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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.

START HERE

In the following text, I summarise the macrobiotic movement. If you read it, you will have basic notions that will provide you with a better understanding of the Macrobiotic School posts.

THE MOVEMENT

GEORGE OHSAWA

Macrobiotics starts with George Ohsawa.

George Ohsawa (1893-1966) was a Japanese man who defended the use of a plant-based diet. He attributed to this diet the ability to heal and strengthen the individual. He proposed recipes that were simple and markedly Japanese. He used the yin-yang theory to describe the features of food and why consuming them or not. Many of his statements were radical or ridiculous, other meant to be the beginning of a movement that became what we currently know as natural food as well as the connection between diet and health. At the beginning, his teachings consisted on “the natural way of living”. In the 50’s his teachings adopted their current name: macrobiotics, that comes from Greek and means “long life”. George Ohsawa taught several students who, all around the world, began to teach and have their own schools. Two of these students spread their knowledge even more than Ohsawa. These two were Michio Kushi and Aveline Kushi.

Other students of Ohsawa were: Herman and Cornelia Aihara, Shizuko Yamamoto, René Lévy, and Tomio Kikuchi.

MICHIO KUSHI AND AVELINE KUSHI

Michio Kushi (1926-2014) and Aveline Kushi (1923-2001) began to teach macrobiotics in the 50’s in United States.

Michio’s speeches attracted a great generation of young people who were looking for a new way of understanding the world. Although, at the beginning, Michio treated a variety of topics such as the origin of life and humanity, male and female relations, parenting, cooperative endeavors, healing, acupuncture, organic and natural agriculture, massage, home remedies, physical diagnosis, and so much more… He focused progressively on diet.

Aveline gave cuisine lessons to many students, and participated to achieve other projects such as the creation of a school in Becket, Massachusets.

The Kushi were very productive, and this caused a huge number of speeches, numerous books, a school and many other things like restaurants and shops. Michio and Aveline reached many people who, at the same time, opened more shops, restaurants or schools that concentrated on macrobiotics. “Vintage Macrobiotics” is the name I put to Kushi’s teachings, as well as his contemporaries’ and predecessors’ teachings.

KUSHI’S STUDENTS

After the Kushi, their students provided macrobiotics with new aspects that were sometimes a bit contradictory among them, but all of them were good to be part of the macrobiotic teachings’ nucleus. Some of these teachers are: Murray Snyder, Bill Spear, Edward Esko, Bill Tara, Denny Waxman, Ryk Vermuyten, Marc V. Cauwenberghe, Craig Sams, Chico Varatojo, Adelbert Nelissen, Michael Rossoff, John Kozinski, Diane Avoli, Mireia Ellis, Christina Pirello, and Bettina Zumbdick. This generation of students is what I call “second-wave Macrobiotics”.

Among the second-wave students, Alex Jack is worth mentioning. Although he did not work as a teacher or macrobiotic consultant actively, he did take part in writing a great amount of books with Michio Kushi and Aveline Kushi as a coathor and/or as an editor. Without him, spreading macrobiotics had not been as successful as it was.

Nowadays, the second-wave group of teachers teaches a third-wave group of students who are in a world that is different from the world where macrobiotics was born. Therefore, there is a need to change the way it is communicated, as well as the way it is taught in accordance with the new knowledge of this time. The present website is part of the third-wave generation.

THE TEACHINGS

The best exponent of the macrobiotic teachings is Michio Kushi. He is the best because of the almost 50 books that he published, the enormous number of speeches that he gave all around the world, and the creation of schools, not only personally (Kushi Institute) but also indirectly, as he inspired and trained students who would create their own schools.

When you wonder what Kushi’s teachings were about, you wonder what macrobiotics is.

This is the easiest way of explaining what macrobiotics is:

Understanding the natural order and apply the already stated understanding to our daily actions in order to be healthy and happy.

However, macrobiotics is only known by its diet. This is due to the recommendation of Ohsawa and Kushi who said it was important to begin by watching what we eat, because it determines how we feel and what we think. If we care about what we eat, we will be strong enough and we will have a clear mind to keep putting in order other aspects of our life.

This way, Kushi’s teachings, at the beginning a bit diffuse, started to focus on how important it is to eat according to the natural order. He created a model that he called “Standard Macrobiotic Diet” that he exemplified with a pie chart, and afterwards, with a nutrition pyramid [1]. This model is the most used one worldwide to teach what macrobiotics is.

THE COOKING

The macrobiotic cuisine that was taught in its own golden era, in the 80’s, was a very simple cuisine with Japanese features. A great variety of whole grains, vegetables and legumes were used, as well as a minimum amount of fruit and fish. Some foodstuff was excluded systematically because they were considered to be very yin, as for example: tomatoes, aubergines, potatoes and peppers; or very yang, as for example: eggs, red meat, poultry or salting. It is such an easy cuisine, without processed foodstuff that, in many occasions, is enough for our body to recover. The biggest inconvenient is that it is far from the eating habits that most of us have.

Even though it is considered a very ancient kind of cuisine, my thesis is that it is very new and unique, almost artificial, but effective with many health issues.

The most important model of this cuisine style is Aveline Kushi, who published around 20 books about it.

THE MEANING

The work that Ohsawa and the Kushi did, constitutes a source of knowledge of incalculable value. The level of depth reached in the use of foodstuff and the extension of their work has never been overcome by any other dietetic tendency. Macrobiotics provides modern nutrition with important understandings. Kushi wrote in 1987:

People often ask, “What is the difference between macrobiotics and nutrition? Aren’t they the same thing?” Nutrition, the study of food’s individual, separate physical components (fats, vitamins, amino acids, and so forth) is an exiciting and valuable field of science, but it represents only a fragmentary part of the true study of food. In this sense, nutrition might be termed microbiotics. Knowledge of the physical mechanics of a vibrating violin string cannot explain the majesty of a great symphony; likewise, nutritional science alone cannot realistically hope to unravel the dietary and health behaviour of a nation.

The way we will feed ourselves in the future should include both nutrition and macrobiotics. It is about time that both nutrition and macrobiotics understand each other, and we are meant to live the transition towards the moment when nutrition understands the natural order.


NOTES

[1] For more information about the macrobiotic pie chart go to the post Foods of the Macrobiotic Diet. About the nutrition pyramid go to the post  The Macrobiotic Pyramid.

[2] Pictures from late 1960’s. Smithsonian Institution. Web: https://edan.si.edu/slideshow/slideshowViewer.htm?eadrefid=NMAH.AC.0619_ref2363.

[3] Quote from Michio in 1987: Kushi, M. (1987). Obesity, Weight Loss and Eating Disorders. Tokyo and New York: Japan Publications, Inc. P. 16.