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The Macrobiotic Pyramid

Food guides are an informative tool that orients our diet.

Since 1916, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has published several food guides. The most popular one has been the Food Guide Pyramid, published in 1992.

Food pyramid 1992

Macrobiotics does also count on a food pyramid. We can find the last version of the Macrobiotic Pyramid in the book The Macrobiotic Path To Total Health, written by Michio Kushi and Alex Jack.

This is the Macrobiotic Pyramid:

 

Michio and Alex wrote the following words together with the previous picture:

The Great Life Pyramid is designed as a graphic depiction of the relative importance and proportions of the different food groups. It shares the same basic orientation as the U.S. Food Guide Pyramid, the Mediterranean Diet Pyramid, the Asian Diet Pyramid, and the Vegetarian Diet Pyramid but is more comprehensive. The Great Life or Macrobiotic Food Pyramid is based on a universal eating pattern found throughout the temperate regions of the world, not just one civilization or culture, and is more in line with current nutritional and medical studies than the other guidelines. Please study this illustration carefully.

The Pyramid is a more detailed version of the pie chart we saw in the post Foods of the Macrobiotic Diet. Personally, I believe this is a good way of summarising what the Macrobiotic Diet is, and a proper starting point when designing a personalised diet.


NOTES

[1] To know more about the Food Guides visit: https://www.choosemyplate.gov/brief-history-usda-food-guides

[2] The image of the Macrobiotic Pyramid comes from the book: Kushi, M. and Jack, A. (2003). The Macrobiotic Path To Total Health. New York: Ballantine Books.

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Macrobiotic Diet vs Healthy Diet

The Standard Macrobiotic Diet (SMD) that is presented in the post Foods from a Macrobiotic Diet is the sort of diet that was taught since the mid 50’s by Michio Kushi and his collaborators. This diet is what I call Vintage Macrobiotics, and some macrobiotics students have continued teaching it to others.

In order to check the validity of the SMD currently, we can compare it to the guides that have been written by each country or by official organisms. In this case, I would like to compare it to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans (8th edition).

I will be guided by the recommendations of the SMD, and I will compare them to the recommendations written in the Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA).

Let’s begin.

COMPARISON

WHOLE GRAINS

Standard Macrobiotic Diet Dietary Guidelines for Americans
Whole grains compromise at least half of every meal (50%). Flour products should be below 20 percent of the daily proportion of whole grains. Healthy eating pattern includes whole grains and limit the intake of refined grains and products made with refined grains, especially those high in saturated fats, added sugars, and/or sodium, such as cookies, cakes, and some snack foods. The recommended amount of grains is 6 ounce-equivalents per day. At least half of this amount should be whole grains.

They agree. Both the SMD and the DGA recommend whole grains, a bigger amount of grains and a smaller amount of products made with refined grains. Whole grains constitute an important part of the diet.

SOUPS

Standard Macrobiotic Diet  Dietary Guidelines for Americans
Soups, 1 or 2 bowls daily. Seasoned with a moderate amount of miso, tamari or sea salt. It mentions nothing about soups. It only explains not to worry about the high amount of sodium they may contain. For that reason, macrobiotics recommends a natural seasoning.

VEGETABLES

Standard Macrobiotic Diet   Dietary Guidelines for Americans
About one-quarter (25-30% of each meal) may include vegetables. One-third of your daily vegetable intake may be eaten as pickles and salad. Healthy eating patterns include a variety of vegetables from all of the five vegetable subgroups -dark green, red and orange, legumes (beans and peas), starchy, and other. These include all fresh, frozen, canned, and dried options in cooked or raw forms, including vegetable juices. The recommended amount of vegetables in the Healthy U.S.-Style Eating Pattern and the 2000-calorie level is 2 1/2 cup-equivalents of vegetables per day.

They agree. The DGA does not exclude certain vegetables, and it does admit several sorts of vegetables (fresh, frozen, canned, and dried). I remember the SMD excludes systematically vegetables such as tomatoes, potatoes, aubergines, and peppers.

