Macrobiotics as Medicine
Discovering the macrobiotic lifestyle was one change I integrated that started a domino affect of goodness, culminating in my current vibration on this planet: light and strong of body, disease and illness free, mentally clear and operating optimally.
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Prefatory note: Nutrition is a personal journey. This article is not intended to be a one-stop-shop diet prescription, but rather a story that illustrates the power of taking your diet into your own hands. The principles outlined below are excellent recommendations, but only you can decide if it’s what’s best for your body-mind system. Food really is medicine: find what works for you, and put it into practice.
Ten years ago, I never imagined that my existence at age 40 would be the richest, healthiest, and most vibrant of my entire life.
The truth is that most of us grow up a product of our environment and familial influences first. For me, that meant a childhood of alcohol and drug-medicated adults whose internal cookbooks stemmed from years of 1950s-style Midwestern cooking laden with meals heated out of boxes and cans full of fats, preservatives and sugar—all accentuated at warp speed by the heat of a microwave oven.
By the time I was 27, I was overweight, sick, addicted, and grasping for transformation. I needed a new impetus towards psychological, spiritual and physical healing. Discovering the macrobiotic lifestyle was one change I integrated that started a domino affect of goodness, culminating in my current vibration on this planet: light and strong of body, disease and illness free, mentally clear and operating optimally.
In its simplest form, a macrobiotic diet consists of grains as a staple food supplemented by properly cooked whole foods, seasonal vegetables and fruits, and minor amounts of dairy, fats, and sweets.
Broken down even further, a general guideline to follow for a typical macrobiotic day looks like this:
Whole Grains 20-30% of diet
Protein, including animal protein, tempeh, and beans 20-30% of diet
Fresh seasonal vegetables (mostly lightly cooked) 30% of diet
Dairy, eggs and fruits 5-10%
Fats and oils including olive, sesame and ghee 2 %
In order to understand why this combination of ingestibles is supreme, we look towards our common digestive systems.
In her book, Healing With the Herbs of Life, herbalist Lesley Tierra says that “your digestion can be likened to a pot of soup bubbling at about 97-99 degrees F on the stove. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, the pot of soup is the spleen, the burner under the pot is the stomach, and the pilot light of the stove is the kidneys.”
“Easily digested and assimilated foods build blood and supplement your essence trust fund with usable energy. When digestion is poor or sluggish, the body withdraws essence in order to meet its daily demands. Ultimately, this causes deficient qi and blood, aches and pains, anemia, gas, bloatedness, lethargy, weakness, lowered immunity, recurring infections and chronic ailments.”
If a person’s digestive system is weak, which occurs due to an overconsumption of foods and other substances that make it overworked and overstressed, illness creeps in.
Many of our universal health issues are, at their root, kickstarted by faulty digestive systems and completely sapped adrenal glands, which then lead to a Pandora’s Box of cancers, stagnancies, and chronic diagnoses in the body.
What is beautiful about the macrobiotic way of eating is that it represents a perfect balance of essential vitamins, nutrients, and minerals in a combination that is ideal for the care and maintenance of our life-giving, fuel-producing, physical machines. A macrobiotic diet is like high-octane fuel, which ensures that our digestive factory continues to operate in its best form possible.
Many people who are unwilling to commit to a new way of eating discover macrobiotics during a time of necessary cleansing, or when they find themselves in the throes of illness. This is because the macrobiotic principles are often used to give a person their needed daily dose of vital nutrition in the most gentle way possible without disturbing the body, in order to provide an environment where healing can occur.
I like to take a week or two from my life annually to revisit this period of healing. I consider it a quick restart button for my overall system.
For those about to jump into your own macrobiotic lifestyle, this is also a good method to begin—giving your body a friendly welcome into the program. During this one to two week period, you should eat only a broth of grains for each meal alongside copious amounts of water and tonic teas. These watery grain dishes represent a basic nutritional formula that can be called upon at times of sickness or when the body is in need of cleansing and renewal.
