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MACROBIOTICS QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS

WHAT IS MACROBIOTICS?

What is macrobiotics?

This is actually not an easy question to answer. It is easier to say what it is not - it is not a medicine, it is not a cure, it is not a diet, it is not a therapy, it is not a treatment. The most important point to understand is that macrobiotics is an approach to living which also places a great deal of emphasis on a proper dietary practice in daily life. It is an approach which is consistent with each person's natural biological and ecological requirements to create optimal health, vitality and well-being. It is a practical means of consciously re-establishing balance in all aspects of an individual's life - physical, emotional, mental, ecological, social and spiritual. If you are interested, you can explore these pages, as well as other macrobiotically-related Web sites, over the coming months, and more aspects of what a macrobiotically oriented life will be explored.

What is the macrobiotic diet?

Actually, there is no such thing. Since macrobiotics is an approach to eating and living, a person's dietary habits based on macrobiotic principles will vary according to their physical condition, the time of the year, in what kind of occupation they are engaged, their level of physical activity, where they live etc.
Up until the advent of mass transportation methods, most people in human history have eaten those foods which are native to their locality. Thus, people living in the far northern climes did not eat mangos, simply because mangos do not grow in, say, Minnesota. In temperate climates, such as that of North America, people for the most part ate cooked whole grains and vegetables, some nuts and seeds, fruits and small amounts of animal food. Throughout most of the world grains have been the staple, primary food of human beings for thousands of years. Only during the last one hundred years or so has humanity abandoned the "folk diet" of their place of habitation and culture, replacing it with a diet based on meat, refined sugar, large amounts of dairy food, refined foods, and chemical, industrialized foodstuffs. This radical abandonment of traditional, ecological dietary habits has been accompanied by, and is the fundamental dynamic behind, the ensuing rapid growth of social, economic, ecological and medical disorder in the world, which we are witness to every time we open a newspaper, watch a news program on TV, talk to our friends, relatives and neighbors, or walk down the street.
Thus, macrobiotics is not an alternative to the modern practice of medicine, or any other approach to addressing the ailments and diseases of the day, whether they be personal, social or ecological. Rather, macrobiotics is essentially the recovery and making conscious of our folklore and native, traditional wisdom, brought up to date and taking into consideration what we have learnt in the materialistic, scientific era.

What kinds of food can I eat on a macrobiotic diet?

Actually, when people are told what they should avoid to become healthier, they usually ask, "Well, what can I eat?". For people living in North America, generally speaking, a diet consisting of cooked whole grains, vegetables, beans and bean products, sea vegetables, and soups is normal. Ideally, these foods should be seasonal and locally grown, organically or bio-dynamically. For optimal health, a variety of cooking methods are employed to produce a variety of tastes, textures, nutrition and vitality.
When beginning a macrobiotic dietary practice it is recommended to consult with a macrobiotic counsellor, especially if you are confused and intimidated by the array of strange names and new foods that are encountered on beginning a macrobiotic play.

Isn't the "ultimate" macrobiotic diet eating only brown rice?

No, like many unfamiliar subjects, misconceptions about macrobiotics abound. For almost everyone, a healthy diet is one that includes a wide variety of foods, prepared in a variety of ways.

Will macrobiotics cure serious illness?

There is, in my view, no cure for any disease(the problem of curing disease is explored in more detail in the Introduction Page). Rather, any disease is the constellation of symptoms produced by the body when a person lives an imbalanced, unhealthy way of life. Any disease almost always takes a long time to develop, usually in conjunction with improper nutritional intake and poor bodily elimination. If these are changed to proper, dynamically balanced eating habits, and clearing of the poor eliminative functions of the body, then the body can begin to heal itself.
It is not claimed that a macrobiotic diet can cure any illness. However, a return to a grain-centered diet and a strong personal commitment to health establishes a possibility for healing any condition that would not otherwise exist. Many people with many degenerative illnesses, including AIDS, cancer, lupus, multiple sclerosis, arthritis, asthma, chronic fatigue syndrome, to name a few, have used a macrobiotic approach for their condition, and have subsequently experienced dramatic improvements in their lives, and even a disappearance of their symptoms. There is no doubt that a macrobiotic approach allows for a revitalisation and restoration of health that might not otherwise be possible.

I am already healthy. Will a macrobiotic diet benefit me?

Definitely. The best time to begin a macrobiotic approach to dietary habits is when we are relatively healthy. You will experience significant and beneficial results. Most people undergo dramatic weight loss if they are overweight, increase in vitality, disappearance of everyday aches and pains, and develop a feeling of calm and emotional stability. Also people find improvements in their mental functions, hearing, eyesight, and in women, the female cycle undergoes dramatic improvement.

Are the nutrient requirements of the child or adult met by a macrobiotic diet?

