Last Updated: 7th October 2016
With so many different diets out there, how do you know which one to follow? The macrobiotic diet is more than just a way to lose weight. The plan involves a lifestyle change to help you better your life and improve your health.
There are many benefits to following the macrobiotic diet, whether you want to reduce your risks of type 2 diabetes or get rid of the visceral fat to protect your organs. Here are all the health benefits and the best way to follow the diet to make the most of your lifestyle change.
What Is the Macrobiotic Diet?
Before even considering the benefits and how to follow it, you need to know more about it. What exactly is it and what will it involve?
The first thing to note is that the diet is more than just changing your food. It’s about a chance in your thought process and mindset. It involves the Asian philosophy of yin-yang for balance in your health and life.
As for the actual diet, it focuses on foods that are traditionally used in the Asian diet. This includes the likes of sea vegetables, brown rice, and beans. It made its way to the Western world in the 1960s, but it has been a cultural practice for centuries. It is one of those holistic practices that the Asian cultures have followed to ensure a good life.
There are many elements to it, even when your food is involved. It’s all about chewing and eating properly and regularly. There’s an element of listening to your body and making changes to help settle imbalances or fix problems your body is alerting you to. One of the hardest parts of the diet is the mentality side of it, which involves having a positive outlook on everything.
Is it really worth all the changes? In short, yes. There are just so many benefits to following this type of diet. This really isn’t just about your weight or even your physical health. It will change everything about you and for the better.
It Is a Restrictive Diet
Before getting into the benefits, it is important to stress that this can seem like a restrictive diet. It will change everything about you, including the treats you have and the main meals you eat.
There are different types of the macrobiotic diet, but the most popular one was developed by George Ohsawa. He set up different stages to help you get into the diet and then follow it for the rest of your life. Again, it isn’t one of those diets that are just to help you lose weight and then go back to eating as you usually would. The aim is to stick to this for the rest of your life, which can seem daunting and difficult for many people.
Ohsawa’s diet involves only brown rice and water at one point, which will be bland and boring for many people. It will move on to adding flavours and textures, but this is something you need to be ready for during your lifestyle change. Of course, this will depend on the type of macrobiotic diet you follow, and you’ll find out more about following it later on in this article.
One of the downsides to the diet that many people have noted is a deficiency in calcium. This is because the diet cuts out dairy foods completely. The good news is that you don’t need to eat or drink dairy to get your daily intake of calcium. Green leafy vegetables and drinks—such as green smoothies—and nuts are full of the mineral to make sure you protect your bones and teeth.
So, with the downsides noted, it’s time to look at the benefits of it. Is it really worth all the hassle and hard work for you? Here’s a look at the ways that you will definitely benefit from your life and health.
You Will Lose Weight
When looking at diets, most people have the aim of weight loss. The macrobiotic diet will help you lose weight because the diet is so low in calories. However, it isn’t purposely designed for weight loss. There are no weight loss and maintenance stages involved. This is something to stick to for the good of your overall physical and mental health.
If you follow it just for weight loss, there are chances that you will struggle to keep the weight off afterwards. It could become a crash diet if you don’t follow it properly, leading to weight gain when you go back to eating your everyday food.
When you want to follow it for your weight loss, then you will need to have a different healthy lifestyle to move onto if you don’t want to stick to the macrobiotic diet. This will help you stick to a balanced diet and keep the calories to only those that your body needs. The last thing you want is to overeat calories again and start gaining weight.
The good news is that there is a lot of exercises involved with the macrobiotic diet. You’ll develop a fitness regime that you can stick to when you have lost the weight. This will at least help you keep the calorie intake down to boost your health and keep the weight off afterwards.
This possibly isn’t the best diet to follow if your main aim is to lose weight. It can be bland and boring. You’re cutting out a lot of your favourites, and this can be too much for some. The real benefit is to your overall health while you are losing weight, but not everyone has that on their mind. There’s nothing wrong with that; finding the best diet for your weight loss efforts.
By following this just for your weight loss, you run the risk of falling off the wagon and losing motivation.
Improve Your Fitness Levels
Staying active is an important part of the diet, as mentioned above. This isn’t just beneficial for your weight loss efforts, but for your overall health. Staying active helps your physical and mental wellbeing, and can help with the element of the diet that involves the positive mental outlook.
The first benefit of staying active is that you will keep your muscles toned and strong. You’ll help your overall physical health because you will improve your heart and lung capabilities. The chances of osteoporosis, heart disease, and many other health problems are limited considerably.
