The Macrobiotic Diet 101
While many people might call it a diet, macrobiotics is much like veganism in that it is more a lifestyle change than anything else. While things like raw food, veganism, paleo and other food choices have caught the attention of the mainstream media, macrobiotics has mainly flown under the radar. Interestingly, many of these more popular diets incorporate some aspect of macrobiotics. So what exactly is macrobiotics? In essence, it’s a dietary regiment which focuses on grains as a main staple food and supplements this with in-season, local vegetables. While it might sound a bit too simplistic there are many benefits to switching over to this diet.
Reduces Your Carbon Footprint
The basis of macrobiotics is two-fold: eating local, in-season ingredients and reducing consumption of processed foods. Both of these principles can help reduce your overall carbon footprint, but it will require some research. For example, while many environmentalists tout local food as contributing to less carbon emissions, this isn’t always the case. Studies suggest some locally sourced food can actually increase your carbon footprint when taking into account production of the food itself and warehousing. Transportation actually only makes up around 11 percent of total carbon emissions. With that being said, a little bit of research can go a long way. If your city happens to have a green market, ask the people in the stands for more information and build a relationship with them. Barring that you can also join a local CSA group and get farm fresh food delivered to your door weekly. Look into the different options in your area then call up the farms and ask them questions about their production such as the kinds of pesticides they use, electricity usage, fuel usage for farm tools and more. If it’s nearby you should also set up a time to visit and talk to the owners of the farm. The more you know about where your food comes from the better choices you can make.
The macrobiotic food pyramid
Since the focus of macrobiotics is mainly on grains and vegetables, you are easily reducing your footprint by having much less meat in your diet. The macrobiotics pyramid suggest any kind of meat should only be eaten around once per month. Studies suggest beef is a major source of greenhouse gases not only due to the methane the cows produce but also the amount of land and feed cows require. In fact, a standard omnivorous diet today produces twice the amount of carbon emissions than a vegetarian one. While macrobiotics doesn’t require you to give up meat completely, reducing it to only once a month can significantly impact your overall greenhouse emissions.
Of course, it should go without saying that eating less processed food will also reduce your carbon footprint. Not only do these factories produce plenty of emissions and use up fossil fuels, the final processed food always comes prepackaged. These plastic bags and packages do not break down and often end up either in overflowing landfills or in the ocean.
There are claims that macrobiotics can cure cancer, but there is no supporting evidence for this claim. With that said it is significantly healthier than the standard diet of many people. Not only does it focus on eliminating highly processed foods like refined sugar, it also puts an emphasis on whole grains, foods and vegetables. Even if you don’t believe in the yin/yang of foods, macrobiotics helps increase the variety of food you do eat since you’ll be eating what is in season in your area. This might mean some experimentation on your part (how does one cook a sunchoke?), but ultimately you’ll expand your palate and get more vitamins and nutrients.
Besides getting more diversity in your food, macrobiotics also puts an emphasis on listening to your body during and after eating a meal. Most of this is done by simply slowing down while eating. The macrobiotic diet focuses on chewing your food at least 50 times before actual swallowing. This helps break down the food well before it gets to your intestine for easier digestion. Not only that but increased chewing can improve hunger cues so you don’t eat as much in one sitting.
Supports Local Farms
While there’s a larger call-to-action among people today to buy local and support small farms, it can still be difficult for small farmers to compete against big agriculture. Most of these large conglomerates receive federal subsidies, making it much easier for them to offer produce at a much lower cost than the small farmers. Although it might be a bit more expensive to purchase produce from your neighborhood farmer in the beginning, the more people buy locally the better the prices will get. Plus, if you develop your relationship with these farmers you can generally work out some kind of deal for their goods. The key, of course, is to communicate and help out when you can whether it’s simply spreading the word to other people or taking some older produce off their hands.
Is Macrobiotics Right for You?
As with any dietary changes, it’s important to first do research and speak to your physician before making any changes. If done well, macrobiotics can be a great choice for most people, but it’s important to understand some of the risks before starting. If done without planning macrobiotics can be:
- Restrictive – If you don’t consciously add in some diversity into your meals, you can easily end up eating the same five things every day. Make sure you have a variety of vegetables, grains, fruits and other ingredients to choose from in order to get all the vitamins and nutrients you need. If there aren’t many local and in-season foods in your area, eat as well as you can with the options you have available. The point of macrobiotics is to understand how food affects your body and what you need to stay healthy.
- Grain heavy – Macrobiotics puts an emphasis on grains and vegetables over protein and fats. For many people not used to a grain heavy diet, this can lead to hunger pangs throughout the day. However, if you follow the rule to slow down and chew your food well, you should not feel unsatisfied at the end of your meals.
The best thing about macrobiotics is it can fit within many other diets you are on now including veganism. It is fairly easy diet to try and is good for you as well as the local community and the planet, so why not give it a try?