Without a doubt. The so-called "standard dietary recommendation" of a macrobiotic approach have been analysed at the School of Public Health at Harvard University. The results showed that the diet actually exceeded in every respect the recommended daily allowances of both the FDA and the World Health Organisation. Thus, there is no concern about having to take extra vitamins or trace mineral supplements. Futhermore, from a macrobiotic perspective, it is not desirable for the body to intake artificial, refined or concentrated vitamin or mineral supplements. It is thought these actively interfere with the proper biological functions of minerals and vitamins founds in their natural surroundings of grains and vegetables, beans and sea vegetables.

Can I eat meat and still follow a macrobiotic diet?

The whole question of what we can eat does not presuppose that some foods are bad and some foods are good. The only foods considered to be unacceptable for human beings are synthetic chemicals and all those foods that contain chemicals or which are highly industrialised. The fact remains, however, that the regular consumption of animal-based foodstuffs actively contributes to degeneration of the physical body. Generally, as people continue on a macrobiotic diet and experience improvement in their health, they tend to refrain from or only occasionally eat animal foods.

Is macrobiotic food dull?

Not at all. When properly prepared, macrobiotic food is delicious and satisfying. Many people initially find the diet somewhat bland. However, as their health improves and as their taste buds get acclimatised to the new foods, they come to appreciate the subtle and delicious taste of natural foods. Removing strong spices and the intensely concentrated refined sugars, chemicals and additives abounding in modern foods allows for the experience of the distinctive flavours found in grains, beans and vegetables.

Is macrobiotic cooking time-consuming?

This is an erroneous assumption many people make on first encountering macrobiotics. When beginning to learn how to cook macrobiotically it is neccessary to unlearn some old cooking habits, and learn new cooking skills. It is important, and actually a significant aspect of the healing process, to learn how to cook macrobiotically, and to to do your own cooking. This learning process will enhance your appreciation of food, and increase its value for yourself, your family and your friends.
In the beginning, food preparation may take longer than when you were eating a conventional diet. But in a relatively short time you can learn to efficiently prepare your meals. If you live in an area where macrobiotic cooking classes are available, it is well worth your time and effort to take some classes.

Is a macrobiotic diet mostly Japanese food?

No. The people who brought macrobiotics to, and are the 'pioneers' of macrobiotic teaching and practice in, the United States, are Japanese. It is not surprising, then, that they brought many aspects of the Japanese culinary tradition with them. Consequently, until quite recently most macrobiotic diets and cookbooks emphasised traditional Japanese foods and cooking styles. For Americans, though, the health promoting foods are those native to the American climate and soil. As macrobiotic principles and practice become more widespread on the North American continent, then we can expect a revitalisation and rediscovery of native american culinary traditions, as well as the culinary traditions of different ethnic groups whose place of origin are distant from the North American continent.

Is a macrobiotic diet expensive?

On the contrary, it is a very economical way of eating and staying healthy. Generally, you can expect to reduce your food bills from 30% to 50% by switching from a conventional diet to a macrobiotic diet. And if you include the savings in medical costs because of enhanced health and well-being resulting from adopting a macrobiotic diet, the savings are multiplied many times over.

How quickly will I see results?

As soon as you begin to properly nurture your body it responds with a more positive state of health. Your overall health is greatly determined by the quality of your blood, which, in turn, is largely determined by the quality of the food you eat. The food is converted into blood-blood which is the "organ" of nourishment and regulation of the functions of the organs and tissues of the body.
As the quality of your blood improves, health improves. It normally takes ten days for the plasma to recycle, so improvements begin to be noticeable after ten days. It takes 30 days for the white blood cells to renew, so immune function begins to improve after a month. It takes 120 days for the red blood cells to be renewed, so it is only then that true healing can begin.
Now, although improvement of health generally does occur, it may not necessarily be a smooth transition from a poor physical condition to a healthy one. During the early stages of the healing process, various "discharges" or detoxifying symptoms occur, which are similar to symptoms usually associated with sickness. Generally everybody experiences increased urination and bowel movement, as well as weight loss. In addition to these signs, the symptoms of the body healing itself include fevers, headaches, flu-like symptoms, fatigue, nasal mucous discharge, sore throats, coughing and sneezing, diarrhoea, skin eruptions and, in the case of women, vaginal discharge and cystitis-like symptoms. The question then arises, how do you know the symptoms you are experiencing indicate your body is healing rather than you are in fact becoming sick? There are four cardinal signs to be aware of which will enable you to tell the difference. These are appetite, vitality, sleep patterns and nausea.
In the case of someone becoming sick, then all four signs are negative. That is, you have no appetite, no vitality, your sleep patterns are disturbed and you feel sick. In the case where your body is undergoing detoxification, then one, two or even three of these signs may be present, but very rarely all four. It is advisable that you are in contact with a macrobiotic counselor, or you are in touch with an active macrobiotic community, who you can talk to about these symptoms and advise you what to do about them, if and when they occur.
For those who begin a macrobiotic practice with serious illnesses, it must be remembered that the illness took several years, or even decades, to develop. After adopting a macrobiotic approach to health you may experience immediate benefits, but generally a complete recovery takes time and requires patience. It may take from one to several years for complete recovery to occur, depending on the illness, and such factors as your age, your general overall health status, and other individual considerations.

