What is a macrobiotic diet?

Quick Answer
A philosophy of living based on the need for balance and harmony in which a person’s diet consists primarily of whole grains and fresh vegetables and is low in fat and protein.
Expert Answers
enotes eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Japanese philosopher George Ohsawa developed the macrobiotic lifestyle, which includes the macrobiotic diet, meditation, exercise, and stress reduction. The lifestyle also involves limiting exposure to pesticides. Ohsawa also believed that eating healthy food is part of a process that promotes world peace and harmony.

The macrobiotic diet is based on the traditional Japanese diet. Food choices for the diet are based on the principle of yin and yang, opposing forces that are viewed as needing to balance each other. In the 1960s, Ohsawa’s student Michael Kushi, of the Kushi Institute, popularized the macrobiotic diet in the United States. The original diet proposed by Ohsawa is now viewed by macrobiotic diet teachers to be too restrictive; the current macrobiotic diet has been modified to prevent problems such as scurvy, other forms of malnutrition, and death, which were reported in some followers of the original diet.

Organic foods that are minimally processed are recommended for the macrobiotic diet. Up to 60 percent of the diet’s components are whole grains and up to 30 percent are vegetables, with the remainder of the diet being made up of beans and seaweed. The diet does not include meat, animal fats, dairy, eggs, refined sugar, or artificial sweeteners. Warm drinks are to be avoided too.

The diet also recommends specific approaches to food preparation. For example, only gas stoves are to be used, and cooking vessels or utensils containing copper, aluminum, or Teflon are to be avoided.

Mechanism of Action

As a means of restoring the balance of yin and yang, teachers of macrobiotics attempt to adjust the individual person’s diet based on the areas affected by illness.

Uses and Applications

Proponents of the macrobiotic diet state that it can have curative properties for cancer and acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS), can prevent heart disease, and can contribute to an overall sense of well-being.

Scientific Evidence

No randomized-controlled clinical trials of the macrobiotic diet exist. Reports of macrobiotic dieters who have recovered from cancer are anecdotal.

Safety Issues

The macrobiotic dieter may become deficient in vitamins B12 or D, fluid, calcium, iron, and riboflavin. Experts recommend that pregnant or nursing women and children on the macrobiotic diet may need to consume eggs, dairy products, or other forms of supplementation to prevent nutritional deficiencies that can lead to rickets, retarded growth, or slow motor or mental development in the fetus.


American Cancer Society. “Macrobiotic Diet.” Available at http://www.cancer.org/treatment.

Kushi Institute. “What Is Macrobiotics?” Available at http://www.kushiinstitute.org/html/what_is_macro.html.

MD Anderson Cancer Center, University of Texas. “Macrobiotics: Detailed Scientific Review.” Available at http://www.mdanderson.org/education-and-research.

Access hundreds of thousands of answers with a free trial.

Start Free Trial
Ask a Question