Macrobiotic Diet Guide: How To, Food List, Benefits + Drawbacks 

Delving into the Balance of Yin and Yang Foods

For hundreds, if not thousands, of years, people have tried to find various ways to detox the body through food choices.

The Macrobiotic Diet plan is touted to be a natural approach to help reduce the toxic load in your body through nutrition.

While there isn’t an abundance of evidence to suggest that any foods or diet plans can significantly assist the natural detoxification processes that your body inherently has, the Macrobiotic Diet meal plan provides some nutritional benefits.

However, the Macrobiotic Diet lifestyle is quite restrictive and may result in nutritional deficiencies.

In this diet guide, we will discuss what the Macrobiotic Diet plan involves, the principles behind its meal plan, foods to eat and foods to avoid, and potential Macrobiotic Diet benefits and drawbacks.

Let’s jump in!

Macrobiotic diet foods such as legumes, vegetables, nuts and seeds.

What Is the Macrobiotic Diet Plan?

Detox diets or diets that help “cleanse“ your body or rigid body of toxic buildup have long been popular, as people have always had concerns about the effect of various toxins or chemicals on the body and the risk of disease.

The Macrobiotic Diet is said to help your body remove toxins to support better health.

The Macrobiotic Diet plan is also often claimed to be a complementary medicine approach for those who are receiving treatments for cancer.

However, there is no current scientific evidence to suggest that the Macrobiotic Diet plan exhibits anticancer properties or will necessarily improve cancer treatment outcomes.1Nutrition in Cancer Care. (2010). National Cancer Institute; Cancer.gov. https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/treatment/side-effects/appetite-loss/nutrition-hp-pdq

That doesn’t mean that the Macrobiotic Diet meal plan isn’t healthy, but it is critical to understand that if you are dealing with cancer or trying to decrease your risk of cancer, no studies are showing that this meal plan will significantly improve outcomes.

The Macrobiotic Diet was created in the 1920s by a Japanese philosopher named George Ohsawa.

The Macrobiotic Diet meal plan focuses on consuming vegetables and whole grains and removing all foods high in sugar, salt, fat, and artificial ingredients.

In this way, the food list centers around whole, natural, unprocessed foods, which is a great way to support overall health.

However, unlike many more balanced, clean-eating meal plans, the Macrobiotic Diet food list is very restrictive and only allows for certain food groups, increasing the risk of nutritional deficiencies and limiting your options for recipes.

Macrobiotic diet foods such as legumes, vegetables, nuts and seeds.

How Do You Follow the Macrobiotic Diet Plan?

The Macrobiotic diet plan is not rigidly defined like some weight loss diets in that there are no specific rules about timing, how many calories you can eat per day, or a specific diet menu that has to be followed.

Rather, the Macrobiotic diet plan has key principles that help guide your healthy eating behaviors to promote health.

This meal plan is high in fiber and complex carbohydrates and low in fat, sugar, and salt.

The emphasis on food quality is very important, as the Macrobiotic Diet guidelines recommend organic, locally sourced food over conventional produce or food imported from distant locations.

Additionally, the Macrobiotic Diet extends beyond food choices to encompass a mindful way of living that is spiritual and geared towards loving yourself and others and striving for personal and intellectual growth.

A person making a salad and taking a bite.

To reduce toxic load, the Macrobiotic Diet guidelines suggest the following:

  • Avoid any food additives such as artificial ingredients, stabilizers, sugar, oils, or salt that are added to the natural ingredients.
  • Chew your food thoroughly.
  • Decrease the volume of food that you eat.
  • Only eat when you are truly hungry and drink when you are thirsty.
  • Avoid taking nutritional supplements, but instead get your nutrients from real foods.
  • Prepare your food in glass, wood, enamel, or steel, but never use plastic or anything with Teflon or cheap materials that might leak into your food.
  • Avoid exposure to pesticides and electromagnetic radiation, so do not use a microwave and do not eat conventionally grown foods that have been sprayed with pesticides or grown with fertilizers.
  • Get regular exercise to help facilitate the removal of toxins through sweat.
  • Practice gratitude, self-reflection, and love for others.
A variety of legumes.

What Can You Eat On the Macrobiotic Diet Meal Plan?

