The Deal With Miso

Posted on by Denny Waxman

Miso is a unique food. It is a fermented soybean paste often made with brown rice or barley as well. It is used as a seasoning in various types of sauces, spreads, soups, and for pickling other foods such as vegetables, tofu or fish. Miso soup has become very popular in recent years. A good bowl of miso soup leaves you with a wonderfully satisfied feeling that is soothing, calming and strengthening at the same time. Miso is a very nourishing food that aids digestion and strengthens our blood.

Miso soup made with wakame seaweed and leafy green vegetables is a wonderful source of high quality protein, B-vitamins, calcium and other minerals. It also provides protection from environmental pollution from the air, heavy metals and even radiation. In Oriental medicine, it is used to promote digestive and reproductive health.

There are many types of miso to choose from. In macrobiotics we use three main types of miso for maintaing health and for healing: soybean/Hatcho miso, barley miso or brown rice miso. The two that I recommend most in my counseling practice are barley and brown rice miso. Hatcho miso seems to be too strong for regular use.

From a macrobiotic perspective Hatcho miso is the most strengthening. Barley miso also has a more deeply nourishing and strengthening effect on our health, though not quite as strong as Hatcho. Brown rice miso is the most relaxing and soothing. It depends on our health and desires to decide which miso is best for regular use.

We can use the principle of yin and yang to understand the nature of each. Soybeans are the most yin food of the group followed by barley and then brown rice. Since soybeans are by far the most yin they have the ability to absorb more yang and become stronger and more yang over time. Barley is more yin than brown rice. Using the same principle, barley miso has the capacity to become substantially more yang than brown rice miso over time. All types of miso have a strong polarity of yin and yang elements, which gives them the ability to balance out extremes. Miso can balance out the harmful effects from animal foods, dairy foods, sweets, alcohol and many pollutants.

It is easy to think that a stronger miso is a better choice. This is not the case. We are after balance. If we move to either extreme too strongly, we can harm our health. For people that ate too many animal foods, well-cooked and salty foods, brown rice miso may be the best choice to help lighten their condition. The sweet richness of brown rice miso can effectively balance out the harmful effects from meat, hard-salty cheese and baked foods. It has a more relaxing, calming and soothing effect on us. If we became depleted from too many sweets, alcohol or other weakening foods, barley miso may be the better choice. It is more deeply nourishing and strengthening and can more easily cancel out excesses and extremes of yin. Simply speaking, barley miso for strength, warmth and activity, and brown rice miso for relaxation and unwinding.

Experiment with the various types of miso and try to observe their effects on your digestion, vitality and overall feeling of well being. You can also blend two types of miso for a unique effect.

No Comments | Tags: Adjusting Your Diet, Macrobiotic Counseling, Macrobiotic Diet, Macrobiotic Philosophy

Going Macrobiotic

Posted on by Denny Waxman

I read, The Challenge of Going Vegan with great interest and agree with many of the points of the blog. Change is always difficult, especially with something so basic as food. I am not completely vegan since I do eat fish from time to time. In 1969, I started to eat brown rice and move towards a macrobiotic diet. My diet has been based on grains, beans, vegetables and a large variety of plant-based foods since that time. I have never looked back at my old way of eating.

Before my macrobiotic practice, I was a confirmed junk food eater: hamburgers, hot dogs, cheesesteaks, pizza, toasted bagels, coke, pastries and Breyer’s vanilla fudge ice cream. I went from a picky eater as a child to a junk-food eater as a teen ager. I shunned most things that were considered real and healthy foods. When I started to eat brown rice on a regular basis I started to crave other foods that I had never eaten before in my life. Other healthy foods started to become appealing. It was a revelation for me. I experienced an intense excitement about discovering and adding new foods to my diet. With each new dish I added, cravings for past foods began to fade away. This process became self-perpetuating. Over the years, I developed my approach to health based on emphasizing adding over taking foods away.

When most people think about diets, losing weight or improving their health, they think about restricting themselves. They think about what they shouldn’t be doing and which enjoyable things they will be giving up. My long time observation and experience is that restriction leads to excess and that this approach is doomed to failure. Food is our strongest desire in life and our cravings inevitably win over time. When a client tells me that they are following my recommendations, but they do not enjoy the food, I know they are headed for trouble. I then spend some time finding out what they do enjoy and how to build on that.

