Here’s what I (thought I) knew about the macrobiotic diet: a) It’s a lot like veganism, b) except you’re supposed to avoid “nightshade” vegetables like potatoes and eggplant, and c) there’s some sort of philosophical component to it. Turns out, however, that while the macrobiotic diet emphasizes whole foods and ample veggies, macrobiotic eaters aren’t necessarily vegan, or even vegetarian. To learn more about macrobiotic eating, I turned to nutritionist Jonathan Bechtel, owner of the health supplement company Health Kismet. Bechtel says macrobiotics is a “fantastic diet if done well,” and “adoption is easier than one might presume with the right information.” Oh yeah? Well, then, let’s get informed.
What is the macrobiotic diet?
The macrobiotic diet is based on the principles of harmony with nature, eating local, fresh food that’s free of toxins and and of high nutritional quality. It’s not strictly vegetarian, vegan, or raw, but overlaps closely with all three. The diet staples consist primarily of minimally processed whole grains like quinoa, buckwheat and millet; fresh, locally grown vegetables; some fruits; and occasionally some fish and pickled foods.
However, the macrobiotics diet is more than just an eating regimen. Its philosophy is rooted in certain traces of eastern philosophy that emphasize a connection with nature, a life free of stress and toxins, simplicity and overall wellness.
Can you tell me more about that philosophy?
Macrobiotics is commonly understood as a philosophy on life that emphasizes a way of eating, as opposed to a “diet.” The macrobiotic philosophy is east Asian in style and emphasizes freedom from toxins and pollutants, connection with nature, self-awareness, and inner peace. The term macrobiotic was originally coined in 1797 by a German physician, Christofer Wilhelm Hufeland, when he penned a book on how to rid the body of disease. However, the macrobiotic diet as it’s commonly understood today was adopted in Japan in the 1800s. Traditional macrobiotic foods are strongly japanese, but it’s important to emphasize that the macrobiotic diet requires its followers to eat food that’s very fresh, minimally processed, locally grown, and personally suited to their own particular circumstances.
What are the benefits of following a macrobiotic diet?
The macrobiotic diet is a very “clean” diet, in that all the calories you consume are likely to be very nutritious and free from pollutants and minimally processed. It’s become popular with people fighting cancer because it’s believed by some to provide very powerful detoxifying benefits to the human body.
Also, because the macrobiotic diet is also about a lifestyle more so than just a way of eating, it allows the individual to tailor their eating for their own circumstances. In reality, there really aren’t a lot of hard and fast rules.
But there is a rule, or a recommendation at least, against nightshade vegetables, right? So what exactly are nightshade vegetables, and why are they to be avoided?
Nightshade vegetables refer to a group of foods that belong to the Solanaceae family of flowering plants, which are highly alkaloid and can be toxic or highly irritating if regularly consumed. Tobacco is a member of the “nightshade” group of plants, as are a number of psychoactive plants. More common foods also include potatoes, eggplants, and bell peppers.
The reason for avoiding nightshade vegetables relates to the ancient Chinese principle of “yin and yang.” Traditionally, practitioners of the macrobiotic diet believed that foods fall into “yin” or “yang” groups in how they affect the body, and it’s believed that nightshade vegetables fall too far into the “yin” group because of their potential for toxicity.