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Macrobiotic diet

March 2011 

macrobiotic dietI have a friend who, like so many of our generation, is fighting cancer. She is doing very well, has come through chemo and is back to living a normal life. Well, nearly normal; one radical change she has made is her diet.

Having researched all over the place, she has decided a macrobiotic diet would be really useful to help her body be as strong as possible to fight any new problems.

Like so many new and alternative health ideas, there are people who believe a macrobiotic diet could be the answer to a range of health problems; and those who think that it won’t do much good at all and can even lead to serious vitamin and nutrient deficiency.

However, either way it is well worth knowing a little about it, especially as macrobiotic diets are becoming more and more popular.

The word macrobiotic comes originally from Greek and is associated with long life. However the idea of the diet is not Greek but Japanese and was first expounded by George Ohsawa who felt people should eat simply and that his macrobiotic diet could cure cancer. Ohsawa’s ideas were quite extreme but the basic idea grew. The opening of the Kushi Institute in Boston, America, in 1978, which was based on developing macrobiotic eating, marked a turning point and the diet began to become popular across North America and then of course spread further afield.

The aim of the macrobiotic diet is to avoid foods containing toxins. There are different types of macrobiotic diets and lifestyles but generally the diet is completely vegan - no dairy products or meats are allowed.

macrobiotic dietIt really is the ultimate in chemical free eating; foods have to be organic of course and any food that has gone through a manufacturing process is generally frowned upon, mainly because of the various processed or chemical based ingredients which are added. Any foods with artificial colours, flavours or preservatives are a total no-no.

The base of the diet is often organic whole grains such as brown rice, barley, oats and buckwheat. Soups made from vegetables, seaweed, beans, chick peas and lentils are also key aspects. Nuts and seeds can be important. Drinks are equally important and purified water or natural teas (without caffeine) are the main suggested items.
Many macrobiotic specialists raise their hands in sheer horror at the idea of sugar.

Refined sugar contains no beneficial items and they say when you eat refined carbohydrates like sugar, the body has to borrow vital nutrients from healthy cells to metabolize this incomplete food. They say that calcium, sodium potassium and magnesium are taken from various parts of the body to make use of the sugar and sometimes so much calcium can be used to neutralize the effects of sugar that bones can become osteoporotic. To offset this, natural sweeteners such as rice syrup, barley malt, and amazake can be used.

With a macrobiotic diet, the way you cook is also important; cooking and storage should be in pots made from wood, glass, stainless steel or china – plastic is out. Cooking oil should be unrefined vegetable oil, possibly dark or light sesame oil and mustard seed oil.

Microwave ovens are not usually recommended, and some macrobiotic advisers say cooking with electricity should also be avoided.

A strict macrobiotic diet will probably mean that you lose weight, which can be a good thing for many of us; but some medical professionals say they are seriously concerned that following such a strict regime, which contains no dairy or animal products, can prevent the intake of enough essential nutrients for your body to work properly. They highlight a lack of calories, vitamins, calcium, protein and iron as key problem areas.

If, for whatever reason, you are thinking about following a macrobiotic diet, you do need to source as much information as possible to ensure you are making the right decisions, and also be prepared to spend considerable time in planning your meals, finding the right ingredients, and also in careful preparation.

There are several organisations and websites that can assist, including:

Macrobiotic Guide www.macrobiotics.co.uk which also has good live video information on
http://macrobiotics.co.uk/macrobioticvideoclips.htm

The Institute for Complementary Medicine in London www.icmedicine.co.uk

Penny Brohn Cancer Care in Bristol www.pennybrohncancercare.org

 
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