BEANS, BEAN PRODUCTS, AND SEAWEEDS

Standard Macrobiotic Diet    Dietary Guidelines for Americans
About 5 to 10 percent of your daily diet may include cooked beans, bean products, and sea vegetables. Beans and bean products are included as “vegetables” on the DGA.

They agree on the beans consumption, but seaweeds are not mentioned in the DGA.

SUPPLEMENTARY FOODS

Standard Macrobiotic Diet Dietary Guidelines for Americans
1-2 times a week white fish or seafood, a small volume of roasted seeds, fruits from time to time, small amounts of rice syrup, barley malt or amazaké. -Fruits: Healthy eating patterns include fruits, especially whole fruits. Whole fruits include fresh, canned, frozen, and dried forms. The recommended amount of fruits is 2 cup-equivalents per day.
-Fish is included in the category of “Protein Food” in the Healthy eating pattern. This group includes seafood, meats, poultry, and eggs; and nuts, seeds, and soy products. The recommended weekly consumption is 8 ounces-equivalents of seafood per week, meat, poultry, and eggs is 26 ounce-equivalents per week. Nuts and seeds 1 1/2 ounce a day.
Healthy eating patterns limit added sugars to less than 10 percent of calories per day.

They do not agree because the DGA includes a bigger amount of all the above-mentioned foods, except for sweeteners, that are limited in both the SMD and the DGA. We need to highlight that the DGA offers a vegetarian pattern as well, in which meat and fish are excluded, and eggs (3 times a week) and dairy products (3 times a week) are included.

BEVERAGES

Standard Macrobiotic Diet Dietary Guidelines for Americans
It is recommended that spring or well water is used in the preparation of teas and other beverages. Recommended beverages: spring water, kukicha tea, rice tea, barley tea. Beverages that are calorie-free -especially water- or that contribute beneficial nutrients, such as fat-free and low-fat milk and 100% juice, should be the primary beverages consumed.

They agree on the use of water, but not in the recommendation about consuming milk and juice. The SMD excludes milk, and it recommends small amounts of fresh juice when the person is a healthy person and it is hot.

CONDIMENTS

Standard Macrobiotic Diet Dietary Guidelines for Americans
Condiments may be used in moderate amounts to add a variety of flavors to foods and to provide additional nutrients. The following condiments may be used: Tamari soy sauce, sesame salt (gomashio), roasted sea vegetable powder, sesame seed powder, umeboshi plum, shio (salt) kombu, nori condiment, tekka, sauerkraut. It does not mention any recommendation about condiments, but it does about sodium consumption. Healthy eating patterns limit sodium to less than 2300 mg per day. This could be limiting the consumption of Japanese condiments that contain more sodium.

They agree on the recommendation of a limited use of condiments, but maybe the SMD exceeds the use of sodium.

OILS

Standard Macrobiotic Diet Dietary Guidelines for Americans
It is best to use only a moderate amount of high quality, cold pressed vegetable oil in cooking. Oils for regular use include: Sesame, dark sesame, and corn oil. The recommendations for oils in the Healthy U.S.-Style Eating Pattern is 27 g (about 5 teaspoons) per day. Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats are more recommended than saturated fats. It is include: canola, corn, olive peanut, safflower, soybean, and sunflower oils.

They do not agree. The SMD recommends a smaller amount, 1 teaspoon (SMD) compared to 5 teaspoons (DGA). And the DGA allows more variety.

DAIRY PRODUCTS

There is a general category that the DGA and other national guides include, but the SMD does not: dairy products.

Standard Macrobiotic Diet  Dietary Guidelines for Americans
No dairy products are recommended. Examples: cheese, butter, milk, yogurt, kefir, ice cream, cream, sour cream, whipped cream. Healthy eating patterns include fat-free and low-fat (1%) dairy, including milk, yogurt, cheese, or fortified soy beverages (soymilk). The recommended amounts of dairy in the Healthy U.S. -Style Pattern are base on age rather than calorie level and are 2 cup-equivalents per day for children ages 2-3 years, 2 1/2 cup equivalent per day for children 4-8 years, and 3 cup-equivalents per day for adolescents ages 9-18 and adults

Regarding to dairy products, they do not agree.