Here are the main foods to eat on the Macrobiotic Diet meal plan for health and weight loss:

Macrobiotic Diet Food List

  • Whole grains: Focus on sprouted, organic whole grains such as brown rice, whole wheat, barley, whole oats, millet, and buckwheat. (at least 50% of your diet)
  • Vegetables and seaweed: Consume cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, kale, and Brussels sprouts, along with non-starchy veggies like bok choy, carrots, radishes, and asparagus. (at least 25 to 33% of your diet)
  • Pulses: Often referred to as legumes, pulses include foods like lentils, chickpeas, Azuki beans, black beans, and soy foods such as tofu or tempeh. (5 to 10% of your diet)
  • Finally, the remainder of your diet can be miscellaneous foods such as miso soup, certain nuts and seeds, white fish, pickled vegetables, and low-sugar fruits such as berries.

What Foods Must Be Avoided On The Macrobiotic Diet?

All processed foods are banned from the Macrobiotic Diet plan.

This includes everything from refined grains found in cereals, white bread, white pasta, muffins, and granola bars to foods with added sugar such as soda, juice, sweetened yogurt, jellies, seasonings, mini commercial peanut butter and other nut butters, sweets, etc.

You also should avoid anything that is canned or frozen with added ingredients.

These include canned soups that use stabilizers and all sorts of processed cream, frozen chicken nuggets or frozen meals, condiments with a laundry list of ingredients, anything with added sodium, anything with artificial sweeteners, etc. 

Aside from needing to avoid all processed foods, foods with added sugar, artificial sweeteners, and foods with chemical additives, the Macrobiotic Diet plan also eliminates eggs, animal fats, all dairy products, all meat, and all genetically modified foods.2Horowitz, J., & Tomita, M. (2002). The Macrobiotic Diet as Treatment for Cancer: Review of the Evidence. The Permanente Journal6(4), 34–37. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6220645/

‌Because you can occasionally eat white fish on the Macrobiotic Diet, this is not a strictly vegan plan, though many people do follow a Macrobiotic vegan plan by not eating any fish.

But most animal products, such as dairy and eggs, are always off-limits, and you cannot have meat or poultry.

People exercising on a court.

How Does A Macrobiotic Diet Benefit Your Health?

Because the Macrobiotic Diet is essentially a vegan diet with occasional high-quality fish or meat, the health benefits have a lot of overlap with the vegan diet and other plant-based diet plans.

Here are some of the potential Macrobiotic Diet benefits:

A bowl of seaweed.

What Are The Disadvantages Of A Macrobiotic Diet?

Despite the health benefits of the Macrobiotic lifestyle, there are also some drawbacks and risks:

  • It is extremely restrictive, which can reduce adherence and lead to nutritional deficiencies or disordered eating.
  • Some of the claims surrounding its anti-cancer benefits are not substantiated and may lead people to believe they are treating their disease in a way that is not proven to be true.
  • The body naturally detoxes through the liver, kidney, skin, and digestive system, and there’s no evidence to suggest that Macrobiotic foods aid in that process.7Phang-Lyn, S., & Llerena, V. A. (2020). Biochemistry, Biotransformation. PubMed; StatPearls Publishing. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK544353/
  • The high fiber content can lead to digestive distress, and there is little fat, protein, calcium, iron, omega-3 fatty acids, zinc, and vitamin B12 in the Macrobiotic Diet foods, which, according to the American Institute for Cancer Research, can result in nutritional deficiencies.8RD, A. (2010, July 1). More Myths and Facts: Macrobiotic Diets and Cancer. American Institute for Cancer Research.

Given how restrictive the Macrobiotic Diet eating plan is, it is highly advisable that you work with a healthcare provider for medical advice, and a nutritionist, or a registered dietitian to determine if this is a healthy diet for you.

A doctor sharing results with a patient.

References

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Amber Sayer is a Fitness, Nutrition, and Wellness Writer and Editor, as well as a NASM-Certified Nutrition Coach and UESCA-certified running, endurance nutrition, and triathlon coach. She holds two Masters Degrees—one in Exercise Science and one in Prosthetics and Orthotics. As a Certified Personal Trainer and running coach for 12 years, Amber enjoys staying active and helping others do so as well. In her free time, she likes running, cycling, cooking, and tackling any type of puzzle.

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