Try to think about adding foods in three categories: grains, vegetables and soups. These are the basics of a healthy way of eating. Add foods that you are familiar with first. For grains try adding brown rice, couscous, oatmeal or polenta into your diet. Complement these grain dishes with steamed greens, sauteed vegetables or a raw salad. Next think about adding vegetable or bean soups made without meat or chicken stock. Try to observe how these new additions affect your appetites and cravings. Focus on finding new, healthy foods that you find exciting and satisfying. Go to restaurants that offer a variety of vegan dishes to get some new ideas.

Natural food and natural activity also complement each other. Go for a walk outside and see how this affects your appetite and taste for healthy foods. Try a yoga class or other more natural activities and watch your craving for foods that are spoiling your health fade away.

Over the years, I began to think that taste is more biological than learned, and is based on our health. When we eat healthier foods, we begin to improve our health and consequently other healthy foods become appealing and satisfying. This only works if we have an open mind and think about adding and eliminating. The process also works in reverse, the more junk-foods we eat, the better they taste. I tell my clients and students that taste for food is a barometer of health. The better your health, the more satisfying healthy foods become. If we lose our taste for healthy foods, something is off in our diet or activity that is causing an imbalance. Correcting this imbalance restores our taste for healthy foods. Think of these changes as a new adventure. Good luck on your new journey.

No Comments | Tags: Adjusting Your Diet, Exercise, Macrobiotic Diet, Macrobiotic Philosophy, Macrobiotics, Recipes, Weight

Three Square Meals a Day

Posted on by Denny Waxman

The family meal has played an important role in the history of all cultures. A recent article published in the Daily Mail suggests that the family meal is disappearing. Our busy lifestyles are compromising this long-standing tradition. Snacks, alcohol, and microwaveable foods are replacing cooked and shared meals.

I define a meal as a cooked grain and a separate vegetable dish. This is the minimum requirement of components to get complete, balanced nutrition and to feel satisfied. The centerpiece of any meal should be a cooked grain, such as brown rice, pasta, or polenta. Granola, muesli, popped corn or other dried grains, such as rice cakes, do not count as part of the grain component for meals. The meal is then completed by any type of prepared vegetable dish, like a stew or a salad. Brown rice and steamed kale or pasta and salad are excellent examples of complete and balanced meals.

Meals serve a valuable function in our life. Eating at regular times without skipping meals regulates all of our body’s functions including digestion, elimination, blood sugar, appetite, and moods. The time at which we begin our meal regulates our metabolism and our ability to digest, process, and eliminate the unused portions of our food. Eating at the proper times makes our metabolism healthy and active. Skipping meals stagnates our metabolism and contributes to excess weight gain and blood sugar problems. Try to make lunch your most regular meal. By starting your lunch before 1 pm you will help to stabilize your blood sugar and metabolism.

I think of meals as the glue of society. Meals bring stability to the family and build communication and a sense of belonging. Even though my mother passed away many years ago, I still have fond and powerful memories of our family meals, especially at holidays. Now my own children look forward to these family gatherings, even after they have grown and moved on to develop their own lives. I even observe my three year-old grandson already walking in the door, anxiously awaiting a family meal. Meals also connect us with the past. They preserve our traditions and unite us as a family. Meals brings a richness into our lives that cannot be replaced. The rewards of emotional and spiritual nourishment and enrichment are well spent.

No Comments | Tags: 7 Steps, Adjusting Your Diet, Macrobiotics

Health is Natural

Posted on by Denny Waxman

When I first started to explore macrobiotics, I discovered George Ohsawa’s “7 Conditions of Health.” These conditions of health were a revelation to me. George Ohsawa divided health into three main areas: physical, mental-emotional, and spiritual. He assigned the most importance to spiritual health and the least importance to physical health. From the macrobiotic view, health is primarily a spiritual rather than physical or mental quality and capacity. Ohsawa taught that spiritual health and endless appreciation for all of life guide mental and physical health. According to Ohsawa, health is something that we can learn to grow and improve throughout our life. Contrary to what we are taught in modern life, health is not something that we inevitably lose over the years. Sickness is not the necessary eventuality that we must prepare for all of our life.