CONCLUSION

When we compare the SMD to the DGA, we realise that they agree on many aspects. For example: whole grains, vegetables, less added sugars, beans, fish.

The main aspect that differentiates them is that the DGA includes more foods. The DGA recommends the consumption of dairy products, poultry, a bigger amount of fish, and it also accepts more formats than the SMD, as for example: frozen, canned or dried vegetables.

The official guides, such as the DGA, are designed by committees made up of experts, and therefore, from my point of view, they are valid. That is why, even if I admire and I am fascinated with vintage macrobiotics, the sort of macrobiotics that I use in my practice includes more foods. Sometimes, when the condition of the person needs it, I use a more strict version in short periods of time.


NOTES

[1] U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and U.S. Department of Agriculture. 2015 – 2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. 8th Edition. December 2015. Available at https://health.gov/dietaryguidelines/2015/guidelines/.

[2] The material used to describe the Standard Macrobiotic Diet is coming from: Kushi, M. and Kushi A. (1986). Macrobiotic Child Care & Family Health. Tokyo and New York: Japan Publications, Inc.

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Foods of the macrobiotic diet

macrobiotic diet pie

Imagine that you want to eat healthy.

Where would you start from?

Michio Kushi proposed the standard macrobiotic diet as a starting point.

If you want to eat healthy, you should know two things:

(1) What the standard macrobiotic diet consists of.
(2) Learning how to adapt yourself to it. A macrobiotic counselor will do it for you.

We will focus on the first bullet point today:

In order to show you what the standard macrobiotic diet is, I am going to use fragments from a book written by Michio and Aveline Kushi in 1986: Macrobiotic Child Care & Family Health. Once you read it, you know much more about macrobiotics.

It says the following:

In general, an optimally balanced diet in a temperate, or four-season, climate consists of the following proportions of food:

1. Whole Cereal Grains
We recommend that cooked whole grain cereals comprise at least half (50 percent) of every meal. Cooked whole grains are preferable to flour products as they are easier to digest. Whole grains for daily use include: Brown rice (short grain is preferable in temperate climates), millet, barley, corn, whole oats, wheat berries, and rye. Whole grains for occasional use include: sweet brown rice, mochi (pounded sweet brown rice), whole wheat noodles (including udon and somen), buckwheat, buckwheat noodles (soba) unleavened whole wheat or rye bread, or unleavened bread made from other whole grains, rice cakes, cracked wheat, bulgur, steel cut and rolled oats, corn grits and meal, rye flakes, and couscous. In general, it is better to keep the intake of flour products, flaked cereals, and products such as couscous and grits below 20 percent of the daily proportion of whole grains.

2. Soups
One or two cups or small bowls of soup may be included daily. We recommend seasoning soups with a moderate amount of miso, tamari soy sauce, or sea salt, so that they taste neither too salty nor too bland. Soups may be prepared with a variety of ingredients including seasonal vegetables, sea vegetables -especially wakame and kombu- and grains and beans. Barley miso, also known as mugi miso, is generally better for regular use, while soybean (Hatcho) and brown rice (genmai) miso may be used on occasion.

3. Vegetables
About one-quarter (25-30 percent) of each meal may include vegetables prepared in a variety of ways, including steaming, boiling, pressure-cooking, and others. In general, up to one-third of your daily vegetable intake may be eaten in the form of macrobiotically prepared pickles or salad. We recommend avoiding commercial dressings and mayonnaise.

