Weight Loss, Diets and Nutrition


Macrobiotics – Basics and History

Macro what?? I want to eat healthy, not study science! I want to cook simple, fast, delicious healthy recipes, not spend hours researching impossible words on the internet and wasting time searching for exotic ingredients in hippy health food stores and then trying to find the time to cook them! Besides, my kids would never eat that mumbo jumbo, barely cooked, Japanese influenced stuff anyway….

You’ve just made the same misunderstanding about macrobiotic cooking as I did when my friend showed me her latest macro cookbook. Yeah, I’ll admit, at the time I was searching around for new healthy recipes to boost my health and energy and minimize the risks of contracting diseases, but I have barely enough to even eat at dinnertime after I finish work, let alone cook some strange eating concept that I could not even pronounce!

‘You’ve gone nuts’, I told my friend, but being the nice, open-minded mate that I am, I sat down and let her give me the macro spill, and although it all seemed a little daunting at first, the very principles of macrobiotic cooking seemed to match my reasons for searching for healthier meals to eat.

Yes I want to reduce my chances of developing cancer. Yes I want to decrease the risk of contracting diabetes. Yes I want to easily get my daily intake of vitamins, minerals and nutrients from eating healthy, local organic food without needing to rely on supplements. Yes I want my skin to look fresh and clean and glowing and I want it to feel that way on the inside too.

Yes I want to regulate my body weight and of course I don’t want to be fat and yes I want to be able to keep my body in good shape without starving myself or spending all my savings on weight-watching programs or super-slimming shakes. And Yes, I want to feel happy, alive, energetic, balanced and not stressed all the time! Yes yes yes, bring on macro; I’ll do whatever it takes!

Lucky for you, and me, it doesn’t take much. With just a little bit of organization, you can easily switch to the macro diet and enjoy the wondrous benefits that are associated with healthy eating. For those like me, who really do enjoy a beer or three on the weekend and a mint-choc-chip ice-cream on a Sunday afternoon in summer, well you can! Macro is all about finding the right balance for you as an individual, and providing you don’t eat at McDonald’s 5 days a week and live in an ice-creamery, you can enjoy all the benefits of a macro diet whilst at the same time occasionally indulging in your old-time favorites.

In Japanese, the Kanji for Macrobiotics translates to longevity food. According to Simon G. Brown, author of Modern-Day Macrobiotics, ‘the word macrobiotics (“macro” meaning great and “bios” meaning life) was first used by the German doctor Christoph von Hufeland, who published his book Macrobiotics: The Art of Prolonging Human Life in 1796’*. However, many people are under the impression that George Ohsawa of Japan was the founder of macrobiotics. It is believed that perhaps Ohsawa based some of his own ideas about healthy eating on Hufeland’s macrobiotic principles*.

In 1911, Ohsawa recovered from lung and colon tuberculosis, thanks to a balanced diet of ‘whole, living and natural foods eaten in season, which had been recommended by Dr Sagen Ishizuka’, a military doctor who successfully treated many serious ill patients during the late 1800’s using a theory of balancing the levels of potassium and sodium and acid and alkaline*.

Ohsawa travelled the world trying to deliver his newly found secret of eating for longevity, and even trained students in Japan to ‘go out and spread the world of macrobiotics to other countries’*. The Asian ideas of healthy eating and maintaining a healthy lifestyle through activities such as Tai Chi, Yoga, Meditation, Reiki began to arise throughout America and Europe in the 1970’s, becoming quite mainstream by the 90’s.

During this period, people began to discover the healing powers of macrobiotic eating, which can be linked to a book released by Dr Anthony Sattilaro called Recalled by Life, written about his own recovery from cancer*. The book became very popular with other cancer sufferers and macrobiotics began to be viewed as a far out-there form of cleansing diet, which seemed a little bit too outrageous for those simply seeking a healthy eating regime. Furthermore, the staple foods of a macro diet were not as easy to come across, thus macro was viewed as a complex, difficult eating plan for those wanting to magically recover from cancer.

These days, we can associate macrobiotics with a huge range of healthy benefits, and many of its base foods are available in supermarkets, and even better, can be grown in your own back yard. Think of the macro diet as the switch from processed, chemical-packed, factory prepared foods to local, organic, clean, fresh, farmed foods. And then imagine how much this is going to benefit your body and soul.

Our bodies are heavily influenced by the foods that we eat. Have you seen that movie Supersize Me, which observes the rapid health deterioration of a regular American guy who eats nothing but McDonald’s three times a day for a month? Not only does he gain weight at a rapid pace, begin to feel depressed and unenergetic and lose his sexual drive, but his liver to decides to start shutting down amongst many other medical problems. Reverse this then, and imagine the effect on your body if you ate nothing but health food every day for a month. You’d lose weight, feel alive and energetic, and maybe even reverse any medical problems you are suffering. Sounds good doesn’t it.

Our body reacts to the different foods that we eat, and Macrobiotics is all about finding the correct balance between what we eat and how our bodies react to these foods. There are many factors that influence the energy within foods, and these in turn influence the energy we receive from the foods we eat. Examples of these influences include;
‘The direction it grows: up, down, spreading out, horizontal
The Climate it grows in: tropical, temperate
Its growing season: spring, summer, autumn
Type of environment: soil, air, and water
Its position in the growth cycle: seed for new life or mature and fully grown
Where it grows: mountains, flat lands, stony soil, trees, rivers, sea
Growth: slow, fast
Its position within the evolutionary cycle: primitive, modern
Local foods: traditional, natural foods from your area’*.

Living foods are believed to give us the most amount of energy, and these are foods that are still growing. Examples of living foods are whole grains, dried beans or seeds, all of which will sprout if you place them on a damp cloth in a dark area; fruits and root vegetables which can both be planted to grow into new plants; leafy greens which can be placed in water in the fridge to encourage continued growth; and the enzymes of fermented foods also continue to flourish*.

Cooking styles also heavily influence the energy we are able to get from food. For example, ‘steaming will encourage energy to move up, sautéing encourages it to move outward, slow stewing to move down, pressure cooking to move inward, boiling to flow’*. Understanding the energy that you can get from foods can result in your ability to cook for your body to give you the energy or feelings that you want. You can also concentrate on different parts of the body, for example, Simon Brown suggests that if you want to stimulate the mind, prepare yourself a miso soup with fried onions, cabbage and scallions, whereas if you would like to de-congest your lungs, a bowl of steamed spring greens will help*.

It is very important to eat organic foods that are in season in your area, which will allow your body to also stay in-tune with your surroundings, weather conditions, etc. Eating organically will reduce your intake of harsh chemicals, which are dangerous for your body, whilst at the same time playing an important role in battling the growing global warming environmental problem.

*Brown, Simon G., Modern-Day Macrobiotics, North Atlantic Books, Berkeley, California, 2006.

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