You’ll also benefit your mental wellbeing. Doing activity boosts the serotonin and endorphins from your brain. You’ll reduce the amount of cortisol in your body. The first two chemicals help to boost your happiness and reduce your pain experienced within the body. Those who suffer from chronic pain or depression can find that their mental health improves and they are able to do more. The reduction of cortisol means that you won’t feel as much stress on a daily basis. Not only does this help to boost your positivity, but you’ll look after your physical health much more. In many cases, it is the stress that causes health problems!
If you can’t do a lot of activity, you will still benefit from the diet overall. However, there are ways to adapt exercises to suit your needs. You may find that as you benefit in other ways, exercises are easier to do. Some people will stick to low level options, at first, and build up as they get more confidence and improve their capabilities.
Exercise is something that you want to add to your lifestyle as much as possible. You don’t need to join a gym or start going to exercise classes. There are plenty of ways to be more active, and it could be just going for a walk on a daily basis. The recommended amount of exercise is 30 minutes a day, five days a week. Getting more than that will help to improve your health and boost your weight loss efforts.
Boost Your Nutritional Goodness
While the diet can lead to a reduction in calcium, overall the diet will boost your nutritional intake. You’re getting a lot more vegetables, which are full of all the nutrients that your body needs. These nutrients include all your vitamins and the minerals like zinc, iron, and copper. Many of these nutrients are avoided in a typical Western diet because you don’t get the right types of foods.
But surely cutting out meats and dairy will stop you getting some of your nutrients? This isn’t quite the case. The nutrients that you miss from these foods will be in your vegetables, the seafood, and the whole grains. For example, nuts are full of protein, as well as fibre and healthy fats. You’ll also get plenty of protein from the fish and some of the sea vegetables. Tofu and miso are also allowed on the diet, which offers some of the nutrients that you may be worried about skipping.
You’re getting wholesome versions of the nutrients. There’s little contamination with the food, especially those that you decide to grow from home or when you buy organic. You’ll find that you feel the benefits in your mindset, helping you to absorb the nutrients that you do get from your food. When you absorb more effectively, you take in more than you would usually.
Much of the diet is carbohydrates from the whole grains. These are the good carbs, rather than the simple ones that raise your blood sugar levels. The whole grains, like brown rice and noodles, are full of complex carbohydrates that break down in the body slowly. Unlike refined foods, the whole grains don’t cause the instant insulin response. You’ll benefit from the energy being released throughout the course of the day.
By getting so many nutrients, you will put yourself at a lower risk of developing various health problems. We’ll go into this in more detail later.
Lower Risk of Type 2 Diabetes
Mentioned just above are the blood sugar and insulin response. Carbohydrates get a bad reputation for leading to type 2 diabetes and causing weight gain. This is usually due to people eating the simple carbs, which do lead to higher levels of glucose in the system. The body needs to react to insulin, and it can start to become resistant. This causes diabetes and is very common in people who are overweight.
The macrobiotic diet offers the benefit of not causing the insulin response as often. No, you’re not going to cut it out completely and nor should you have to. The difference is you’re not causing it on a daily basis. The healthy diet will help to release energy slowly, so there isn’t the same glucose production. You’ll also keep your weight to a more manageable level, preventing the risk of becoming a diabetic.
You’re not going to cut this out completely. There are just so many things that go into the development of type 2 diabetes, and scientists don’t know everything yet. However, you’re cutting your sugar intake down completely; only getting natural sugars from fruits. This will dramatically improve your health and reduce your risk of type 2 diabetes.
Those who currently have type 2 diabetes can reverse their condition. While you will want to keep taking your medication at first to protect your current health, you may find that you can reduce it to the point where your diabetes is all manageable through your health. This is something you will need to discuss with your doctor about to make sure you put your overall health first.
If you have to be diagnosed with pre-diabetes symptoms, it is time to change your diet right now. Following the macrobiotic diet will help to reduce the symptoms and help to eliminate the resistance to insulin in your body.
Lower Risk of Heart Disease and Stroke
Your heart’s health will be improved due to the diet and the change in your lifestyle. The more exercise you do, the more blood you get pumping around your system to keep your heart healthy. Remember your heart is a muscle, so it needs to pump to get stronger! This is something that many people forget about when it comes to their bodies.
At the same time as improving the heart strength, you’re also getting rid of many of the fatty build-ups in your arteries. You keep them clear, so there is little risk of the blood clogging and getting stopped. This will help to reduce your risk of heart disease and stroke.
