What is a Macrobiotic Diet?

by Lourdes Castro, MS, RD on Mar 19, 2014

Ask the RD

Question: Can you please help me understand the characteristics that distinguish a macrobiotic diet from other diets, especially a vegan diet?

Answer: The macrobiotic diet is more than just a dietary regimen; it’s a lifestyle. Many people erroneously believe this diet is a very rigorous version of a vegan diet, but while the macrobiotic diet shares many of the same attributes as the strictly plant-based diet, it does allow some animal products. Also, the macrobiotic diet has one important requirement to consider before you make comparisons with the more moderate vegetarian diet: The macrobiotic plan does not permit any form of processed foods, refined sugars or alcohol.

But what really sets the macrobiotic diet apart from other diets is the woven nature of the macrobiotic lifestyle with its dietary regimen. Adopting the macrobiotic philosophy of life, which recognizes the effect that the environment, physical activity and mental attitude have on a person, is as important as the food one eats. The goal of the lifestyle is to achieve balance in life, which is to be accomplished via food choices as well as other behaviors. Macrobiotic diet followers are taught to eat regularly but only when hungry; to chew their food extremely well (at least 50 times before swallowing); to eat until satisfied but not full; to stay active; to express gratitude for their food; and to maintain a positive outlook.

When the diet first became popular in the United States in the 1960s, it was far more restrictive than it is today. Now there is flexibility in the types of foods allowed, and the diet can be adjusted to suit an individual’s needs. Generally speaking, the breakdown is 40%-60% organic, unprocessed whole grains; 20%-30% local, seasonal vegetables; and 5%-10% beans and sea vegetables, like nori and wakame. Fruits, nuts and seeds are permitted occasionally, and you should drink only when you feel thirsty. Allowances can be made for fresh fish, and rice syrup can be used occasionally as a sweetener.

While it’s hard to argue against the balanced lifestyle approach, the macrobiotic diet has both proponents and critics. The diet is touted for being predominantly plant based, high in fiber and low in saturated fat. However, people who adopt this diet must watch their intake of protein, vitamin B12, iron, calcium and magnesium to assure minimum requirements are being met.

IDEA Food and Nutrition Tips, Volume 3, Issue 2

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About the Author

Lourdes Castro, MS, RD

Lourdes Castro, MS, RD IDEA Author/Presenter

As a Registered Dietician, Lourdes is an Adjunct Professor at New York University’s department of Nutrition, Food Studies & Public Health and holds a Masters degree in nutrition from Columbia Univer...