Originally developed in Asia, the Macrobiotic diet has been around for centuries.
The diet is mostly plant-based, including lots of vegetables and healthy whole grains, while extremely low in sugar and animal products. The benefits of a macrobiotic lifestyle include a diet high in nutrients—it’s full of vitamins and minerals. As well as antioxidant-rich, polyphenols. Polyphenols are micronutrients that have been studied extensively to be supportive against cancer, brain health, and aging while building a healthy immune system.
Yin and yang are used to describe the different forces of nature. Our body can be viewed as a seesaw, if there is too much of yin or yang there is often an imbalance opening the doors to stress, illness and disease. When there is a balance between these energies, true healing can be achieved. The premise of the macrobiotic diet is to balance the yin and yang elements of food (as well as lifestyle), as different foods have more “expansive” yin qualities while others have more “contractive” yang qualities.
The foods we eat on a regular basis play an important role in the balance of our bodies as well as our mood. When we have too many of yin (feminine) foods, such as sugar, alcohol or fruit, we may feel that initial rush of expansiveness, relaxation, joy, and elated energy but soon afterward we feel tired, spaced out, unmotivated, anxious and overly sensitive. The majority of our bodies are actually yin-dominant. Electromagnetic fields, toxins and extreme stress have yin-like qualities.
To the opposite, a yang-based diet, focused mostly on meat, eggs, salt, and cheese, is naturally more masculine. Qualities such as aggressiveness, competitiveness, and frustration can come out when we have an overly yang-based diet.
Therefore, achieving balance in both yin and yang types of foods is the key to balance not only in the physical body but also in the mental and emotional body.
My all-time favorite book from back in the day remains The Self-Healing Cookbook, by Kristina Turner. I cooked from this book for a solid year. It is a must-have for anyone looking to adapt to a macrobiotic diet or even just a few of the principles (just do not include soy, other than organic fermented soy in the form of tempeh).
Because our bodies and lifestyles are so unique, it is important for us each to consistently tune in and ask ourselves, “what are we craving, what are we hungry for?”
As Kristina Turner discusses in her cookbook, the diet is all about creating balance within what you are eating. The scale included in the cookbook serves as an excellent reference for which foods have which qualities.
The goal of the diet is to focus on a combination of foods whereby 80% are closest to the center of balance, with foods on the ends or in the extremes serving as only 20% of the diet on a regular basis. The exact food choices can vary depending on your appetite, cravings, and mood for the day.
Yin-Expansive Foods – tend to be more light and cooling and grown above the soil. Examples of yin foods include whole grains, fruits, and vegetables, while tropical fruit, sugars, and caffeine have extreme yin qualities. This doesn’t mean that tropical fruit and caffeine are bad per se—you just have to balance them out. Fresh fruits and vegetables are also important, as processed, refined or frozen foods tend to have more yin-like qualities.
Expansive foods tend to bring out creativity and relaxation. They genuinely fuel our psychological and spiritual activity. If someone has extreme yin qualities, they may be more prone to forgetfulness.
Yang-Contractive Foods – tend to be bulkier and denser; they are grown in colder climates and will store well for more extended periods of time. They also require cooking and are often salty, bland or tough to digest. Contractive foods are more masculine and tend to fuel physical activity and a focused mindset, yet in excess can cause more feelings of anxiousness and tension.
50% Complex Carbohydrates which include quinoa, oats, brown rice, buckwheat, and millet. These foods are considered to be foods which are in complete balance between yang and yin energy. (Note: I personally think this is way too many grains and I like the idea of using 2/3 root vegetables and squashes (such as carrots, beets, parsnips, turnips, and butternut and acorn squash) and 1/3 gluten-free grains.)
25-30% Vegetables and Fresh Fruit: Lightly steamed and cooked vegetables, such as kale, collard greens, cabbage, scallions, and broccoli. Macrobiotics do not consume much raw food as they are aiming to warm the body and put less of a burden on the digestive system. Vegetables which are in season are best. Celery and cucumbers should only be eaten a few times a week.
5-10% Beans and Sea Vegetables: This includes soybean products (consider them optional and try to reduce your soy intake, as we are NOT fans of unfermented soy—tempeh and tamari are the only forms of soy we can recommend), lentils, black beans, and chickpeas. The macrobiotic diet is also rich in sea vegetables, such as kombu, kelp, nori, and dulse which are also great for your thyroid.
Occasional Foods: Healthy oils like olive oil, avocado oil, and coconut oil, along with white fish, dried fruit, and (umeboshi) vinegar are recommended just a few times a week. Nightshade vegetables such as potatoes, eggplant, and tomatoes are recommended in limited quantities as they are extremely yin.
While a true macrobiotic diet is mostly plant-based, you can certainly modify it to meet your needs. When I went on a macrobiotic diet, my sugar and caffeine cravings reduced significantly; I had a renewed sense of calm, clear energy and focus, and most of all, a profound sense of peace that came from the choices I made about what I put on the end of my fork.
However, given my blood type, chemistry, and sensitive nervous system, I needed to start including animal protein to support my adrenals and endocrine system. As I developed my own company, I needed less yin food and more yang food in order to perform at the level required of me—I still need meat in order to perform productively and efficiently to this day.
Eating on the extremes of the diet throws both your body and your mood off balance—we all know well about being extreme on any end.
For those who tend to be more in the masculine energy (entrepreneurs, go-getters, CrossFitters, or power-lifters) we might suggest they try to balance out those yang qualities with some more yin-based foods or activities (yoga, meditation) and vice versa. The solution is to eat from the center of the balance chart mostly and to pull from the extremes on occasion, as treats. We look at this as the 20% of an 80/20 diet.
Adopting a macrobiotic diet goes beyond what is on your plate—there are also several lifestyle practices which are recommended:
There is no one-size-fits-all approach to diets. I’m sharing this diet because it was such a profound kick-off to my Whole Journey and was truly life-changing for me. I even taught all of my private clients about these concepts, to empower them to know that their choices can create consistent balance—there is so much power in that.
The answer to what works for you now may be different than it was last week or last month, or even last year. Be flexible and listen to your body.
There is a different diet in the headlines almost every other week. Ignore all the hype and check in with your own brilliant supercomputer— your brain. It will guide you in creating and finding your balance along with the best diet for your current needs.
Let us know if you’ve tried a macrobiotic diet and what your experience was like in the comments.