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REFLECTIONS ABOUT THE MACROBIOTICS By Carlo Guglielmo

 
 
 


I studied medicine, but I dropped out when I was very near to my doctorate, when I started my macrobiotic practice in 1974. I thought macrobiotics was a better way to help the people regaining their health, and never regretted that choice.

Together with my wife, in 1978 I founded and managed a very active macrobiotic centre, then a store, a restaurant, and a natural foods distribution company that is still very successful today.

In 1981 I graduated Associated Teacher, and since then I have been teaching the philosophy and practice of macrobiotics until now. I say this only because what I say here could be seen as somewhat far off and strange, and I wish to emphasize that it comes from a pretty wide and practical experience.

Following are some reflections about the practice of the macrobiotic way of eating, arising also - but not only - from the more or less serious health problems experienced by a few old macrobiotic friends and teachers. I believe that we must accurately reconsider some aspects of our practice, openly discussing new possible changes.

Thanks to the efforts of Michio and Aveline, and George Ohsawa before them, I think we have a real treasure in our hands, that can potentially benefit many people and the humanity as a whole. However, it risks disappearing and is forgotten, if we are not able to renovate it.

There are many ways to address the reflection about the macrobiotic way of eating. Here, I will start from an evolutionary point of view, putting it in relation with our macrobiotic beliefs and habits regarding the way of eating.


WHICH IS THE FOOD OF THE HUMAN BEING?

  • According to what is known on this subject, during their 6+ million years of evolution, human beings have been eating a wide range of foods. Among them are seeds (among which are wild cereals), tubers, wild vegetables and seasonal amounts of fruits, plus various kinds of animal foods: primarily insects and larvae, eggs, small animals, birds, mussels, and more recently fish and big game.

    In colder climates animal food has been a must, but even in warmer climates, where most of our evolution has taken place, it has represented an important and valued part of the diet, provided that it was available. This wide range of foods is the foundation of our human constitution, and health.

  • From the agricultural revolution on, diet changed substantially. However, when traditional societies had the possibility (i.e. when they were not at war, or in the midst of some natural disaster), they managed to maintain a pattern of eating similar to the evolutionary one. In this pattern animal food was present, while sugar was absent and fruit seasonal. All simple sugars even if not under refined form, are a very recent entry in the human diet, at least in substantial amount.

    In facts, the only natural source apart from honey is wild fruit, which is low in sugars compared to the cultivated one. This is absolutely true in temperate climates, while in very hot ones it may contain more sugars, but less than what we usually think. Also vegetable oils, rather rare in wild foods, are a condiment that have been developed in this period and context.

  • The discovery of the fermentation processes, which gave birth to new foods and beverages as bread, miso, wine, beer, etc., helped in many ways to overcome the problems created by the changes in the diet, including the increased consumption of grains and legumes, and the different nutritional value of farmed grains, vegetables, fruits and meats compared to the wild ones.


STANDARD MACROBIOTIC DIET AND MACROBIOTIC WAY OF EATING

  • No population has ever been eating the standard macrobiotic diet, at least not for long periods of time. That means that we don't have a long historical experience with it. Standard Macrobiotic Diet has been created by M. Kushi in the USA, in the 70s, as a way to help people without any connection with a traditional way of eating to orient themselves toward a healthier and balanced diet. This has been wonderful, and many of us owe our life to his effort, but we must now consider the pros and cons of this approach.

  • These few decades of experience with Standard Macrobiotic Diet indicate that it can be very effective in correcting a number of physical problems affecting people living in affluent societies, such as allergies, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, autoimmune disease, and more. It appears to be less effective against cancer even if, probably, a partially preventive effect is there. On the negative side, it doesn't seem to be the best diet for children, and the prolonged use in adults tends to create a depleted condition.

  • Considering the question in this perspective, it seems clear that Standard Macrobiotic Diet is a very balanced diet (in terms of Yin-yang), and a very cleansing one, suitable to help people that have been eating too much, and in a extreme way, to find a better balance and possibly heal themselves. However, once this goal has been attained, Standard Macrobiotic Diet must be abandoned in favour of a more personal and wide way of eating.

    Also, it must be made clear that not everybody can heal himself by the diet alone, and that it is useless to continue a very strict diet beyond a certain point. In that case, it is better to find a more comfortable point of balance, regarding eating, and add other approaches complementary to food in order to solve the problem. Otherwise, people may stay trapped in Standard Macrobiotic Diet beyond its useful point.

  • The macrobiotic way of eating is not confined to the Standard Macrobiotic Diet. The macrobiotic way of eating is using all the foods suitable for the human being in a creative way, choosing and preparing them according to Yin-yang, intuition, pleasure, and attention to the feedback that we get from eating them.

