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Macrobiotic Diet

Macrobiotic DietUnlike many popular diets, the macrobiotic diet is more a set of general guidelines and a philosophy for living than a strict diet plan. It tends to appeal to those with tendencies toward the Zen philosophy, and those who appreciate the benefits of an organic, primarily plant-based diet. Most diets that work do tend to focus on lifestyle changes that are sustainable for the long haul, so this diet plan warrants closer scrutiny.

History of the macrobiotic diet

The word “macrobiotic” translates to “long life.” The macrobiotic philosophy was first developed in Japan, and today there are many versions of it in varying degrees of restrictiveness. The theory was publicized by a Japanese military doctor, Sagen Ishizuka, in the late 1800s. Ishizuka conducted clinical trials on the benefits of natural foods for recovering from various medical conditions.

A Japanese philosopher, George Ohsawa, incorporated Zen Buddhism into the diet plan. Ohsawa brought his theories to the U.S. in the 1960s, and the diet has grown in popularity since. In more recent years, several celebrities have been linked to the philosophy, including Kim Kardashian and Gwyneth Paltrow.

Macrobiotic diet principles

The macrobiotic meal plan seeks to balance yin and yang by pairing foods according to their characteristics (i.e. sweet, sour, salty, and bitter). The earlier meal plans consisted of various stages. A dieter would gradually progress through the stages, which became increasingly restrictive. At the last stage, only brown rice and water would be consumed. These restrictions are, fortunately, widely rejected today. Instead, the usual macrobiotic meal plan today consists of:

  • 50% to 60% whole grains
  • 20% to 25% fruits and vegetables
  • 5% to 10% soups made with seaweed, grains, veggies, beans, and miso
  • Occasional fish

Additionally, the diet discourages heavily processed foods and certain cooking methods, such as the use of microwaves. Guidelines state to chew food very thoroughly. Followers are also encouraged to select only organic foods, ideally those that are grown locally.

The macrobiotic diet is not primarily a weight loss diet. Rather, it is intended for disease prevention and recovery from diseases, including diabetes, cancer, and heart disease. However, following this diet may also lead to weight loss.

Sample macrobiotic recipes and meal plans

On a typical day following this diet plan, a person might eat:


  • Tea with nothing added
  • Baby carrots or cucumber slices
  • Whole grain cereal with soy milk


  • Tea with nothing added
  • Miso soup
  • Salad
  • Whole grain crisp bread


  • Tea with nothing added
  • Miso soup
  • Brown rice with squash
  • Cantaloupe

Snack options

  • Apple
  • Berries
  • Nuts

Soba broth with tofu – sample recipe 

  • 4-inch piece kombu (sea vegetable)
  • 4 cups cold water
  • ½ pound tofu in cubes
  • 4 sliced scallions
  • 4 tbsp. soy sauce

Place the kombu in water and heat to a boil. Remove the kombu, add the tofu and scallions and again bring to a boil. Add the soy sauce.

Drawbacks to these popular diets

Although vegetarian or flexitarian diets have been shown to help followers lose weight and improve general health, there is no clinical evidence that the macrobiotic meal plan will function as stated. The American Cancer Society (ACS), for example, maintains that there is no evidence to support the theory that this diet will help prevent, treat, or cure cancer. The ACS further stated that if one were to follow the early versions of the diet, which consisted solely of brown rice and water, one would be risking serious, life-threatening medical conditions.

In addition to a lack of scientific evidence to support its alleged health benefits, this type of diet might be very difficult for some people to follow. Even the later versions are quite strict, and some dieters might find the lack of variety to be a hindrance to adherence to the plan. Those who do follow a diet like this one that lacks variety may also be risking nutritional deficiencies. There is a possibility of deficiencies in vitamins B12 and D, for example, unless the diet is planned very carefully.

Is it the best way to lose weight?

While some people might be well-suited to a macrobiotic lifestyle, the best way to lose weight is often under the guidance of an experienced physician. Everybody’s needs and preferences are unique, and a doctor will take a dieter’s medical conditions and nutritional needs into consideration when developing a weight loss program.

At The Center for Medical Weight Loss, you can work one-on-one with a highly qualified physician who is experienced in developing weight loss plans. The physician will ask about your dietary preferences, lifestyle habits, medical conditions, and medications to customize a diet plan that suits your specific needs. An individually tailored plan is much more effective for long-term, sustainable weight loss. Enter your zip code in the box to find a Center near you, and remember to ask about special introductory offers for first-time clients.