In thinking about health, it became apparent to me that health is more natural than sickness. In most cases, we spend years spoiling our health and losing touch with our needs in various areas of life. We usually lose our health little by little. We often do not even notice the gradual decline of our health until it becomes significant and interferes with our life. On the other hand, we can make amazingly fast progress once we decide to start improving our health. I am always amazed at how much improvement my clients experience in one or two weeks after starting to implement my counseling recommendations. I am also amazed at how much progress people make in five days of attending our Intensive seminars the Strengthening Health Institute. You can actually see people transform day by day when they are exposed to good food, good activity, and a good environment.

The quality of our food has steadily declined since the end of World War II. Food science has taken over and transformed food into a long list of chemicals and preservatives. While it is hard to understand what these chemicals are made of, it is not hard to understand that they are detrimental to our health and well-being. During this same period of time, we have gotten increasingly less outdoor physical activity. Walking outdoors on a regular basis has virtually disappeared from modern life.

I am continually amazed by the marvels of the human body, with its quick responses to positive changes in diet, activity, and lifestyle. Even making small changes yields positive results in a short period of time. When it comes down to it, good diet, good activity, and a good attitude all lead to long-lasting good health. Really, all you need to do is get to the right starting line and then let nature run its course.

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Thoughts on Eating Breakfast

Posted on by Denny Waxman

I had a dilemma. I wanted to start eating breakfast but I was addicted to coffee shops as well as coffee. I looked forward to starting the day outside my home to read and work on ideas before starting my day officially. It was starting to become apparent that I would have to give up my coffee shop addiction to start eating breakfast at home. In my previous blog I wrote about my relationship to coffee.

Recently I re-read Ben Franklin’s autobiography and was impressed on many levels. It is clear that Ben Franklin was a creative and practical genius in just about all areas of life. It was also clear from reading his autobiography that he was actually practicing macrobiotics. He had an orderly lifestyle and eating habits. He was a vegetarian from the age of 16 and he ate grains. He constantly worked on self-development and self-improvement. He had the spirit and practice of a real macrobiotic person.

One of Ben Franklin’s sayings that caught my attention was his sage advice to eat breakfast and lunch, but to eat little to no dinner. This caught my attention because, for many years, I had little to no breakfast, other than coffee. I adopted this practice because my teacher, Michio Kushi, didn’t eat breakfast. Upon reading Franklin’s saying, I realized that eating breakfast has a grounding effect on us and balances creativity. I knew then that I needed to break my coffee shop habit and start eating breakfast.

For many years I have recommended that people have regular meals at specific times. You can find the details in my book, The Great Life Diet. I have observed that eating and rising at earlier times makes us more practical and physically active. Blue collar workers eat earlier than white collar workers. Time has shown that an earlier schedule makes workers more productive. Now it has also become apparent that which meals we eat also have a profound effect on us.

I started my macrobiotic journey with a balance of practicality and creativity. It seems that my practicality has declined in favor of creativity over the years. Now that I have passed my 60th birthday it it time for the pendulum to swing back towards practicality. I am hoping that you will be able to observe my progress from my newly found breakfast habit.

No Comments | Tags: 7 Steps, Adjusting Your Diet, Macrobiotic Philosophy, Macrobiotics

Coffee: another addiction

Posted on by Denny Waxman

I started drinking coffee in 1969, shortly after starting my macrobiotic practice. Michio Kushi, in his attempt to make macrobiotics more relaxed and approachable, introduced his coffee-flavored style of macrobiotic practice. Around this same time, I also heard that coffee shops were referred to as “penny universities” in the colonial days. I always liked the sound of this term. It conjured up images of the founding fathers brewing up and debating the ideas that formed this great country.

At first I did not like coffee much. It made feel nervous sometimes and kept me awake at night on other occasions. However, I grew to appreciate the mental stimulation, the flow of ideas, and the active conversations that grew out of coffee drinking. Over the years coffee became an integral and essential part of who I was. I started to feel that I could not teach or counsel without my cup of coffee. I almost felt that it was my obligation to keep me at my best.

