Updated: Oct 30, 2019
Nutrition is a pillar of Chinese Medicine. In most cases, nutrition is what should be corrected first in the treatment of disease. Because nutrition is the foundation for health, it is considered to be the most powerful form of treatment.
The macrobiotic diet is a complete nutrition plan for longevity and reversal of disease.
The macrobiotic diet is quite simple. It is not strict and it is constantly changing. It’s basic principles are to eat 50% whole grains, at least 25% vegetables, and the remaining 25% beans, protein, animal products, fruits, nuts, and seeds. The macrobiotic diet was born from Chinese Medicine concepts. Food choices, food combining, and food preparation all play a role to incite healing effects in the body.
The power of food medicine is infinite. In order to achieve optimal results, a person must commit to a dietary structure, use their intuition, and stay informed to make the best food choices.
Start by following the basic dietary structure of macrobiotics.
As mentioned earlier, the structure is based on whole grains and vegetables, and moderate amounts of legumes, proteins, and fruits.
1. Stock Your Kitchen with Whole Grains.
Why are whole grains so important?
The importance of whole grains was scientifically established the 2004 publication, The China Study, by Dr. Collin T. Campbell. This is the most comprehensive study ever conducted on nutrition. The China Study revealed that processed, refined grains resulted in harmful effects while whole grains as a dietary staple proved to be a vital component in the reversing of disease. Whole grains contain vital nutrients such as dietary fiber, folate, B vitamins, manganese, selenium, etc. A summary of health studies by the Whole Grains Council reads, “Because of the phytochemicals and antioxidants, people who eat three daily servings of whole grains have been shown to reduce their risk of heart disease by 25-36%, stroke by 37%, Type II diabetes by 21-27%, digestive system cancers by 21-43%, and hormone-related cancers by 10-40%..”.
Which whole grains should I choose?
Unrefined whole grains are best, but whole grains can be used in cracked form, flakes, or flours.
According to Paul Pitchford’s, Healing with Whole Foods, a person with excess constitution (robust voice, reddish complexion) should choose amaranth, rye, whole barley, and wild rice. A person with weakness, low energy, and paleness should choose rice, wheat, spelt, well-cooked oats, and quinoa. A person with heat conditions (feeling too hot, thirst, desire for cold drinks, reddish complexion) benefits from millet, wheat, amaranth, wild rice, blue corn, and whole barley. Cold-type constitutions (feeling cold, likes warm, pale complexion) benefit from oats, spelt, quinoa, sweet rice, and basmati rice. Damp conditions (sluggishness, edema, obesity, chronic mucous and phlegm problems, cysts, tumors, discomfort after eating) benefit most from amaranth, buckwheat, unrefined barley, corn, rye, wild rice, basmati rice, and dry roasted oats.
Storing and preparing whole grains.
Whole grains can be stored for up to 2 years in an airtight container in a cool, dry place. Whole grains are usually boiled for preparation or prepared from flours. Whole grains make an excellent base for meals, soups, bowls, and salads. They combine well with all other food categories except fruit, which should be eaten alone. Whole grains are also taken as breads and pastas.
2. Establish a Routine for Accessing Vegetables and Produce.
Whether it’s a weekly trip to the supermarket or visiting your community farmer’s market, find a produce vendor that works with your routine.
Cooked Vegetables vs. Raw
Both cooked and raw vegetables have benefit. For optimal digestion and nutrition, Chinese Medicine recommends cooked vegetables over raw for several reasons.
Nutrients become more bioavailable when vegetables are cooked.
Cooked foods are easier on the digestive organs while raw foods require more digestive energy. And no, eating raw vegetables does not benefit you by burning more calories. It taxes the limited energy that is available for transformation and transportation of food.
Raw vegetables are recommended for cases with heat in the stomach (belching, vomiting, hiccups).
It is recommended to prepare smoothies with par-boiled kale since it’s cell walls are stronger than other leafy greens. Cinnamon, ginger, and black pepper are warming spices that aid in digesting raw foods. Add them to smoothies and juices with raw ingredients to assist digestion.
3. Portion Proteins.
Legumes are sacred in Chinese Medicine. They are small, yet powerful, containing all the energy necessary for sprouting an entire plant. Not only do their proteins regulate metabolism, they contain fat and carbohydrate, potassium, calcium, iron, and B vitamins. Legumes represent energy that is associated with the kidneys. They provide adrenal support and are even known to be useful for lower back pain due to kidney problems.
Some legumes require specific digestive enzymes not readily available in every person. When enzymes are not available, the body uses fermentation process to break down food, producing gas as a byproduct. Aduki, lentil, mung bean, and peas are the easiest legumes to digest. Combining legumes with green vegetables or seaweeds improve digestibility.
Although there is strong evidence linking consumption of animal protein to growth of cancer cells and quickening of disease progression, a macrobiotic diet does include small amounts of animal protein for medicinal purposes.
Dairy products are useful in cases of dryness and weakness. However, because dairy products worsen damp conditions, they are contraindicated where there is excess mucous, phlegm, or cases of allergies or intolerances.
Eggs are tonifying and curative in cases of weakness, blood deficiency (paleness, dizziness, fatigue, anemia), and for dryness of the lungs, throat, and eyes. Eggs are considered to be a powerful medicine, astringent in nature. Excess consumption of eggs can result in thick, sticky-types mucous production. In moderation, they are a good option to treat general weakness and dryness.
High Quality Meats including fish, shellfish, poultry, red meat, and animal liver and kidney are considered medicinal foods for cases of deficiency. Medicinal properties of animal meats is a well-researched topic in Chinese Medicine. In summary, animal meats are useful for extreme weakness, anemia, liver and kidney deficiencies, certain vision problems, diarrhea, bone weakness, etc. Although considered medicinal in some cases, animal meats should be eaten in moderation because of their link to disease progression.
Fruits are generally sweet, refreshing, alkalizing, and easily digestible. Fruits are a healthy snack option to clear heat from the body. Fruits typically have laxative effects that help with constipation (except of certain fruits like blackberries, sour plum, and pineapple, which treat diarrhea). Fruits are more easily digested when eaten alone. Keep in mind that fruits are high in sugar and cold in nature. Excess fruit consumption could result in inflammatory episodes, digestive disorders, coldness, and weakness.
Nuts and Seeds
Nuts and seeds (which some are part of the legume category) contain a substantial amount of protein and fat. Because of this, nuts and seeds make a great protein snack for in-between meals. Because of their weight and strength, they are best consumed alone and in small amounts. Caution against rancid nuts and seeds (which are very toxic) and ensure proper chewing for digestibility.
More Components to a Disease-Reversing Diet
Other major components of macrobiotics include the addition of seaweeds and chlorophyll foods, as well as medicinal soups, breakfast congees, and the art of food combining. Because macrobiotics and Chinese Medicine have thousands of years of historical data in nutrition, it would be a misrepresentation to conclude that a single summary would suffice in its explanation. To dive deeper into the world of Chinese Medicine Nutrition, subscribe to this blog, check out more articles, or purchase the comprehensive desk reference for Chinese Medicine nutrition, Healing with Whole Foods, by Paul Pitchford.
More Articles on Nutrition:
Campbell, T. Colin Ph. D. The China Study, The Most Comprehensive Study of Nutrition Ever Conducted. Benbella Books, 2006.
Pitchford, Paul. Healing with Whole Foods: Asian Traditions and Modern Nutrition. North Atlantic Books, 2009.
Maciocia, Giovanni. The Foundations of Chinese Medicine. Elsevier Churchill Livingstone, 2005.
“The Whole Grains Council.” The Whole Grains Council, wholegrainscouncil.org/.