It’s not just that either! You’re reducing the number of fatty foods you eat (unhealthy fatty foods). The fats that you’ll get are your healthy ones, like nut oils and fish oils. These will help to boost your bodily health. The unhealthy fats just get clogged in the system, leading to high blood pressure and a higher risk of heart problems.
Lower cholesterol is something else that you will see. This will help to expand your life.
Boost Brain Activity
Remember that mention of the healthy fish fats? Omega 3 fatty acids are one of those types of fats that your body desperately needs. It’s found in all types of fish, especially tuna, and mackerel. Yes, you will need to watch out for the mercury count in some of them, but following the diet isn’t going to do you too much harm in that department.
The benefit of the fish fats is that they help to keep the brain working and healthy. Your brain activity is increased, and you’ll find concentrating much easier. Health and wellbeing of this part of your body are protected. Clarity is also much easier to keep, which will help with other parts of your mental health.
Your risk of developing brain diseases like dementia and Alzheimer’s is much lower because you keep the organ working as it should. You improve your memory and will be able to take more in, both in your long and short term memories.
With your brain in full working order, you’ll find it much easier to keep a positive mental attitude. This is an essential part of the diet and one that will help your overall health.
Improve Menstrual Problems
Women have to deal with menstrual problems, whether it is heavy or irregular periods or difficult pain before and during their periods. These can be debilitating for some, and will lead to negative thoughts and trouble exercising. You need to do as much as you can to alleviate the pains, without taking medication. The whole point of the diet is to try and avoid medication as much as possible and stick to holistic medication.
Soy food is full of phytoestrogens, which is known to help overcome and mitigate the problems noticed during the menstrual cycle. This is something that you will gain in abundance with your macrobiotic diet.
You may not notice this benefit right away, but after a few months, you’ll give the phytoestrogens a chance to work. This will also depend on the type of macrobiotic diet you follow and the stage you are in. Some people decide to add the soy food to other stages because they have found that their menstrual symptoms have subsided so much while eating them.
Reduce the Risk of Cancer
Cancer is one of the most common reasons for death around the world. It could be breast, testicular, colon or even bone cancer. The disease spreads through the cells, as they die or become damaged. Free radicals cause the cells to repair and grow abnormally. The best thing to do is follow a lifestyle that will limit the chances of this happening.
You can do that with the macrobiotic diet. The lifestyle helps to boost the amount of antioxidants in your body, which fight off the free radicals. By getting the right foods, whether they’re fruits or leafy greens, you’ll reduce your risk of cancer considerably.
The antioxidants are also beneficially for the immune system. They will stop the free radicals attacking other parts of your body, putting your immune system under extra stress and strain. When you do get ill, your immune system will actually be able to work to prevent the illness getting worse or from spreading.
Keep the Gut Working
Fibre is an important part of the diet. This is the part that helps to keep the body’s gut working fully, and it is found in large amounts in vegetables, fruits, and whole grains. The macrobiotic diet is perfect for this specific element in your lifestyle.
With more fibre, you’ll find that it’s easier to pass stools. It keeps the stools soft enough, and will prevent blockages further up the path. You’ll also find it easier to pass the wind and prevent that feeling of being bloated. Your intestines digest food a lot easier and are protected from some diseases.
The lack of dairy can also help to keep the gut working properly. Many people in Asia are intolerant to dairy products. It leaves them feeling bloated and gassy. It can also cause some damage to the internal lining of their intestines, leaving them with other symptoms. While calcium is good for you, it is best to get it from other foods. The diet avoids all types of dairy, whether it is from milk, cheese or yoghurts.
Feel Fuller for Longer
Fibre offers another benefit. It breaks down in the body much slower than other types of food. This helps you to feel fuller for a longer period of time, and you’ll feel like you have the extra energy.
When you feel fuller, you’ll find that cravings don’t happen as often. The temptation to reach for snacks or foods that aren’t on the diet will be minimal and much easier to resist. There’s also the benefit of feeling happier within yourself because you’re not focusing on that hunger and the need for something to nibble on.
This benefit works with the one to lose weight. You’ll not need to eat as much, so you won’t eat as many calories throughout the day. You encourage your body to burn the excess calories, without slowing down the metabolic rate. As you stick to it and get used to it, you’ll wonder what the worry about a restrictive diet was all about!
