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The Macrobiotic Diet

Overview

The main foods in a macrobiotic diet are whole grains, locally grown fresh veggies, sea veggies, and beans. You can also eat seasonal fruits, nuts, seeds, and white fish two to three times per week. You don't eat meat, dairy, and most other animal products, certain fruits and veggies, and some common drinks.

The diet became popular in the 1970s. The term “macrobiotics” refers to a holistic lifestyle of eating and living in harmony with nature to promote a long, healthy life.

How This May Work

The idea behind this diet is that a modern, western diet is the cause of many illnesses, such as cancer. People on the diet believe that eating a mainly vegetarian diet with unprocessed, whole foods from where you live will lead to better health and happiness.

What’s Involved?

The main foods on this diet are whole grains and grain products, veggies, sea veggies, and beans. Other foods are fish and seafood, fruits, drinks, and snack foods. The amounts you eat look like this:

Foods on the Diet

Here are examples of foods that you can eat as well as foods that you shouldn't. For more full lists of the foods that you can eat on this diet, refer to the book The Macrobiotic Way.

Type of Food For Regular Use For Occasional Use To Be Avoided

Whole Grains

Barley, brown rice (short and medium grain), buckwheat, corn, millet, oats, rye, wheat, other whole cereal grains

Buckwheat noodles (soba), brown rice (long grain), bulgur, corn grits, cornmeal, puffed wheat, rice cakes, tortillas, whole wheat crackers, whole wheat pasta

Anything made with yeast, baked goods that have dairy products, refined cereals, white flour products

Veggies

Acorn squash, bok choy, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, butternut squash, carrots, cauliflower, chives, dandelion roots and greens, green and Chinese cabbage, kale, leeks, parsley, parsnips, pumpkin, radishes, rutabagas, scallions, turnips, watercress

Alfalfa sprouts, beets, celery, corn on the cob, cucumber, iceberg lettuce, mushrooms, romaine lettuce, shiitake mushrooms, snow peas, string beans, summer squash, Swiss chard, water chestnuts

Asparagus, avocado, eggplant, fennel, green peppers, plantains, potatoes, red peppers, spinach, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, yams, zucchini

Sea Veggies

Agar-agar, arame, dulse, irish moss, kelp, kombu, nori, wakame

Beans and Bean Products

Aduki beans, chick peas, green or brown lentils, miso, natto, natural tamari soy sauce, tempeh, tofu

Bean sprouts, black beans, great northern beans, kidney beans, lima beans, navy beans, pinto beans, red lentils, soybeans, split peas

Fresh Fish and Seafood

Flounder, haddock, halibut, herring, smelt, sole, trout

Carp, clams, cod, red snapper, scrod, shrimp, oysters

Bluefish, mackerel, salmon, swordfish, tuna

Fresh and Dried Fruit

Temperate climate fruits

Tropical fruits and juices

Snacks

Almonds, chestnuts, homemade popcorn, peanuts, pecans, pumpkin seeds, rice cakes, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, walnuts

Brazil nuts, cashew nuts, filberts, macadamia nuts, pistachios

Drinks

Amaske, bancha tea, roasted barley tea, roasted rice tea, spring or well water

Dandelion tea, grain coffee, kombu tea, mu tea

For less frequent use: Apple juice or cider, barley green tea, fruit juice (temperate climate fruits), green tea, naturally fermented beer, sake, seed or nut milk, veggie juice

Alcohol, black tea, coffee, commercial beers, decaffeinated coffee, distilled water, herb teas, juice drinks, municipal or tap water, soft drinks, wine

Other Parts of the Diet

  • Whenever you can, choose organic foods.
  • Vitamin and mineral supplements are not advised.
  • Meals need to be made using certain cooking methods. Using microwaves or electricity to cook is discouraged.
  • Some of the foods you can eat will depend on where you live.
  • If you have cancer, the part of your body that is affected will also influence your diet.
  • Macrobiotics is a type of holistic lifestyle. Diet is one part of this lifestyle.

What Does the Research Say?

Some people who use this diet claim that it can help prevent and cure cancer. There is no evidence that suggests that. Its role in cancer prevention is being studied.

Many studies have shown that a strict macrobiotic diet can result in nutritional deficiencies, especially among children. One study showed that teens 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 on the diet had several nutrient deficiencies resulting in delayed growth, fat and muscle wasting, and slower psychomotor development.

Are There Any Concerns?

While some people may be able to meet their nutrient needs on a this diet, it can be hard to do. There are many health and nutrition concerns, such as not getting enough protein, vitamin B12, and calcium. There is also the chance you become dehydrated. Another concern is stress—for both the dieter and their families—from trying to follow the plan.

Bottom Line

Parts of the diet are healthful, such as the focus on whole grains, veggies, and beans, and not eating refined and processed foods. However, overall this diet is too strict and limits many healthful foods. If you choose to follow this diet, think about 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.

RESOURCES:

American Cancer Society
http://www.cancer.org

Eat Right—Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics
http://www.eatright.org

CANADIAN RESOURCES:

Dietitians of Canada
http://www.dietitians.ca

Health Canada
http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca

REFERENCES:

Cunningham E, Marcason W. Is there any research to prove that macrobiotic diet can prevent or cure cancer? J Am Diet Assoc. 2001;101(9):1030.

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: http://www.cancerresearchuk.org/about-cancer/cancers-in-general/treatment/complementary-alternative/therapies/macrobiotic-diet. Updated January 5, 2015. Accessed December 7, 2018.

The macrobiotic diet. EBSCO Nursing Reference Center website. Available at:https://www.ebscohost.com/nursing/products/nursing-reference-center. Updated September 2013. Accessed December 7, 2018.

Last reviewed December 2018 by EBSCO Medical Review BoardDianne Scheinberg Rishikof MS, RD, LDN  Last Updated: 12/7/2018