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The Pros and Cons of a Macrobiotic Diet

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Authored by Samantha Herman in Weight Issues
Published on 01-31-2009

For a country that loves reading about the latest diet trends, the macrobiotic diet may disappoint due to age. Hippocrates provided the first written usage of the word “macrobiotic”; in the 1920s, the diet itself was defined and employed by Japanese philosopher George Ohsawa in the 1920s. Although this diet is no spring chicken compared to Atkins, South Beach, or even the notorious Master Cleanse, a macrobiotic diet is touted as being an opportunity to embrace simple, natural foods.

A macrobiotic diet is made up primarily of soup, whole grains, vegetables, and beans. In keeping with Ohsawa’s Japanese heritage, the consumption of seaweed and fish is encouraged. Consuming animal products, like meat and dairy, is frowned upon, as is consuming caffeine or tropical fruits like mango or pineapple. Processed and refined foods are discouraged, but sea salt, ginger root, and sesame seeds can be used to add flavor to a macrobiotic meal.

In general, experts tend to disagree on whether a macrobiotic diet is healthy. Some say it is ideal in that it encompasses the items normally lacking in the North American diet. Whole grains and vegetables are very high in fiber, which is necessary for a healthy digestive tract and can also help stave off diabetes. This diet all but eliminates saturated fats, which are known to be a cause of high cholesterol and are usually found in fried foods and animal products. People who follow a strict macrobiotic diet tend to believe that when certain natural food items are paired together, there is a balance between the yin and the yang. And that balance is important in every aspect of life, not just at mealtime.

Others say that a macrobiotic diet fails in striking any sort of balance because it leaves out vital nutrients like calcium, vitamin B12, and protein. Calcium and B12 are generally found in animal products, including milk and eggs. While calcium deficiencies have been linked to a decrease in bone density and ultimately cause conditions like osteoporosis, vitamin B12 is necessary for a healthy nervous system. MayoClinic.com contends that while B12 deficiencies are rare because the body is capable of storing that particular vitamin for years at a time, it can be seen among people who practice strict vegetarian and vegan diets. Since those who observe a macrobiotic diet fall somewhere between a pescatarian (one who abstains from all meats except fish) and a vegan (one who abstains from all foods derived from animals), it is logical to deduce that a macrobiotic diets puts one at risk for a B12 deficiency.

Generally speaking, it is not easy to speculate about how any diet would affect a specific person. A diet is, by nature, constrictive so there will always be missing elements that need to be accounted for in other ways. Paying special attention to the way that you feel and act while on a specific diet can help to address any deficiencies. And knowing whether or not to tweak a diet according to your needs will help you to achieve the longevity Hippocrates envisioned when coining the term.

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