4. Beans, Bean Products, and Sea Vegetables
About 5 to 10 percent of your daily diet may include cooked beans, bean products, and sea vegetables. Beans for regular use include: Azuki beans (small red bean), chickpeas, and lentils. Beans for occasional use include: Black-eyed peas, black turtle beans, black soybeans, kidneys beans, great northern beans, whole dried peas, split peas, pinto beans, lima beans, and navy beans. Fermented bean products such as tempeh (an Indonesian fermented soybean product), tofu (soybean curd), dried tofu, and natto (fermented soybean) may also be included on a regular basis. (Naturally processed whole wheat products like seitan [seasoned wheat gluten] and fu [dried wheat gluten] may also be used in various side dishes from time to time).

5. Supplementary foods
Depending upon age, condition and type of activity, a small amount of whitemeat fish or seafood may be eaten once or twice a week. Suitable varieties include: flounder, halibut, sole, carp, haddock, trout, clams, oysters, smelt, scallops, shrimp, chirimen, iriko (tiny dried fish), and chuba (small dried fish).
A small volume of roasted seeds, lightly seasoned with sea salt or tamari, may be enjoyed as snacks by adults and older children. Suitable varieties include: Sesame, sunflower, pumpkin, and squash seeds.
Desserts may be enjoyed now and then, generally about two to three times per week. Unsweetened, cooked fruit desserts are preferable. However, small amounts of high quality natural grain sweeteners such as rice syrup, barley malt or amasaké (slightly fermented sweet brown rice) may be added occasionally. Dried and fresh local fruits in season may also be enjoyed from time to time by those in good health.

6. Beverages
It is recommended that spring or well water de used in the preparation of teas and other beverages. Beverages for daily use include: Bancha twig tea (kukicha), bancha stem tea, roasted rice tea, roasted barley tea, boiled water, and spring or well water.

7. Condiments
Condiments may be used in moderate amounts to add a variety of flavors to foods and to provide additional nutrients. The following condiments may be used by adults and older children: Tamari soy sauce, sesame salt (gomashio), roasted sea vegetable powder, sesame seed powder, umeboshi plum, shio (salt) kombu, nori condiment, tekka, sauerkraut. Other condiments for occasional use include: Pickles, vinegar, ginger.

8. Oil and Seasoning
It is best to use only a moderate amount of high quality, cold pressed vegetable oil in cooking. It is generally advisable to limit the intake of sautéed vegetables and other dishes which contain oil several times per week, and to use only a small amount of oil when preparing those dishes. Oil may be used occasionally in deep-frying grains, vegetables, fish, and seafood. Oils for regular use include: Sesame, dark sesame, and corn oil.
Naturally processed, unrefined sea salt is preferred over other varieties of seasoning. Miso and tamari soy sauce, both of which contain salt, may also be used. Seasoning that can be used regularly by adults and older children include: Miso, tamari soy sauce, white sea salt, umesboshi plum or paste, umeboshi vinegar, and rice or other grain vinegar.

9. Foods to reduce or avoid in temperate climates according to vintage macrobiotics:

  • Animal products: red meat, poultry, wild game, eggs.
  • Dairy products: cheese, butter, milk, yogurt, kefir, ice cream, sour cream, whipped cream
  • Fish: red meat or blue-skinned fish
  • Processed foods: instant foods, canned foods, frozen foods, white flour, white rice, foods processed with chemicals, additives, preservatives, stabilizers, emulsifiers, artificial coloring, sprayed, dyed foods.
  • Sweeteners: sugar, honey, molasses, corn syrup, saccharine, fructose, carob, maple syrop, chocolate.
  • Stimulants: spices, herbs, vinegar, coffee, alcohol, commercially dyed teas, stimulating aromatic teas, ginseng.
  • Fats: lard or shortening, processed vegetables oils, soy margarines.
  • Nuts: brazil, cashew, pistacho, hazel.
  • Tropical fruits-beverages: artificial beverages, bananas, grapefruit, mangoes, oranges, papayas, figs, prunes, coconut, kiwi.

NOTES

[1] Book used to write the post: Michio and Aveline Kushi (1986). Macrobiotic Child Care & Family Health. Tokyo and New York: Japan Publications, Inc.

[2] Image of the post from the book: Kushi, A. and Esko, W. (1989). Aveline Kushi´s Wonderful World of Salads. Tokyo and New York: Japan Publications, Inc.

