The Macrobiotic Diet
by Cynthia M. Johnson, MA
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.
Other Parts of the Diet
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.
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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Updated January 5, 2015. Accessed December 7, 2018.
The macrobiotic diet. EBSCO Nursing Reference Center website. Available at: https://www.ebscoh.... 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
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