Are there any scientific studies about macrobiotic diets and health?

In recent years there has been a tremendous increase in the study of nutrition and its relationship to health. Whereas, even as short a time as ten years ago, most authorities on medicine and health completely ruled out diet as having anything to do with health or disease. Most of the studies have been put together in encapsulated form by Alex Jack, in his recent book, "Let Food be Your Medicine" (One Peaceful World Publications, 1992), which is a compilation of about 165 studies done by the scientific community on macrobiotic and vegetarian diets. These studies confirm the benefits of macrobiotic principles and practices.

Can I take it step-by-step or do I need to "go for it"?

If your health is relatively good, you can go either way. It is important that you start a macrobiotic practice in a way that suits your personality and temperament. Generally speaking, though, the sooner you can be fully on a macrobiotic diet, the better. In case of serious illness, one should definitely begin the diet fully and completely as soon as possible.

How long do I have to remain on a macrobiotic diet before I can quit?

The problem here is the implication in the question that somehow a macrobiotic diet is a cure for illness. However, as stated earlier, there is no cure for any illness. A macrobiotic approach to eating is essentially flexible depending on your condition. To adopt a macrobiotic approach to eating means you understand that cooked whole grains and vegetables are your staple foods for the rest of your life. Your commitment to your own health and well-being means you can adjust your dietary intake to your situation and changing circumstances, but being able to do this means a study of the principles behind macrobiotic practice is necessary.

I want to lose weight. Will I on a macrobiotic diet?

Generally, weight loss is the normal response for those people who are overweight after starting their macrobiotic practice. People with severe weight problems will, of course, take longer to lose all their excess weight.

I am already thin enough. Will I also lose weight?

Since a macrobiotic approach to eating is based on a principle of balance, many times people who are underweight actually gain weight on a similar diet to a person who is overweight loses weight. However, any person adopting a grain based diet will have difficulty, in the initial stages, digesting the grains and vegetables properly. Thus, most people lose whatever weight they need to lose, up to about five pounds under what their weight will stabilise to on a grain and vegetable diet. It is accurate to say that most people eating a macrobiotic diet are thin compared to the cultural (high fat and refined foods) norm. However, whatever weight loss occurs is usually optimal, and not indicative of disease.


Should children and adults eat the same macrobiotic diet?
The nutritional needs of growing children are somewhat different than those of adults. Since the the macrobiotic approach to diet is that each individual should eat according to their individual needs, a child's macrobiotic diet will differ from the normal adult's. These differences are easily addressed in the course of preparing the family meal.

Isn't a lot of salt used in macrobiotic cooking? I've heard that too much salt is unhealthy.

Too much of any food is unhealthy. In appropriate amounts, salt is essential for maintaining the body's electrolyte and mineral balance. The salt used in the normal American diet is 98% sodium chloride and is stripped of vital trace elements. This refined salt, eaten with large amounts of animal fat and protein is implicated in many of the degenerative diseases that plague people today.
The salt recommended for use in a macrobiotic diet is sea salt, containing less sodium chloride and an abundance of natural trace minerals such as magnesium, zinc and copper. Used in proper amounts, this natural sea salt is essential for good health.

Are there any books I can read to help me understand macrobiotics?

There is a plethora of books available, and it is essential to gain an understanding of macrobiotic principles and concepts in order to really benefit from a macrobiotic practice. Since you are a unique individual, only you can know and decide what is the best way for you to eat. Also, since you and your condition changes over time, you need to make subtle and not so subtle changes in your eating habits, depending on how long you have been eating macrobiotically, what season it is, what climatic variations occur in your place of habitation, what the weather is like, what kind of lifestyle you have, and other individual variations.


I recommend the following books and publications:

The End of Medicine - Kaare Bursell (Transtana Alchemysts, 2001).

Philosophy of Oriental Medicine-George Ohsawa(GOMF).
Zen Macrobiotics-George Ohsawa(GOMF).
Guidebook for Living-George Ohsawa(GOMF).
The Macrobiotic Way-Michio Kushi(Avery Publications).
Book of Do-In-Michio Kushi(Japan Publications).
Healing Ourselves-Naboru Muramoto(Avon Books).
Basic Macrobiotics-Herman Aihara(Japan Publications).
Cooking for Regeneration-Cecile Tovah Levin(Japan Publications).
Self-Healing Cookbook-Kristine Turner(Earthtone Books).
Food and Healing-Anne Marie Colbin(Ballantine).
Also, I recommend subscribing to "Macrobiotics Times", published monthly. See "Resources" on how to obtain a subscription.



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Kaare Bursell
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