It’s becoming apparent that macrobiotics is the healthiest approach to diet and lifestyle. I’ve spent the past 43 years developing and refining the best possible ways to achieve the maximum benefits from this way of eating and living. A student of mine once said that no one can dispute that the practice of yoga is more than just a physical practice around movement and stretching. Yoga is based around a core of spiritual beliefs that guide the practice. The same can be said about macrobiotics. The development and cultivation of a deep sense of appreciation for food and all of life guides and completes the practice. In a practical sense, we emphasize an orderly and structured approach to eating and living.
The most important aspect of these practices grows from a desire to be healthy. The approach that we take helps people rediscover their natural appetite that leads to lasting health. We stress eating habits as much as food choices so we can experience deeper satisfaction from our meals and greater enjoyment of our food. I’ve compiled this list of things to keep in mind to move you in the direction of health. Use this guide as a primer for planning anything from meals, to menus, to outlining goals for transforming your lifestyle practices.
—good eating habits lead to healthier food choices and greater satisfaction
—orderliness and regularity with our eating habits leads to an increase in openness and variety
—balance perpetuates itself
—our sense of balance comes from aligning with nature’s orderly cycles
—indigenous and local foods create the strongest connection to the environment
—format meals around grains, beans, vegetables, and local, seasonal fruits at home or away
—have vegetable soup with one meal every day
—emphasize life-related activities (such as walking outside, cleaning, or taking the stairs)
—surround yourself with green plants in rooms where you spend time
—create a strong and nurturing support network
8 Comments | Tags: 7 Steps, Adjusting Your Diet, Anti-aging, diet and health, digestion, Eating habits, Environment, Exercise, healthy eating, healthy living, Macrobiotic Counseling, Macrobiotic Diet, Macrobiotic Philosophy, Macrobiotics, Neal Barnard, Plant based diet, plant-based diet, Weight loss, whole-foods
I was recently interviewed for a Pilates Glossy in The Netherlands. Thank you Marjolein van Sonsbeek, for reaching out over the ocean and sharing macrobiotics with your audience.
Here is the transcript of the interview:
The Strengthening Health Institute is a 501 c3 non-profit educational center based in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. At the SHI, we offer educational courses for both personal study and professional training with our unique approach to macrobiotics. I also have a personal counseling practice in both Philadelphia and New York City, and recently online via Skype. My ability is to do what medicine can’t and I help many people with serious illnesses recover and create lasting health. I also counsel healthy people to live long, productive, healthy lives.
I do not really consider macrobiotic practice to be a set of rules to follow. Rather, we do have guidelines that we can use to create an orderly approach to life. These guidelines help us make healthy choices in diet, activity, and lifestyle practices. When I was younger, George Ohsawa’s message about personally creating the health and life that you want started me on the macrobiotic path. His message was dramatically different from trying to fit yourself into a mold.
Before I became macrobiotic, I was not a happy camper. I found no satisfaction from food or life. Now I wake up each day wondering about what I can do, what I can learn, what I can discover; how I can live more and more fully each day.
I have been practicing for forty-five years now. My life is now more about making conscious choices about how I want to live and being more aware of how my choices impact my family, society, and the environment.
There are certain changes in lifestyle that may be perceived of as difficult, such as buying food and finding somewhere for dining out, which requires a bit more forethought. These considerations are a deterrent for some. But overall, I find many peoples’ attitude towards macrobiotics and lack of acceptance (or the unwillingness to give the practice a chance) to be the most challenging thing as a practitioner. Even though macrobiotics is the longest-standing way of eating and lifestyle practice, it is also still the most progressive at the same time.
My life style is primarily plant-based, but I occasionally eat fish, and wear leather shoes and belts. Considerations such as quality and sustainability always factor into any decision.
Originally, my inspiration was to seek a more meaningful life. I did not want to go to Vietnam, so I began reading from various authors (such as Herman Hesse and Yogananda’s “Autobiography of a Yogi”). All of the practices and philosophies however, said that a teacher or mentor was necessary and I did not have a relationship with one, and had no way of finding one. Yet, George Ohsawa taught that we as individuals could create our own health and happiness as well as provided the guidelines to make that possible. That was a revelation for me.
I try to base all of my meals around grains and vegetables with a variety of local and indigenous foods. The most substantial meal of the day is lunch, which is more grain and vegetable based, and dinner is a lighter meal, usually with more Mediterranean, Middle Eastern, or Mexican influence. My practice is dynamic and has evolved over the years, and is usually based on the needs of our clients and students. My practice has expanded to include more choices and varieties of cuisines. My experience and observation is that eating healthy food becomes more and more satisfying over time.
I still weight the same as I had when I was 16, and I am still relatively flexible. I find that as I age, my thinking has become more clear and open as the years go on, which is in contrast to the idea that as we age, our minds deteriorate.
