic Diet vs. Vegan Diet

In many respects, the macrobiotic diet is the same as a vegan diet, save for the addition of fish and seafood. The vegan diet doesn't allow for any animal products at all. Both a vegan and macrobiotic diet eschew dairy, meat, eggs, and honey. Overall the macrobiotic diet is more restrictive than a vegan diet since it limits the amount of food one can eat and condones many oils, non-local vegetables and fruit, caffeine, alcohol, and sometimes nightshades. However, unlike the vegan diet, someone on the macrobiotic may wear and buy leather goods.

Bottom Line

It's both a truth and a myth that the macrobiotic diet is healthy. For starters, there are a lot of healthy aspects to the diet such as portion control, no sugar, lots of vegetables and whole grains, and no artificial ingredients. But it also lacks protein, can be difficult to maintain, and may not be the best diet for all people, especially those sensitive to salt and those who need more good fats in their daily food intake.

Many people also believe the macrobiotic diet was created by hippies in the 1960s. In fact, this diet dates back hundreds of years to ancient Greece and then Japan, where it really made waves thanks to two doctors who lived almost 100 years apart.

Macrobiotic Diet 101: What It Is and How to Do It

What Is The Macrobiotic Diet? (2024)


What does a macrobiotic diet consist of? ›

organic whole grains such as brown rice, barley, oats and buckwheat (half your food intake) locally grown, organic fruits and vegetables (up to a quarter of your food intake) soups made with vegetables, seaweed, beans, chick peas, lentils and fermented soy (miso) (up to a quarter of your food intake)

Are eggs in macrobiotic diet? ›

Foods to avoid on a macrobiotic diet

Foods to avoid include : meat. dairy products. eggs.

Is coffee allowed on a macrobiotic diet? ›

Forbidden foods in the macrobiotic diet

Coffee, soda, canned food, refined products (including sugar), eggs and all kinds of processed foods are not allowed. In regards to alcohol, only mild forms of Japanese beverages like sake are allowed.

What do you eat for breakfast on a macrobiotic diet? ›

We recommend that your macrobiotic breakfast has a grain-based dish with light vegetables on the side. For the basis of any breakfast dish, some great grains for breakfast include, but are not limited to: Brown rice. Steel-cut oats.

Is oatmeal macrobiotic? ›

Brown rice and other whole grains such as barley, millet, oats, quinoa, spelt, rye, and teff are considered by macrobiotics to be the foods in which yin and yang are closest to being in balance. Therefore, lists of macrobiotic foods that determine a food as yin or yang generally compare them to whole grains.

Is avocado macrobiotic? ›

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.

Is peanut butter allowed on a macrobiotic diet? ›

This is a toughie – the basic answer is YES, nut butters can be macrobiotic. But the caveat is that nuts (and nut butters) should be eaten in moderation: maybe 2-3 times a week.

Can you eat potatoes on a macrobiotic diet? ›

Some vegetables should be avoided: potatoes, tomatoes, eggplant and peppers particularly for those who have arthritis. Turnips, carrots, celeriac, the large white Japanese radishes (daikon); all these are good. Winter squashes are excellent.

Can you lose weight on a macrobiotic diet? ›

If your goal is to lose weight, the macrobiotic diet will likely do the trick too, but don't get caught in the carb trap. Many people replace meat with carbs. Starchy carbs, like potatoes, rice, and pasta, are easy to overeat, packing on the calories and the pounds. Instead, reach for veggies in place of meat.

What famous people are on the macrobiotic diet? ›

Explainer / What is the macrobiotic diet loved by Hollywood celebs? Madonna, Gwyneth Paltrow, Julia Roberts, Uma Thurman, Alicia Silverstone and Sting follow its holistic principles for glowing skin and better health.

What is the best rice for macrobiotic diet? ›

Brown rice is flavorful and delicious when made in the macrobiotic style. First the rice is washed and scoured, then soaked for a minimum of 6 hours.

What is the difference between Mediterranean diet vs macrobiotic? ›

Unlike the Mediterranean diet, macrobiotics, meaning great life, is considered more of a lifestyle than diet. It is a lifestyle because it uses healthy food choices to assist individuals with finding balance and harmony in their life.

Is peanut butter allowed on macrobiotic diet? ›

This is a toughie – the basic answer is YES, nut butters can be macrobiotic. But the caveat is that nuts (and nut butters) should be eaten in moderation: maybe 2-3 times a week.

What vegetables are macrobiotic? ›

Our Favorite Macrobiotic Vegetables
  • Watercress – Watercress is highly nourishing and refreshing. ...
  • Kale – Kale is a leafy, cruciferous vegetable that is rich in nutrients and minerals. ...
  • Napa/Chinese Cabbage – Napa is a leafy vegetable that is very flexible and adaptable.

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