    Macrobiotic people must feel free to choose among a wider range of foods, of course taking care that they are truly foods for the human being.

    We often say that grain is the food of the human being, but even that is not strictly true. Grains as we know them became available only in recent times, after the agricultural revolution some 8/ 10.000 years ago, and since then their quality has still changed very much. Before, we ate wild grains that where even more different from the present ones: for example, they contained more proteins, calcium, iron and fats, and fewer carbohydrates. Moreover, for millions of years far more seeds from wild grass than grains have been eaten, and they are similar but not equal to wild grains.

    Grains as we know them are the food that fed human civilization, not human evolution. So whole grains are fine, but they too have their limits, and all foods that have been part of our evolutionary process can and must be consumed.

  • Foods and products very well considered and appreciated by macrobiotic people as grain syrups and grain beverages (very rich in simple sugars), tofu and soy spreads (very rich in vegetable oils and proteins), bakery products (especially if made with a combination of flour, sweeteners and oil), desserts (even if sweetened with the best sweeteners), can hardly be considered in harmony with our human constitution and evolutionary eating habits.

    They are good for the transition from a very unbalanced way of eating to a better one, and also for an occasional consumption, but nothing more. At the same time, animal foods, animal fats and fruit, usually avoided or limited, are more in harmony with our constitution, provided that their quality is good and the quantity appropriate to our real needs.


NUTRIENTS, BINGEING, AND THE CHOICE OF FOOD

  • Complex carbohydrates are yang, while proteins and fats are yin. Moreover, complex carbohydrates are substances which provide energy, while proteins and some fats create structure, although they can be used to provide energy. If people consume a lot of whole grains, rich in complex carbohydrates but poor in proteins and fats, they become very yang.

    At the same time, they become also thin, as the structural part of the food, proteins and fats, is consumed in too little quantity. Inevitably, in time they start looking for yin. Very often they are attracted by desserts, but in this way they cannot solve their problem, because what they actually need is more proteins and fats, a different kind of yin, that provide the appropriate structural quality.

  • Sometimes, a little more oil and vegetable protein can do the job, but much more often even that is not enough. In fact, even if vegetable protein must definitely be the majority of the proteins eaten (at least in our climate), their role must not be stretched over its natural limit. The same is true for vegetable fats: what the EPA and DHA contained in fat fish can do, cannot be done by the alfa - linolenic acid contained in green vegetables. Things go even worse with the many products made from vegetable proteins and fats available from the natural food stores, which are not foods to which we are evolutionary adapted, being essentially modern and fairly technological / industrial products.

  • Trying to stick to a too strict diet leads to an excessive effort to cook "perfectly", using the "perfect" amount of salt and oil, chewing "thoroughly", and so on. As time passes, since the appropriate yin is still lacking, people try to correct the excess yang by reducing salt, and then cooking time. Doing this, after a while they are forced to reduce oil, too, because at that point they find it difficult to digest it. It is a road to depletion, as many valuable nutrients begin to lack. What started as a path to freedom ends in eating in an abstract, non-intuitive and rigid way, which keeps little contact with our human needs and goals?

  • Sooner or later, everybody gets out from the strict SMD period. The problem is how they do that necessary step. Since people often misunderstand which is the real range of the human foods, and often end up eating more and more vegetable proteins and fats, and simple sugars under the form of macrobiotic desserts and bakery products. Definitely, a diet based on grains, vegetables, a lot of vegetable protein and fat, desserts and baked products, grain and soy beverages, plus a little fish, cannot be considered a balanced way of eating, and has very little to do with our real needs. It creates a deep insuline imbalance, and the depletion of many essential nutrients. Moreover, in many cases this is still not enough, and people start bingeing on extreme and often unnatural foods.

  • We can judge if we are choosing well our food simply by checking if we are attracted by extreme or "non-human" foods. If we reached a good balance, we simply don't wish to eat sugars or desserts, bakery, ice creams or artificial foods. We don't even need to eat regularly macrobiotic desserts, natural baked products, and very elaborated vegetable protein-and-fat products. Of course we can, from time to time for fun, pleasure and variety, but we don't need. Instead, the "politically correct way of macrobiotic eating" considers normal to eat "very well" day by day, and then regularly binge.

    But, as a matter of fact, bingeing on "non-human foods" disappears when a good balance of "human foods" is reached. This is a kind of hypocrisy that covers a misunderstanding in both macrobiotics and human needs. It is better to widen the diet in a balanced way rather than bingeing, because most of the bingeing is only trying to satisfy, in a non-efficient way, an unbalanced and often poor diet. When you binge you roughly and partially satisfy a need, but you do not create balance.

