The Zen Macrobiotic Diet

Published on

While living in Japan I have come across the Zen Macrobiotic diet in quite a few restaurants, especially in the pursuit of vegetarian food (I will cover the issue of finding vegetarian food in Japan in a future post).

For more information and references you can read the blog post below the video 😊

Background

Macrobiotic roughly translates to ‘longlife’ in Greek. This diet was developed in the 1920s by a Japanese philosopher called George Ohsawa based on principles from Zen Buddhism. It claims to balance ‘ying and yang’ by using specific types of cooking utensils (mainly wood or glass) and encouraging certain food. Some people claim that the Zen Macrobiotic diet is useful for preventing or even treating diseases like heart disease & cancer (references here and here).

The Diet Itself

This diet can vary a lot, rather than being one strict set of rules, but it generally involves (references here and here):  

  • ~50% of dietary intake from wholegrains like: brown rice, oats, rye, millet, quinoa, buckwheat and spelt.
  • ~30% of dietary intake from locally grown, organic and seasonal vegetables.
  • Daily: miso soup, beans, pulses, seaweed, soya, pickles, oils and seasoning.
  • Nuts, seeds and fruit are limited to a few times per week.
  • Meat, poultry, fish, eggs and dairy are limited to a few times per month.
  • Encourages:  organic, seasonal and local produce, slow eating, thoroughly chewing food, only eating when you are hungry, steaming and sautéing as the main cooking methods.
  • Discourages: nightshade vegetables (like tomato, aubergine, peppers etc), processed foods, sugary food and drinks, caffeine, alcohol, vitamin and mineral supplements. 

Pros:

  • High in fibre, encourages daily vegetables, pulses and soy.
  • Low in processed red meat, saturated fat, sugar and alcohol.
  • Has been associated with a lower risk of heart disease and certain types of cancer (reference here).
  • Slightly more flexible than most ‘diets’.
  • Encourages mindful eating.

Cons:

  • Claims that this diet can treat or cure diseases like cancer or heart disease are NOT backed by science (see here and here for further information on this).
  • Limits some healthy food like: fruit, nightshade vegetables, dairy, nuts, seeds, eggs, meat, poultry and fish.
  • Strictly following this diet could be unbalanced and cause harm by providing too little: iron, calcium, vitamin B12 and protein. This diet also discourages nutritional supplements which can be useful for certain people, including those on a limited diet like this. 
  • Can be high in salt from the daily miso soup and pickled vegetables.  
  • Is ‘black and white’ about which foods are good or bad, this can encourage an unhealthy relationship with food.
  • Encouraging organic and non-processed food for health is overly simplistic and isn’t backed by the evidence base (more information on this here and here, I also plan to cover this in a future post).

Overall:

Compared to other fad diets the Zen Macrobiotic is less extreme and there can be some benefits from it. But it’s really important to note that there is no good evidence that it can be used to cure diseases. You can also get the benefits of the macrobiotic diet by following a less extreme and more balanced approach, like a healthy diet as outlined in the Eatwell guide or the Mediterranean diet. For more tips on healthy eating see here

If you are interesting in finding out more about food in Japan then check out:


Testimonials

Maeve has been consulting on The Food Medic Educational Hub for 12 months now and has been a huge asset to the team. Her ability to translate some very nuanced topics in nutrition into easy-to-follow, informative articles and infographics is really admirable.

Dr Hazel Wallace

Founder of The Food Medic

Maeve is incredibly talented at sharing scientific information in an easy to understand way. The content she shares with us is always really interesting, clear, and of very high quality. She’s one of our favourite writers to work with!

Aisling Moran

Senior UX Writer at Thriva Health

Maeve has written extensively for NHD magazine over the last few years, producing a wealth of dietetic and nutritional articles. Always evidence based and factual, Maeve creates material that is relevant and very readable. She provides high quality work with a professional and friendly approach. Maeve is a beacon of high quality knowledge and work within the nutrition writing community; and someone NHD magazine is proud to work with.

Emma Coates

Editor of Network Health Digest


Support Dietetically Speaking

More from Dietetically Speaking

Intuitive Eating Linked With Reduced Disordered Eating

Intuitive Eating Linked With Reduced Disordered Eating

This article was written by Nutritionist and Dietetically Speaking Intern Hanna Tejani and reviewed by Registered Dietitian Maeve Hanan. The EAT Study (2010-2018) …
What is Weight-Inclusive Care?

What is Weight-Inclusive Care?

This article by Maeve Hanan (Registered Dietitian & Founder of Dietetically Speaking) will explain what weight-inclusive care means and why …
Issues With Weight-Centric Health Care

Issues With Weight-Centric Health Care

This article was written by Maeve Hanan (Registered Dietitian & Founder of Dietetically Speaking. Traditional health care models tend to be …
Zoom Dysmorphia Post Lockdown

Zoom Dysmorphia Post Lockdown

This article was written by Registered Nutritionist and Dietetically Speaking intern Sophie Gastman and reviewed by Registered Dietitian Maeve Hanan. The start of the …
The Evolution of Male Body Ideals

The Evolution of Male Body Ideals

This article was written by Nutritionist and Dietetically Speaking Intern Hanna Tejani and reviewed by Registered Dietitian Maeve Hanan. In our previous article, …
The Minnesota Starvation Experiment

The Minnesota Starvation Experiment

This article was written by Student Dietitian Sarah Hall, and reviewed by Dietitian Maeve Hanan. Background to the Study Over centuries people …
The Malnourished Brain

The Malnourished Brain

This article was written by Nutritionist and Dietetically Speaking Intern Hanna Tejani and reviewed by Registered Dietitian Maeve Hanan. For more information about …
How Does Stress Affect Appetite?

How Does Stress Affect Appetite?

This article was written by Registered Nutritionist and Dietetically Speaking intern Sophie Gastman and reviewed by Registered Dietitian Maeve Hanan. For more information …
The Evolution of Female Body Image Ideals

The Evolution of Female Body Image Ideals

This article was written by Nutritionist and Dietetically Speaking Intern Hanna Tejani and reviewed by Registered Dietitian Maeve Hanan. Why Does Body …
Carbohydrate and Female Hormones 

Carbohydrate and Female Hormones 

This article was written by Registered Nutritionist Sophie Gastman and Registered Dietitian Maeve Hanan. Low-carbohydrate diets have been around for a long …
Why Are Carbohydrates Important?

Why Are Carbohydrates Important?

This article was written by Registered Dietitian Maeve Hanan and Student Dietitian and Dietetically Speaking Intern Sophie Gastman. Carbohydrates have notoriously gained a …
Dealing With the External Food Police

Dealing With the External Food Police

This article was written by Registered Dietitian Maeve Hanan, and Nutritionist and Dietetically Speaking Intern Hanna Tejani. With restrictions easing up …