What is Macrobiotics?

Macrobiotics is one of those things that is so big it’s everything. For some people it is…
A philosophy
A lifestyle
A diet

It can be simple or complicated. The choice is yours.

We can date the beginning of macrobiotics to the big bang when the universe began. Or we can date the beginning of macrobiotics to the mists of time when Chinese philosophers began observing their world. Or we can begin our journey with Ekken Kaibara (1630-1716). Kaibara wrote:

“eat rice as a daily staple food
Eat fresh vegetable when they are is season
Eat simple light meals of food that are clean, freshly prepared, peacefull in quality and balanced interms of the five tastes: sweet,sour,salty,bitter, and pungent.
Avoid heavy,greasy,overcooked,raw or unripe foods.
Avoid hard and fatty meat…..”

Another notable pioneer in macrobiotics is Sagen Ishizuka. (1815-1910) He was a doctor,living in Japan at a time when the Japanese were becoming influenced by the west. The Japanese were changing their diet to a more western style diet. He also saw the results of that changing diet. The Japanese were becoming ill, and generally suffering from this western Diet. By returning his Japanese patients to a traditional diet, he was able to restore their health.

Those predecessors were a pretty good start I think. Still most modern macrobiotic wisdom dates the beginning of macrobiotics with George Ohsawa.(1893-1966) He was a disciple of Ishizuka. Although not a doctor, Ohsawa was a prolific writer, speaker and organizer. He took macrobiotics “on the road” traveling from Japan to Europe. He lectured tirelessly, started macrobiotic foundations, and collected more than a few disciples himself. Included in his list of followers are Michio Kushi, Herman Aihara and more. Kushi and Aihara brought macrobiotics to America.

So that’s a brief history of macrobiotics, but that still doesn’t answer the question. What is it?

Ok, the short answer is “Macrobiotics is a way of understanding the universe using the principles of Yin and Yang.”

So what does that have to do with brown rice?

A good question, that I will try to answer as painlessly as possible.

Yin and Yang

Remember those ancient Chinese philosophers from the mists of time I mentioned above?
Well they were pretty busy observing nature and one of the many things they observed was a duality. They saw
Night and day,
Wet and Dry,
Up and down,
Hot and cold
Soft and Hard
But when they looked further, they saw more subtleties in that duality
Expansive and contractive
Work and rest
Rich and poor
Powerful and weak
And further they observed that when these polarities were out of balance, things got weird, and health diminished.
They saw what happened to nature when it got too hot (Or too cold) Or what happened to a person when he got too rich (or to poor)
And they organized  the two sides of this duality and they used the words Yin and Yang

Yin Yang
Water Fire
Cold Heat
Night Day
Female Male
Interior Exterior
Space Time
Matter Energy


Ok, what does this have to do with brown rice?

Well, they also applied this idea to the foods they ate.

Yin Yang
Raw Cooked
Towards the sky* Towards the earth*
Sweet Salty
Larger smaller
Brighter Darker
Lighter Heavier


So a very Yin food be..

Raw, grows toward the sky, sweet, large, bright, light.
Like an orange or a peach or a mango etc.

And a very yang food would be…
Overly cooked, grows toward the earth salty, small, dark and heavy
Like a cooked burdock (or other root)

And these Chinese philosophers noticed that people who ate too much Yin food or too much Yang food became sick.
So they reasoned that although some of those foods were ok, the best diet for health was a balance of foods that were neither too Yin, nor too Yang.

And a diet of foods that are neither too Yin nor too Yang include, Some root vegetables, some ground growing vegetables, some leafy greens, some whole grains and some fruit **

And since These Chinese philosophers lived in China (duh)
They chose as their whole grain

Brown rice!!

But what about meat?
Well if you look at the chart above you will see that meat is very yang. Why? Because it takes an immense amount of energy to make meat.
An average cow eats 90 pounds of grain per day, and 10 gallons of water. Also it takes many years to grow to full maturity. Plus the meat grows towards the exterior of the cow. That’s very Yang indeed.

But what about sugar?
Well the answer is similar to the meat answer, except reversed. Sugar cane grows straight up, quickly, and is very sweet. Therefore it is very Yin. Table sugar is many times sweeter than sugar cane, and therefore much more Yin still.

Could you theoretically balance extreme Yin with extreme Yang and be just fine? Yes and no. Theoretically yes, but practically speaking it just doesn’t work, although people have been trying to do it for years.

Yin Yang
wine Cheese
Mashed potatoes Steak
Guacamole chips


That’s just a few examples, but as you become familiar with Yin and Yang you will think of others.

Please don’t get bogged down in philosophy.