My view on macrobiotics is that it is the practice of expressing and living the spirit of gratitude and having an endless appreciation for all of life. The spirit of Macrobiotics is based on Nature’s model; one grain naturally produces 10,000. In practice, I find it to be the most embracing and open way of life. This is why I have dedicated my life to exploring and sharing the spirit of macrobiotics since I was nineteen years old.
Originally, macrobiotics appealed to hippies, who helped develop the practice. I believe though that the practice appeals to innovators. In the 60s, macrobiotics became more widely available in the West through the work of the author, William Dufty, who translated “You Are All Sanpaku” and authored “Lady Sings the Blues”. Historically, some of the world’s most prolific contributors were primarily grain and vegetable eaters, from Ben Franklin to Albert Einstein. Macrobiotics appeals to young people and to those on the cutting edge of their fields: be they scientists, musicians, architects, etc.
Some individuals experience uncomfortable transitional symptoms when they begin to detox. Yet others feel really good from day one.
I offer lectures and courses around Philadelphia. We also offer all of our courses at The Strengthening Health Institute online. I have also taught throughout the United States, Eastern and Western Europe, the UK, Scandinavia, as well as in parts of Asia, mostly in Japan and Taiwan.
I study macrobiotics everyday; it is a never-ending exploration. Lately, I am excited about the recent, large-scale acceptance of the important relationship between individual food choices and overall health, even if there are no unanimous agreements on which approach is the healthiest. Scientific research has, for some years now, slowly been validating the major premises and lifestyle practices of macrobiotics. Now, I see the potential that macrobiotics has with verifying trends to current nutritional scientific theories.
I was never one much for sports, but I was a gymnast as a teenager. Now I find Yoga to be a good complement to my lifestyle and activities.
I have not had the experience of Pilates yet.
My dream has always been to create and experience large-scale social change. I have been working to share and bring into the mainstream our Strengthening Health Approach to macrobiotic practice because it is open and flexible and can be combined with other approaches to a plant-based lifestyle.
I believe that the combination of our knowledge and understanding of history and tradition together with science can develop into a medicine for the future. I’m currently working on making macrobiotic education available online to more people and trying to establish networks with like-minded, interesting individuals and groups who are constantly looking to play the game of health.
I wrote “The Great Life Diet” as the handbook for our style of macrobiotic practice. My wife, Susan, and I have recently updated and expanded the book to twice the length of the original. “The Complete Macrobiotic Diet” Is available online and at retail bookstores countrywide; it includes the spiritual philosophy underlying the practice as well as recipes and menu plans developed by Susan. Our hope is that “The Complete Macrobiotic Diet” helps to change the image and perception of macrobiotic practice so that it is more acceptable for the modern audience. We are very happy to have received endorsements from T. Colin Campbell and Dr. Neal Barnard (founder of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine), two forerunners in the medical field who have dedicated much of their career to promoting the benefits of a whole-foods, plant-based diet.
I recently read an article in the New York Times about a study in San Diego that researchers conducted on mice. In the study, they restricted some mice to certain eating times; some mice were fed within a five hour window, some an eight hour window and some a twelve hour window. Others were allowed to feed at all times in a twenty four hour period. The mice whose feeding times were restricted had a healthier metabolism than those who could eat any time. Many of the mice who ate at all times of the day began to develop illness and degenerative diseases. Furthermore, when the sickly mice were restricted to regulated eating windows, some of their symptoms actually began to disappear, and their health began to improve. The study concluded that to maintain overall health and weight, eating all daily food within a certain time frame lowered the risks of disease. Results were consistent even if the food was not the healthiest.
This article is an example of how both experience and observation make scientific inquiry more meaningful for our lives. Furthermore, there are studies currently being conducted that validate what many have always known. Yet, the article did not mention another very important practice that regulates metabolism, and that is the times of the day in which we take our meals. Mealtimes have more effect on our circadian rhythms than dark and light cycles. In fact, mealtimes actually regulate our sleeping and rising times. Most people recognize that eating and drinking before going to sleep interferes with our sleep and our ability to wake up refreshed and clear in the morning. Even if you don’t want to change the content of your food, simply eating regularly at certain times has a substantial health benefit.
Because our digestion is most active at certain times of the day, we can optimize our metabolism by eating during these times. I’d like to invite you to conduct a similar study on yourself. Try to observe how eating at certain times of the day impacts the way you feel, the energy you have, and your ability to fall asleep. To get the full benefits, try to minimize snacking between meals. Most people will start to notice changes after the third day, so if you’re casually interested, try for three days. If you’re more serious, give this a try for two or three weeks.
-Jumpstart your metabolism each day by having breakfast by 8.30 a.m.