Focusing on the Positives
Remember that this diet isn’t all about food. It’s about creating a healthier lifestyle: both mind and body. One of the benefits of this lifestyle is that you focus on a positive outlook on life. You displace the negative energy to look at good things about life, yourself and things that have happened during the day.
This isn’t easy for everyone, and there are a few tips below to help make this a possibility. Right now, it’s all about the focus on the benefits of feeling positive.
There are some studies that show feeling positive can help to fight off diseases. You take away the stress of the body so the immune system can get to work. There’s also the chance that you will find your body to fight the diseases, and believe that you will recover.
Some cultures believe that a positive outlook can help to prevent diseases, such as cancer. When you have a negative outlook, your body is under extra stress, and your cells end up developing abnormally. You open yourself up to the likes of cancer and dementia. By focusing on the positives, you prevent the stress within your body. You’ll instantly be healthier because you won’t feel the weight on your shoulders.
Positive outlooks can also help to boost the mood. Happier people make healthier choices, and that includes healthier diet and lifestyle choices. You’re less likely to reach for the snacks, and you’ll get out and exercise more. This leads to a cycle of improving your mood, doing more exercise and improving your mood again.
Some mental illnesses like depression are also easier to avoid and recover from. This is all based on the serotonin in the body, which is released more when you are happier. Making healthier choices can also release more and avoid the release of cortisol (the stress hormone) within the body.
Get Rid of Western Medication
While there will be some ailments and illnesses that will require some medication, it is possible that you can overcome the need for Western drugs. This is a holistic lifestyle that works with holistic medicine.
Just look at the nutrients that you get and the other benefits mentioned above. You can see yourself relying on fewer anti-depressant drugs and find that you no longer need to take your diabetic medication. There is the chance that you can put cancer into remission, meaning you don’t need to rely on chemotherapy or radiotherapy treatments. Pain medication may be a thing of the past as your body deals with the pain you feel much easier and more naturally.
Before you come off your medication completely, you will need to talk to your doctor. Find out how the macrobiotic diet will help you and whether you are at a point where you can stop taking your medication. Many doctors may not have heard of it, so may need to do their research first. You could take a list of the foods you eat and the activities you do to help aid this discussion.
You actually have no idea what the Western medication is doing to the body. Most products will have side effects listed, and they can really upset the hormonal balance in the body. They can make weight loss harder and cause severe mood swings. It’s best to cut them out if you can, especially ones that you use on a daily basis like pain killers and ibuprofen.
Just How Do You Follow the Macrobiotic Diet?
Now that you know all about the benefits of the macrobiotic diet, it’s time to look at the ways that you can follow it and what you need to do to take advantage really of all the benefits.
This is a restrictive diet, and there are different versions of it available now. The main focus here is on the traditional diet, but there are some alternatives that you can add if you want.
The Oshawa diet is another name given to the original macrobiotic diet. The first 10 days is the hardest stage, and it does cut out a lot of nutrients and foods. Don’t worry, you will get these back and for 10 days you’re not going to do yourself too much harm. If you desperately need the nutrients from fruits and veggies, you should discuss this diet with your doctor to make sure it won’t do your current health any harm. This may be a stage of the diet that you have to cut out and move onto the next part.
Reduce your diet to just brown rice, millet, buckwheat and whole grains only for 10 days straight. Yes, you will crave other foods, and you will certainly get bored of eating the same things over and over again, but that is part of the reason for this stage being 10 days only. After a few days, the cravings will come to a stop, and you just need to keep telling yourself that you will be allowed foods eventually.
These grains are foods that you will need to eat on a daily basis as part of your lifestyle. After 10 days, you can then start to add some vegetables and pickles. After the 10 days, make sure they, along with sea vegetables and beans, become part of your daily diet. You can also add some seasonings and oils to keep your diet more varied.
Whole grains should make up 40% to 60% of your regular diet. They can include barley, corn and even whole grain cereals and pasta. Keep the pasta and cereals to minor use, and focus on the others from the 10 days stretch mostly. Another 20% to 30% of your diet will be made up of vegetables, with 5% to 10% made up of beans or bean products. These products will include lentils, chickpeas, and tofu. For the vegetables, focus on leafy greens for your calcium intake but keep your spinach use to a minimum. Always try to get vegetables that are in season and look for local options. You can also add natto and tempeh for some variety. Add in the sea vegetables like nori and wakame, with seasonings like sea salt, soy sauce and miso for some variety.