Over the years I began to realize that coffee had another, somewhat darker side. It seemed that coffee actually made me feel more tired than energized. I loved the jolt I got from a good cup of coffee, but my overall energy and stamina seemed to be declining. Maybe it was age, but I really thought it was mainly due to the long-term effects of daily coffee drinking. The one thing that bothered me most about my coffee drinking was the addiction. It began to weigh on me that I simply could not begin my day without my cup of coffee. Over the years I had tried to give up all my addictions and coffee was still getting the best of me.

This thought process went on for a year or two until I woke up one day and realized that I did not need my cup of coffee. It was a revelation. I started to drink black tea and began to appreciate the subtleties of a well brewed cup of black tea. I began learn about the tea drinking culture and, in time, I did not miss my morning coffee at all. When I travelled I would drink some coffee and go back to the black tea on my return home. Then something interesting happened. A few people sent me articles on the health benefits of coffee. Also, a few friends questioned my choice to not drink coffee. As a result, I began to think about coffee again. I had heard that Rudolph Steiner was a fan of coffee and I began to read his essays on coffee and tea. According to Rudolph Steiner, coffee creates thoughts that flow in a logical order. Tea, on the other hand, creates more diverse thoughts. One day, while struggling with my blog, I tried an experiment and drank a cup of coffee. Sure enough, my ideas started to flow freely.

I found that now that I have reintroduced coffee into my life, I am more than satisfied with my one morning cup. I hope you enjoy the results. At some point I may wish to return to tea and if I do I will let you know.

No Comments | Tags: Adjusting Your Diet, Macrobiotics, Mental Health

Adding: The One Thing You Should Be Doing to Improve Your Health

Posted on by Denny Waxman

When we think about going on a diet to improve our health, we usually think about restriction and hard work. We think about cutting back on, or completely avoiding our favorite foods and activities. We want to schedule time to get over to the gym or health club for an intense workout.

In my experience and observation over many years with my clients, this restrictive approach has great limitations. It leads most people to think about when they can stop their diet, or to worry about what happens when they “cheat.” We do get short-term benefits from stopping things and increasing exercise. Many of us have experienced this. However, these improvements are usually short-lived. If we are really interested in more long-term benefits, we need a different approach. Long-term benefits are a result of what we do, rather than the results of the things we don’t do.

Small positive changes over time create substantial and long lasting benefits. Think of a long distance run rather that a sprint. It is best to pace yourself. You want to create new and health-producing habits. Do as much as you can to improve your eating habits and lifestyle without feeling stressed about it.

Remember, small changes produce big benefits over time. Think about being consistent.
Start by taking time for your meals. Try to eat one meal every day, or even a part of a meal, without working, reading or TV. How does eating without distraction make you feel? Did you enjoy your food more or feel more satisfied?

Here are a number of things that you can think about adding into your diet and lifestyle:
Try to start eating your lunch by 1 pm as many days a week as possible. Plan one meal a day around a grain and a separate vegetable dish, even if it is in a restaurant. Have a vegetable soup with one of your meals. Stop eating two to three hours before getting into bed. Go outside for a walk, a few times a week, even if it is only for five to ten minutes. Bring some more green plants into your home. Let some fresh air into your home daily.

The important part is to try these things, as consistently as you can, for two to three weeks. See how they make you feel. When you notice the positive benefits, see how you can improve upon your new good habits. Notice your energy level, moods, and how you enjoy your foods. You will find that as you improve your health you will start to enjoy your meals more and naturally lose interest in the foods that are spoiling your health. You will also find that creating healthy habits in this way can actually be fun and inspiring.

1 Comment | Tags: 7 Steps, Adjusting Your Diet, Exercise, Macrobiotic Philosophy

Bananas

Posted on by Denny Waxman

George Ohsawa is the founder of modern day macrobiotics. One of his guiding principles is that we are one with our environment. Based on this principle, the Strengthening Health Institute recommends that you choose foods that have originated in the same or similar climate in which you live. It is better to choose foods grown to the east and west of you than it is to choose foods grown to the north or south of you. This is because the geographic areas to the east and to the west of us have more or less the same climate as our geographic location. If we travel north or south, we are much more likely to encounter drastic climate changes. We should also choose locally-grown foods when possible. This is not an unbending rule; it is just better to consume out-of-climate food with some discretion.