  • Talking of healing, the same attitude leads to believe that, when you face a problem, you have always to "clean" your diet more, to make it stricter, because all problems come from excess. This is not true.

  • Actually, many macrobiotic people presently need to widen their diet and to include more rich food. Especially to reconstitute the basic strength of the body, animal food has always been considered important by all the traditions in the world. For example, you can activate or sedate the kidney energy easily with various vegetable foods, but if you want to reconstitute the basic energy of this organ, animal food is better. The fact that in our affluent society animal food is eaten in crazy amounts, and that its preciousness and power is not recognized anymore, does not make it a poison, as we tend to think.

  • This seems to be a real problem for the macrobiotic community. Why white meat fish is still often presented as the only appropriate animal food? And why only "one to two times a week", or even less frequently? Valuable omega-3 fats, which exert a preventive effect on cancer and inflammation processes, are present in fat fish, and also in eggs and free-range meats. And what about B12? And Vitamin D, if people do not stay often out in the sun? Poultry, white meat, eggs, maybe even red meat are fine, if chosen in a reasonable amount and frequency, prepared in the correct way, and of good quality, i.e. free range and organic, and finally, cooked and served with careful balance each meal, as we macrobiotic should be well trained to do.

    In general, very little quantity of a variety of animal food eaten frequently, as an ingredient of predominantly vegetable dishes based on grains and vegetables, is a good point of balance. Think of the many examples offered by the traditional Asian or Mediterranean cuisine. If sometimes we need more, we can balance a rather extreme ingredient by the way we prepare it. Maybe we can use eggs in a soup, or as an ingredient for an omelette together with a lot of green vegetables, and serve it with a salad. White meat can be cooked with ginger and vegetables, and a glass of good wine is probably a better way to balance it than a macrobiotic dessert. Fruit can be very good, too, and definitely better than most brick-type or soy-based "natural" desserts.

  • I am not advocating the consumption of big quantities of animal food. I just say that it has a more important role than we usually attribute to it, and this is especially true for the yin nutrients contained in this yang food. Eating some more animal food, balancing it with more vegetables and fruits, while reducing at a minimum desserts, sweeteners, baked goods and technologically / industrially made "natural and organic" foods, means going nearer to our traditions and evolutionary needs.

    We must rely on Yin/yang, and on the ability to judge we are born with, to choose how much grains, vegetables, fruits, vegetal and animal protein and fat we need. However, this flexibility becomes impossible if we believe that certain food are not "macrobiotic". The concept of "macrobiotic food" stays within the boundaries of "human food"; it is a focused application of a wide opportunity of choice.

    Of course, these considerations are for generally healthy people, as specific illnesses may necessitate a more strict approach.

  • There are a lot of traditional recipes to rediscover and evaluate from the vintage point of the Unifying Principle, that can help us on this way. Humbly studying the traditional way of eating and the cuisine of many world peoples, especially those living in temperate climates, is a Must for macrobiotic cooks and teachers. When we adopt this attitude in considering the macrobiotic way of eating, a deep admiration and gratitude for the wisdom of our ancestors starts to flow in our hearts.


CONCLUSION

These lines are focused on what I feel are the most urgent questions regarding the contemporary way of macrobiotic eating; so many other important aspects of the relation between way of living and health cannot be discussed here. However, it is necessary at least to emphasize that physical activity is of the utmost importance for the human being (and the same is true for staying outside in the sun and open air). While we always said that this is true, our practice often has been weak regarding this point.

It is far better to eat a wider range of good, "human" foods, and metabolize them by being physically active, than to restrict our diet more and more, in order to keep balance while lacking physical activity. Lack of physical activity is probably one of the reasons of the restrictive attitude of many macrobiotic friends toward food. Conversely, it is very difficult to attract to the macrobiotic way of eating the active, hard working people with a diet that it is unnecessarily restrictive.

Some long time macrobiotic teachers maybe have already widened their diet, but still think that it is better not to say these things to the beginners, as they fear the possibility to justify any kind of excess with the excuse of a "personal way of eating". However, it is worse to convey a feeling of false security encouraging the people to stick to a dogma, than accepting the risk for mistakes.

Trying to stick to very strict and unrealistic rules, for fear of facing the reality of life, means only that we are likely to meet troubles soon, and our recent experiences in the macrobiotic community should have demonstrated that. We must clearly state that Standard Macrobiotic Diet is only a transitory point of balance, aimed to a specific goal, and that the macrobiotic way of eating is a much wider approach. We need to experiment ourselves; learning to make a lively balance using a little more extreme foods, and create a new and fresh approach that can be confidently shared by all the people of the world.

 

Posted- January 2006
 

 

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