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Macrobiotics: A diet that makes you happy

Why eat more vegetables in macrobiotics
Figure 16: Evolutionary Development (The Book of Macrobiotics, p. 45)

Anybody could think that a diet that makes you happy should include chocolate, cookies, and cakes. Michio Kushi proposed an alternative diet that you will get to know in the following lines.

What sort of diet makes someone happier?

This is a difficult question because, if we travel all around the world, we will realise that there are plenty of dietetic models that are related to healthy populations. A person whose diet includes fish, can be as healthier as someone else’s diet that includes meat, as well as as healthier as a vegetarian person’s diet. What does that relation between diet and health/happiness depend on?

Ohsawa and Kushi highlighted repeatedly in their writings how important the order of the universe is, or, in other words, the natural order. When we eat, we should follow the natural order. If we do so, we will be healthier, we will feel peace, we will feel happier, and we will create a better world.

What should we eat by nature?

Every animal has predetermined foodstuffs. We know what a dog should eat, an eagle, a dolphin, etc. And, does the human being have predetermined foodstuffs?

I will summarise the arguments that Kushi gave us to orient our food choices below. Each of these arguments could need their own post, that is why I will make a summary of each of them.

Argument 1: The evolutionary line

Both the vegetable kingdom and the animal kingdom have their own evolutionary lines. On Earth, a new vegetable species appeared at the same time as an animal species and therefore, there was a relation between them (see the picture above).

It is the same story with humans and grains. For that reason, grains are of great importance to human nourishment according to macrobiotics.

Kushi does also recommend to choose animal foodstuff that is as far as possible from the human being as a species, because this way the natural order would be respected. Therefore, eating fish is better than eating beef.

Argument 2: The 1:7 Ratio

The 1:7 proportion is constantly quoted in Kushi’s work. In agreement with this proportion, which he considers as “sacred” or natural, the human being should eat 1 part of minerals per 7 parts of protein, 1 part of protein per 7 parts of carbohydrates, 1 part of carbohydrates per 7 parts of foodstuff that is rich in water (soup, green vegetables, vegetables, legumes, also known as beans or pulses, fruit and drinks), and 1 part of foodstuff rich in water per 7 parts of practice such as meditation, breathing exercises, auto-reflection or physical exercise.

This ratio is also used to define how many animal products should be included in our diet: 1  part of animal foodstuff per 7 parts of vegetable foodstuffs. This proportion is also backed up by the number of teeth (read the following argument).

Argument 3: The composition of teeth

The human teeth allow us chew different sorts of food. It is logical to think that if we have more teeth to chew certain foodstuffs, these foodstuffs should predominate in our daily diet. According to Kushi:

The structure of the human teeth offers another biological clue to humanity’s natural way of eating. The thirty-two teeth include twenty molars and premolars for grinding grains, legumes, and seeds; eight incisors for cutting vegetables; and four canines for tearing animal and seafood  (The Book of Macrobiotics, p.78)

Argument 4: Other features of comparative anatomy

If we compare the anatomy of a carnivorous animal, we will realise that there are differences between their anatomy and our anatomy.  These differences could be telling us how different our diet should be. One of these features is the length of the intestine or the difference between their gastric juice and our gastric juice.

Argument 5: The climate

Your diet should be different taking into account the climate of the place where you live. The human being is an extension of nature, and we are sustained and adapted to it. We are adapted to it thanks to what we eat. If we eat tropical food, we will be adapted to a tropical climate; if we eat food that comes from a cold climate, we will be adapted to a cold climate. For that reason, if you live in Rio de Janeiro it is important that you eat pineapples and coconuts, and if you live in Moscow, you should eat roots and more animals than in Rio.

According to Michio Kushi, if a person eats the macrobiotic way, he or she will have more chances of having energy and health, and therefore, of contributing to the construction of a better world.

What foodstuffs should a macrobiotic diet consist of?

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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.


Notes

[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.