The Macrobiotic Diet
by Maria Adams, MS, MPH, RD
The staples of a macrobiotic diet are whole grains, locally grown fresh vegetables, sea vegetables, and beans. In addition, seasonal fruits, nuts, seeds, and white fish are allowed 2-3 times per week. This diet excludes meat, dairy, and most other animal products, certain fruits and vegetables, and most commonly consumed beverages.
The macrobiotic diet became popular in the 1970s. The term “macrobiotics” refers to a holistic lifestyle that emphasizes eating and living in harmony with nature in order to promote health and longevity.
How Is This Diet Supposed to Work? TOP
The premise of this diet is that the modern, western diet is the cause of many illnesses, including cancer. Proponents of the macrobiotic diet believe that eating a mainly vegetarian diet with unprocessed, whole foods, which are also native to a person’s environment, will lead to improved health and greater happiness.
What’s Involved? TOP
The main foods allowed on this diet are whole grains and grain products, vegetables, sea vegetables, and beans. Supplementary foods include fish and seafood, fruits, beverages, and snack foods. The standard breakdown of the macrobiotic diet is:
Foods Recommended on the Macrobiotic Diet
Here are examples of foods that are recommended for regular use and occasional use, as well as foods that should be avoided. For more complete lists of the foods that are allowed on this diet, including oils, seasonings, and condiments, refer to the book The Macrobiotic Way.
Other Components of a Macrobiotic Diet
What Does the Research Say? TOP
Some advocates of the macrobiotic diet claim that it can help prevent and cure cancer. While there is no evidence that suggests this diet can cure cancer, its role in cancer prevention is currently being examined.
Numerous studies have shown that adherence to a strict macrobiotic diet can result in nutritional deficiencies, particularly among children. One study showed that adolescents who were fed a strict macrobiotic diet in early childhood had lower bone mineral density than those who were not. Another study found that infants and toddlers who were fed a macrobiotic diet had several nutrient deficiencies resulting in delayed growth, fat and muscle wasting, and slower psychomotor development.
Are There Any Concerns With This Diet? TOP
While some people may be able to meet their nutrient needs on a very carefully planned and followed macrobiotic diet, this can be difficult to do. The many health and nutrition concerns with this diet include an inadequate intake of protein, vitamin B12, and calcium, and also the potential for dehydration. Another concern is the undue stress—for both the dieter and their families—from trying to follow a macrobiotic diet.
Bottom Line TOP
Many principles of the macrobiotic diet are quite healthful, including the focus on whole grains, vegetables, and beans, and the avoidance of refined and processed foods. However, overall this diet is unnecessarily strict and limits many healthful foods. If you choose to follow this diet, consider relaxing some of the guidelines to allow for a more well-balanced diet. A strict macrobiotic diet should not be followed by infants, children, or women who are pregnant or breastfeeding.
American Cancer Society
Eat Right—Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics
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Dagnelie PC, VanStaveren WA. Macrobiotic nutrition and child health: results of a population-based, mixed-longitudinal cohort study in The Netherlands. Am J Clin Nutr. 1994;59(suppl 5):1187S-1196S.
Dhonukshe-Rutten R, van Dusseldorp M, Schneede J, de Groot LC, van Staveren WA. Low bone mineral density and bone mineral content are associated with low cobalamin status in adolescents. Eur J Nutr. 2005;44(6):341-347.
Macrobiotic diet. Cancer Research UK website. Available at:
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Accessed November 17, 2014.
Last reviewed December 2015 by Dianne Scheinberg Rishikof MS, RD, LDN
Last Updated: 11/17/2014
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