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I thought macrobiotics was an old-fashion diet

Macrobiotic old-fashion diet

I work in Sha Wellness Clinic, a resort on the Mediterranean Coast, in the east of Spain. 

I had dinner with guests some weeks ago and one of them mentioned she was surprised by how delicious the food was. She thought macrobiotics was an old-fashioned diet.

Macrobiotics evolves as well as other fields do. “Vintage macrobiotics” does exist. I invented this term in order to distinguish it from other more modern versions. If macrobiotics had a golden age, it would be the 80’s. During that decade, there was a great increase in the number of publications, speeches and schools.

The macrobiotics that was practised during that time is the macrobiotics that has remained in the collective mind.

How was macrobiotics in the 80’s?

It was a type of diet with the following characteristics: 

  • Almost vegan. White fish was consumed either once or, at most, twice a week. 
  • Soft flavours (bland diet). Spices, salt or foods with intense flavours (eggs, meat, fats, dairy products, sugar) were barely used.
  • Low-fat diet. Non-animal fat sources. Sesame oil was used for sauté recipes, a very small quantity (1 teaspoon every day or every two days per person, as The Macrobiotic Way book recommends)
  • Japanese orientation. Typical products from Japan were used, as for example, condiments (rice vinegar, umeboshi, shiso…), rice, seaweed, and miso soup. 
  • Presence of grain, little bread and pasta. Grain was consumed three times a day.
  • No sweets. At most some some desserts made with apples or pears.
  • Neither frozen nor canned foods. Consuming fresh and organic foods was promoted. 
  • Cooking took time. Grain and pulses were of great importance on this type of diet.
  • Several courses. Another factor that took time was the elaboration of several courses: soup, second course, steamed vegetables, tea. 
  • Little use of raw foods: fruit and salads. 

Nowadays, with the contribution of the second and third wave (see “Start Here” and read Kushi’s Students), the practice of macrobiotics has turned into something more complex. There is not only one model or type of diet, but several, depending on the teachers and on the case that it is applied to. We may find such extreme cases from teachers who recommend a total vegan diet to teachers who include some portions of meat and bones broths.

I will try to explain in other post why such a coexistence occurs.

In any case, we may observe the evolution in the practice of macrobiotics, as for example: 

  • In some cases, there are more animal source foods. 
  • It is tastier. It contains a bigger quantity of healthy fats like olive oil and avocado.
  • It does not depend on Japanese products, but on the traditional products of the place where it is applied.
  • Practical and fast ways of applying it are looked for, with the help of planning and of the fridge. 
  • More fruit and salads are included. 

To sum it up, although the origins take us to a diet from the 80’s, there has always been progress through the activity of Michio Kushi’s students. Despite the fact that teachers sometimes take different directions (more or less animal source foods), in every case the diet is richer, as it includes a bigger variety of dishes, and more options from other cultures as well as more flavours. For that reason, the guest I had in Sha found it to be such a rich diet. 


[1] Image of the post coming from the book: Kushi, A. and Esko, W. (1987). Macrobiotic Family Favorites. Tokyo and New York: Japan Publications, Inc. P. 87

[2] The book where 1 teaspoon of sesame oil a day was recommended: Kushi, M. y Blauer, S. (1985). The Macrobiotic Way. Wayne (New Jersey): Avery Publishing Group Inc. P. 76

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Why macrobiotics is not a trendy diet

Kushi and macrobiotics

Michio Kushi (1926-2014) is considered to be the most important person in macrobiotics. He created a school, he published a huge number of books and he inspired thousands of people with his numerous speeches.

Understanding the origins and the context where Michio Kushi grew up will help us understand why macrobiotics is not just one more diet. Macrobiotics is not a trendy diet that aims to disappear 1 or 2 years afterwards.

Michio Kushi was born in 1926. Japan entered World War II in 1941. Kushi had to live the war years, but when he joined the ranks, Japan had already communicated their unconditional surrender after the two atomic bombs reached Nagasaki and Hiroshima in 1945, when Kushi was 19 years old.

This is what Michio tells us in his book “The Book of Macrobiotics” (1986, preface):

In  August, 1945, World War II ended following the destruction of  large parts of Europe and Asia. Hundreds of millions of people suffered and died during the long years and miseries of this war. Soon after the war ended, other wars began to break out in various areas of the world. Concurrently, with the increasing technological prosperity of modern civilization, the degeneration of humanity began to accelerate.

During my late teenage years, I often visited shrines, praying for the spirits of dying soldiers, many of whom were my friends, wondering why we had to fight on this beautiful earth. Later I was drafted into the army, and passed through Hiroshima just before and after the atomic bombing, as well as helped survivors from Nagasaki. These experiences made a deep impression on me. In my early  twenties, my questionning was extended to various other undesirable human affairs, including sicknesses, disagreements, selfishness, and egocentricity, searching for the universal way of health, happiness, and peace.

These experiences led a young Michio Kushi to study law and international relations at the University of Tokyo as well as to be a World Federalist [1]. During these years, he met George Ohsawa.

Ohsawa introduced macrobiotics to Kushi and he considered it a useful tool to contribute to create peace in the world.

Although macrobiotics has been introduced to us as a diet, Kushi’s goals were beyond that. In his first writings, he considered as macrobiotic tools all these practices that contributed to health and happiness.

He considered meditation, yoga, breathing exercises, and physical activity as macrobiotic tools. Everything that was useful to harmonize the opposites. Among these practices, both Ohsawa and Kushi highlighted the diet.

The Books of Macrobiotics (1986), p26:

After studying with George Ohsawa in Japan following the Second World War and after beginning to teach the philosophy of yin and yang in the United States, I adopted “macrobiotics” in its original meaning, as the universal way of health and longevity which encompasses the largest possible view of not only diet but also all dimensions of human life, natural order, and cosmic evolution. Macrobiotics embrances behaviour, thought, breathing, exercise, relationships, customs, cultures, ideas, and consciousness, as well as individual and collective ways of life found throughout the world. In this sense, macrobiotics is not simply or mainly a diet, though that is the first step and usual introduction to this way of life with which humanity has developed biologically, psychologically, and spiritually and with which we will maintain our health, happiness, and peace. Macrobiotics includes a dietary approach but its purpose is to ensure the survival of the human race and its further evolution on this planet.

What dietetic recommendations would you give someone who wants to improve their condition? Or someone who wants to be calmer, who wants to feel stronger or more sociable? And someone who wants to be a tool to make the world a better place?

Kushi answered this question with his knowledge according to his culture, formal, and personal training at that time. It was not a trendy diet, it was not a diet to make money, it was not a diet to lose weight, but it was a diet to help the human being follow their evolutionary path, prosper individually and collectively, as an individual as well as part of a species in each of their aspects: physical, psychological and social.

Macrobiotic School [MS] will focus on what the macrobiotic diet is based on and on its reasons.


[1] World Federalist Movement: it is a movement that appeared after World War II that proposes the creation of supranational organizations in order to ensure peace in the world. This movement is backed up by famous intellectuals.

[2] Picture of young Michio Kushi from Michael Rossoff website.