-Start eating lunch before 1 p.m.
-Observe the differences between sitting down to lunch before 1 p.m., and sitting down to lunch before 2 or 3 p.m.
-One day have dinner between 5 and 6 p.m., one day between 7 and 8 p.m. and one day after 9 p.m.
Think of an older, vital, and active person in your life, and ask about their mealtimes. Our digestion is more active earlier in the evening. The longer we wait to have dinner, the longer it takes for the food to digest. This article was evidence to me of how scientists are beginning to verify human experience and common sense about health. I would like to emphasize that we can regulate our metabolism through mealtimes, and there is a major benefit to eating meals at consistent times. Many common issues including metabolic syndrome, diabetes, and obesity can actually be reversed through dietary and lifestyle practices. For more details and guidance, check out this interview in Philadelphia Weekly.
I was happy to find an article in The New York Times that reinforces the importance of eating healthy meals at regular times. This is an issue I have been writing and teaching about for more than 20 years, so it is nice to see these ideas getting mainstream support. The article links the effects of eating late and consuming sweets, soft drinks, and fatty foods with acid reflux. According to the author of the article, Jamie A. Koufman, MD, acid reflux produces a variety of symptoms in addition to heartburn and indigestion. Postnasal drip, hoarseness, difficulty swallowing, chronic throat clearing, coughing and asthma are often reported symptoms with patients dealing with acid reflux. I find it interesting that many of these symptoms are perceived as being unrelated to acid reflux, but according to Oriental medicine, they are related to digestive and kidney function. Dr. Koufman comments that there has been a significant rise in the number of people dealing with acid reflex in the last 30 years as our food choices and meal times deteriorate.
In our new edition of The Complete Macrobiotic Diet, we have provided clear guidance around the content and times for healthy meals. Our digestive system is only able to digest and process our food at certain times of the day, and these have become recognized as meal times around the world.
These are start times and the meal actually begins when you sit down at the dining table. We recommend that breakfast start anywhere between the hours of 5 a.m. and 8:30 a.m., and even possibly 9 a.m. Lunch should begin between the hours of 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. And dinner should start between 5 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.
In addition to not eating three hours before bedtime, it is important to make lunch a regular, consistent practice. The midday meal is the one meal you do not want to miss. In today’s hectic world, it is important to take the time to share meals together. Meals are a time to return to balance and reconnect with family, friends and loved ones. Sharing food together is not only an expression of our appreciation for food and nature, but also for each other.
A number of my longtime clients are elderly women who have come to me with a variety of health concerns. I have counseled these women over many years regarding their diet and lifestyle practices according to macrobiotic principles. Some of these women have had serious falls where you would except them to break a bone, and surprisingly they have not. I attribute their strong bones and quick recovery to their macrobiotic practice. Even those of my clients that have experienced broken bones, have healed in about half the time expected. This would not be the case if they had osteoporosis.
In addition, my longtime observation is that children who were born and raised following the macrobiotic diet and lifestyle have stronger and thicker bones than their peers. This is something I have found to be true around the world. Both of these situations lead me to believe that there is not a problem with phytic acid and mineral absorption from the amount of grain we eat as part of our macrobiotic practice.
There is a general consensus that soaking grains is desirable for taste and digestibility; however there is not a general agreement on the best method for soaking grains. I found the information in the blog post from macrosano.com very interesting and helpful. I would like to inform you of the way we recommend soaking grains. Experiment and see which way you like best. The only way to really know is to try a specific way for weeks or months and try to see which method is more suitable. If you are not sure, you can always vary your soaking method.
This is our method for soaking and cooking rice. We recommend rinsing the rice in cold water two or three times. Measure out the water for cooking and soak overnight or longer, basically between 8-22 hours. Overnight soaking is more beneficial. When ready to cook the rice, add a pinch of sea salt or a half inch square piece of kombu and then boil or pressure cook as normal.
We’ve been soaking grains in this way for many years and feel very comfortable in it. Brown rice is the most sensitive food to our intentions, feelings and emotions; it is uniquely sensitive to our own condition. Taking time to properly prepare rice in this manner ensures a happy and satisfying meal. Soaking and cooking rice in this manner is not an afterthought; it is an act that conveys respect and appreciation.
It is becoming more and more evident that diet can prevent and even reverse serious illness including many cancers. This means that our health is in our own hands. I find it interesting that there is so much resistance to this vital and life changing information. Two articles, Can Cancer Be Prevented- and Even Cured- Through Diet? This Scientist is Convinced it Can; T. Colin Campbell has set off a war with the food industry, and This Breast Cancer Month, Don’t think Pink- Think Green, present important information that you can use in the discussion of diet, health and illness.