This cleansing and fasting broth of grains can be found in many ethnic countries under different names and forms. In Japan, it is called kicharee. To make kicharee, mix a half cup of cooked mung beans or lentils with a half cup of steamed brown rice. Heat a tablespoon of sesame oil or ghee (clarified butter) in a pan and sauté the mixture along with a pinch of cumin seed, ¼ teaspoon turmeric, and a teaspoon of ground coriander for about five minutes. Then add four cups of water and simmer for forty-five minutes.
This simple recipe creates a soupy dish equivalent to an easily assimilated protein bomb, which will reach into the body and spread its blood-purifying properties and reinvigorating energies throughout. A week of eating this dish can reboot the body.
It creates a beautiful blank canvas, if you will, on which to begin painting with a new palate, one which will allow for a much stronger, healthier and more dynamic you.
In Japan, another traditional recipe for folk treatment of ritual disease is miso and brown rice. In China, a similar porridge to kicharee called congee or jook is used similarly and requires simmering rice, mung, or aduki beans in water for a few hours before adding small diced roots, vegetables, and healing herbs like astragalus and ginger.
It can be daunting when you first decide to transition to a macrobiotic lifestyle and I suggest implementing it in phases. Below is a plan and timeline that I used to incorporate it into my own life:
- Stop buying things that come in boxes or cans.
- Only buy whole, seasonal foods.
- Make a weekly visit to an ethnic market in your area to purchase one bulk item for your new macrobiotic cabinet. Lentils, buckwheat, barley, faro, and other grains can be found plentifully at Middle Eastern grocers and cost ten times less than they do at the bulk bins of Whole Foods.
- Start visiting Asian markets to find a whole new world of exotic, cheap, abundant greens like yo soy, bok choy, field weeds, etc. that are under a dollar for mass bagfuls, and add freshness to stir fries and grain bowls whether chopped fresh for crunch or sautéed and wilted for depth.
- Start buying Ayurvedic spices like cumin seed, coriander, cloves, cardamom, curry, fenugreek and cinnamon at the Indian stores. They are not only flavor additives for foods but also provide medicinal properties.
- Stock up on dried fruits, dates, and nuts when on sale so that you can consistently make your daily macrobiotic grain bowls fun, exciting, and new.
- Make large pots of broths, rice porridges, and soups on the weekend and add to them each day with different ingredients for easy lunches and meals.
- Start replacing your normal sugars with agave nectar, honeys, and organic maple syrups.
- Visit a Chinese pharmacy the next time you are near a Chinese neighborhood and buy bulk astragalus root to throw in every broth, tea, soup, or rice dish you are making for an extra immune system boost.
- Stock up on dried seaweeds to start using in the place of salts and to add umami flavors to your new repertoire of dishes.
It’s amazing how fast the palate will adjust to a macrobiotic diet. Within a month of my initial foray into this new way of life, I was craving foods that were good for me, and was no longer triggered by the cravings for salt and sugar of my past.
Today, I literally feel sick when passing the white flour-bloated pastry cases in most supermarkets, heading instead to the raw chocolate section. Instead of desires for things that are ultimately bad for me, I wake up craving the sweetness of shredded dates mixed into creamy labne kefir cheese and spread across an open-faced slice of sprouted, yeast-free rye bread.
I prefer a bowl of hearty bulgur sweetened with raisins and almond milk in the morning to bread and a cup of caffeine. I know what my body needs when I need it because we now have a present minded and authentic relationship, where I listen to it and it listens to me.
This dialogue is an essential one, and has become as natural to me as breathing thanks to the mechanics of macrobiotics.
Healing With the Herbs of Life, Lesley Tierra, L.Ac., Herbalist, A.H.G. (Crossing Press, 2003)
The Way of Herbs, Michael Tierra, L.Ac., O.M.D.