On a weekly basis, you can add a small amount of fruits, seeds, and nuts to your diet. While sweet foods are limited, you can use them as a treat. A couple of squares of dark chocolate a week won’t thrown your glucose levels completely off balance, and dark chocolate can even offer some benefits. Try to make your sweet treats fruit or grain-based to benefit really, but at least having something takes the edge off the diet. Don’t eat fruits more than three times a week, as they can be too yang for the diet. Stick to those that are lower in sugar contents, keeping away from bananas and pineapples.
Fish is also something that you can eat on a weekly basis whether you opt for white meat fish or choose shellfish and other seafood. These options help you get the omega 3 fatty acids, so you fight against brain diseases. If you are vegan or vegetarian, skipping fish isn’t going to do you any harm on the macrobiotic diet. The same applies to the foods mentioned below.
Finally, on a monthly basis, it is possible to add some meats, dairy, poultry and eggs into your diet. These are great for those who have some problems with getting protein or really find the diet exceptionally hard. Stick to them once or twice a month if you really need them, so you’re telling yourself “eventually” and not “never.” You’ll have something to look forward to, so you take the edge off the cravings and temptations.
The monthly options are more of a variation on the traditional diet. There’s no need to follow them if you don’t want and they won’t offer extra benefits based on the traditional diet. They can just help make the diet easier to follow when you start.
There’s nothing wrong with blending the foods up or creating soups and stews. Asian cultures love making soups, and they can be warm for the winter and extremely fill. Try to have soup at least once a day, bulking it out with grains and vegetables. Miso soups are highly popular with the macrobiotic diet.
When it comes to oils, focus on corn and sesame oil. Watch out for GMO products! They aren’t the best for the body. If you can’t get hold of these types of oils, olive oil will work, and it is much better than traditional vegetable oil from the grocery store.
What You Need to Avoid
While there are foods that you should eat and ones that you can occasionally add to your diet, there are some that you need to avoid as much as possible. Foods that have refined sugar or use white or brown sugar should be completely avoided. But how is dark chocolate allowed? This is because it doesn’t include sugar and there are diabetic options that could be useful. They have high cacao contents, so look out for those that are 70% to 80% in content. It is still best to limit it to monthly use.
Avoid fruit juices as much as possible because they do contain large amounts of sugar. It may be natural, but it will still cause the insulin response and cause tooth decay. Artificial sweeteners aren’t something to use either. There are links to health problems with artificial sweetener use.
Caffeine and alcohol should be avoided, so coffee fans you’ll need to find something else to enjoy. Plain water is good for you, or you can make some green smoothies as mentioned above.
While you want to use some seasoning and flavourings, watch out for overuse. The spices are just to add some taste and not to overtake from the benefits of the other foods. You’ll always want to watch out for anything that uses preservatives and chemicals. Buy organic as much as possible.
Getting That Positive Outlook
One part of the lifestyle that many people struggle with is getting that positive look on life. Trying to keep a positive mental attitude isn’t easy with everything that life throws at us. We may have a bad day at work full of stresses, or the kids may be acting up and tiring us out. So how can you keep that positive mental attitude?
The first way is to look at the silver lining. Keep in mind that things happen for a reason and these things could avoid something worse in the future. That flat tyre may help you avoid an accident later on the road or the road being closed could have avoided costly damage to your car. Your child being sick may have meant a day off work, but it could also have meant that the person needed to deal with a particular problem was there. Being called into work at the last minute due to someone else calling in sick could mean that you’re there to handle a problem that only you could have dealt with at the time.
Another way to keep that positive outlook is to remove stress from your life. If you can’t do anything to change a situation, there’s no point stressing over it. It could be someone marking an exam paper that you have no control over anymore or a customer possibly putting a complaint in about you that any further action could just make the situation worse. Don’t stress and accept that you can’t do anything about it.
When you do find it hard to keep a positive mental attitude, find ways to ease your mind and reset it. Meditation and deep breathing are too highly popular ways. You can also use incense and oil burners to help focus and clear your head, relaxing the muscles and rebalancing the body at the same time.
It’s time to follow a diet that will work for your overall health and not just aid with weight loss. The macrobiotic diet isn’t going to be exceptionally easy to follow—and it is one of the hardest for the Western population—but it will offer numerous health benefits mentioned above. These benefits make it worth it if you’re willing to take that step.
Keep in mind that you should choose the diet that works best for you. Don’t base it on the estimated results. In the long run, you can always choose to make a routine out a specific diet once you have gotten the hang of it.
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