In Oriental medicine, the body is thought to be composed of complementary systems. In our digestive system, we actually have a second brain called the enteric nervous system. The same kind of cells are found in both systems. From birth, our gut bacteria guides the development of our immune system and brain. This ongoing relationship continues throughout our life. The digestive system processes liquids (food and drink); and the nervous system processes vibrations, or thoughts and images. Healthy digestion fosters healthy thinking.
Creating healthy gut bacteria starts with good eating habits. That means sitting down to eat without distractions, at regular, recurring times. In addition, good gut bacteria are fostered by natural activities, like walking, gardening, cleaning and sex.
Our gut is nourished by both prebiotics and probiotics. Prebiotics are in essence fiber and serve as food for the probiotics, which are the actual bacteria and yeast that inhabit our digestive system. Probiotics aid in the synthesis of vitamins and other valuable nutrients.
Fiber has a variety of functions: it activates and scours our digestive system, and binds with toxins and cholesterol to expel them from our body. Fiber encourages the growth of healthy bacteria and suppresses the development of harmful bacteria. Naturally fermented, pickled and unpasteurized foods are important and healthy sources of probiotics.
The most important prebiotics are found in whole grains, beans, fruits, and land and sea vegetables. Sea vegetables include the most common seaweeds, like Nori, dulse, wakame and kombu.
Try to get a variety of naturally pickled, fermented, and unpasteurized foods, which come from grains, beans, fruits and vegetables. The most important probiotics are miso, umeboshi plum, sauerkraut, and kimchi. The full value of miso comes out when used as a soup. When miso soup is made, the enzymes become activated and the liquid form is easy to absorb into the digestive system. Umeboshi is a unique Japanese plum that encourages growth of healthy bacteria, and suppresses unhealthy bacteria. It has a salty and tangy taste that goes well with grains.
Try to observe the connection between your digestion and your moods and thoughts. I hear consistently from my counseling clients that they feel better, think more clearly, and sleep more soundly in a very short period of time. A combination of sound eating habits, healthy activities and dietary choices creates the best nourishment and digestion.
In the final stages of completing the manuscript for my new book “The Complete Macrobiotic Diet,” the importance of meal times and eating without doing other things is on my mind and as timely as ever.
I am totally amazed at the poor state of our collective diet. Recently, the American Institute for Cancer Research published some statistics about our snacking habits and Today talked about our favorite types of snacks as of 2012. Snacking is replacing meals and nearly half of our population enjoys eating alone because they can get other things done at the same time.
It’s even worse that snacks change our taste for healthy foods. Craving snacks is an indication that we are not satisfied with our meals. And through not eating meals at all, snack cravings will naturally increase. Naturally healthy foods are moist and flexible, which is nearly the complete opposite of the dry, salty snacks that are the most popular. The dry, salty, snacks also create cravings for unhealthy liquids. It seems to me that this increased snacking is a symptom of a greater frustration in other areas of life, be it socially, emotionally, or job related.
If you’re going to snack, go to a health foods store, find a snack that has ingredients that you can understand. The second step is to then introduce foods that are naturally moist and refreshing and have a mild, natural sweetness. Replacing snacks with healthier choices is a much better approach than trying to stop them.
What are your favorite healthy snacks?
2 Comments | Tags: Adjusting Your Diet
The U.S. Leads the way again! Unfortunately, it is individual obesity rate.
How many people do you know practicing macrobiotics or other plant-based diets have issues with being overweight or obese?
Seaweed is coming into the limelight as a superfood because of its abundance of unique nutrients and health benefits. Using seaweed in cooking provides the best protection available against environmental toxins and radioactivity. The iodine in brown seaweed helps maintain the thyroid as well as protect against radioactive iodine. Seaweed protects against and helps pull radiation and heavy metals (such as: mercury, cadmium, barium, lead, arsenic, radioactive strontium-90, to name a few) from the body by binding with them and rendering them inert. Toasted nori has natural anti-biotic, anti-inflammatory, and anti-septic properties.
Preparing seaweeds in appropriate ways allows us to derive the maximum benefit of their properties. Seaweed is similar to salt in that it is important for our health, vitality and immunity, but too much negates these benefits. It’s also important to buy high-quality seaweeds from natural food stores and companies.
I recommend preparing these various seaweeds in the following ways:
Nori (between a few and several sheets/wk)- in a roll, as a snack, as a garnish*
Wakame (1 or 2 inch pieces/serving often or daily)- in miso soups, in vegetable soups, or sauteed with vegetables
Kombu (standard postage stamp piece – 2 inch strips)- best cooked with beans (2 inch strips) or in a grain dish (stamp-sized)
Arame and Hijiki- best cooked with onions and carrots as a side dish.
*also great for cats and dogs!
5 Comments | Tags: Adjusting Your Diet