Most Macrobiotic Books Are Incorrect: There is no such thing as a “Macrobiotic Diet”
“Is there any scientific evidence for macrobiotics?” – that question has bothered me my whole life for the simple reason that it can’t be answered. It bothered me even as I stood in front of the National Cancer Institute’s Review Panel for Complementary and Alternative Medicine giving my presentation on the Kushi Institute’s Best Case Cancer Series in 2002. Even though the presentation was a tremendous success it bothered me because I knew that we will never be able to “prove” macrobiotics one way or another. We can only prove the influence and effects of specific food items, like whole grains or meat or sugar. “Macrobiotics” itself, can’t be proven because the question is not applicable and is irrelevant.
Macrobiotics is a field of study and a philosophy and can’t be tested at all. The term “macrobiotics” was first used scientifically and medically by Dr. Christoph Wilhelm Hufeland in the late 1700s to describe the “Art and Science of Prolonging Life.” Therefore, to ask if “macrobiotics” can be proved would be like incorrectly asking if “chemistry” can be proven. If we used Michio Kushi’s more recent definitions of macrobiotics then it is like incorrectly asking if “the principles of balance” can be proven. Balance is balance, and nature will automatically balance herself out no matter what we do. The question of macrobiotic “provability” is simply not applicable and is irrelevant.
Why then, does this question keep coming up? The answer is simple. It is because the media and most everybody portrays macrobiotics as a rigid, fixed diet known as the “macrobiotic diet”, and therefore, must be “provable” in its efficacy or not. Nothing could be further from the truth. No food is “forbidden” in macrobiotics because it is about the study of the effects of all foods. “Man can eat everything!” declares Michio Kushi, right in chapter 1 of his “Book of Macrobiotics”. Then where did the media get such a silly notion? Well, unfortunately, from those macrobiotic books that use the term “macrobiotic diet” which is almost of all of them, including ones by Michio Kushi and Georges Ohsawa.
Twenty five years ago it was my job to promote macrobiotics to the masses. I was trying to come up with the right words for one piece of promotion when I had a sudden realization. I realized that I was using the word “macrobiotic” incorrectly. I realized that to say, “macrobiotic diet”, in its colloquial and popular form was incorrect because there is no one specific diet that is macrobiotic in the same sense that there is a vegetarian diet or Atkins or Raw Food diet . The closest thing to describing a macrobiotic diet is to say that it is a “plant-based whole grain centered” food philosophy with a set of generalized proportions outlined by Michio Kushi known as the “standard macrobiotic diet”. But describing macrobiotics as a “diet”, in the general colloquial sense, does not do it justice. It can be helpful, to a certain extent, but in the end, it is misleading, confusing and absolutely incorrect. Macrobiotics is about balance and harmony with the environment and, therefore food-wise, what may be good for one may not be good for another. The term, “macrobiotic diet,” is a misnomer – it doesn’t exist.
With this new revelation I went to tell my father, Michio Kushi, who had written the brilliant book on macrobiotics in 1977, “The Book Of Macrobiotics.” I shared my thoughts with him and upon hearing them he agreed but then suddenly slapped his forehead saying, “Ah! Too late! I just sent the manuscript to the publishers of my new book entitled: ‘Macrobiotic Diet’!”. Oh well! Now we have to live with the term and all its consequences which includes fielding questions on scientific provability and why you can’t eat this or you can’t eat that on a “macrobiotic diet.” All the books are actually incorrect when they use the term “macrobiotic diet.”
However and on the other hand, the effects of specific foods can be tested scientifically. Just a few days ago the news reported the results of a massive study that linked meat eating with shorter life expectancy. One of the very first diet and disease related studies actually involved the macrobiotic community in Boston in the 1970s. This study conducted by Harvard University in conjunction with the Framingham Heart Study tested the blood of persons who followed macrobiotics, eating a near vegetarian diet, and then had them switch to eating meat and then back again. The results of the study showed that increasing meat intake significantly increased one’s blood cholesterol. When the results of the study was published in the New England Journal of Medicine it made no mention of macrobiotics and only described the beneficial diet as “a vegetarian diet”, which is scientifically accurate, since a “macrobiotic diet” really does not exist. This one study helped launch Dean Ornish’s career in preventing heart disease through healthier eating. Since then there have thousands of scientific studies that show the benefits of many of Michio Kushi’s dietary aspects of macrobiotics including increasing whole grains intake, the benefits of miso soup, reducing animal foods, eating seaweed and so on. Is there scientific evidence that eating a plant-based whole grain centered diet is beneficial? Yes, absolutely! Is there scientific evidence that macrobiotics works? No, and there never will be because the question is irrelevant.
References and notes:
- Kushi Institute Best Case Series News Report from 2002
- The full text of Hufeland’s “Art of Prolonging Life” 1789
- American Cancer Society on the Macrobiotic Diet
- “Madonna occasionally indulges on whole wheat toast”, news item, March 24, 2009
- 1975 study: Plasma lipids and lipoproteins in vegetarians and controls.
- Meat-heavy diet linked to early death – USA Today, March 24, 2009
- Quackwatch.org on “Macrobiotic Diets”
- Michio Kushi, in his own words, outlines the macrobiotic food philosophy: (1975 audio recording) “The Search For Health And Happiness”
- Michio Kushi testifies before Congress, July 9, 1999
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