I find it interesting that bananas, a tropical fruit, are the most popular fruit in America. Bananas are the one fruit that I tell people to avoid. When I think of a banana, I think of an elephant, eating tropical vegetation and fruit, such as a banana. They have have huge bodies, and thick skin from this tropical diet. The ability of lush, tropical vegetation to nourish such large animals shows me how excessive a banana actually is.

Bananas grow in bunches. Each bunch is one fruit and the banana is actually one of the sections. An orange has sections but they are under one skin. This also shows the extreme expansiveness of a banana.

Years ago I had a discussion with another macrobiotic counselor about which was more harmful, a banana or sugar. We completely disagreed. I thought the banana and he thought that sugar was more harmful. It is a difficult question to answer. Many health-conscious people think that sugar is bad for your health and try to minimize it. At the same time, many health-conscious people think that bananas are healthy and eat them freely. We often abuse foods that we think are healthy. On equal terms I would have to say that sugar is worse. However, practically speaking, bananas are probably worse because we feel free to eat them regularly.

I noticed many years ago that the majority of my clients who had serious or even life-threatening illnesses thought that they were already eating healthy foods. They were actually eating many foods that I thought were causing their health problems. Bananas were one of the most commonly-consumed foods among the “healthy” food my clients were eating. I began to suspect that bananas were contributing to certain types of health and allergic problems, and may have even made some types of cancer worse. I acknowledge that there is nothing scientific about these statements; they are simply my observations over a period of years. It seems that the combination of dairy foods and bananas together cause the most problems. When my clients follow my recommendations and replace these foods with healthier choices their health improves.

No Comments | Tags: Adjusting Your Diet, Macrobiotic Diet

Brown Rice Friend or Foe?

Posted on by Denny Waxman

I find it interesting that I posted a blog on the wonders of brown rice on February 15 and this Yahoo News story about the dangers of brown rice was published on February 16, 2012. I guess brown rice is in the air and it is my hope that this exposure will lead to many more people cooking and consuming brown rice on a regular basis.

I am not a medical professional or a medical researcher. I am a macrobiotic professional with more than forty years of experience guiding many thousands of my clients on diet and lifestyle to recover and maintain their health. I have observed the power and benefits of the regular consumption of brown rice on the young and old over these forty years. My own children and their children follow these same dietary and lifestyle practices. You can easily observe that each generation following these practices is stronger, brighter, and more vibrant than the one before. This response is based on my personal experience along with my long-time observation and experience with people practicing macrobiotics, and not as a medical professional.

The benefits of proper macrobiotic practice are varied and all-embracing. They include recovery from cancer, allergies, diabetes, high cholesterol, arthritis and weight issues. Many of my clients have also followed my recommendations to successfully overcome infertility, to have healthy pregnancies, and to raise healthy children. Macrobiotic practice can also lead to a more positive attitude towards life in general, better moods, and a renewed or enhanced satisfaction and enjoyment from food.

One of the most common points of macrobiotic practice is the regular or daily consumption of brown rice along with a variety of other grains, grain products, beans and vegetables. Brown rice syrup and other natural sweeteners are also recommended to satisfy sweet cravings. We do not recommend the regular consumption of cereal bars, energy shots or the use of infant formula. On the other hand, we do recommend a mostly plant-based diet based on whole, unrefined, and naturally processed foods. We also encourage people to eat local and seasonal foods when possible.

Most macrobiotic women choose to nurse their children because of the long list of physical, emotional and mental benefits to mother and child. When weaning their babies from breast milk most women tend to move on to homemade grain milk, made from a combination of grains, beans, sesame seeds, and sometimes vegetables. These homemade grain milks are often sweetened to the mild sweetness of breast milk with rice syrup or barley malt. They are used temporarily until the child moves on to more adult consistency foods.

There is a lot of controversy about whether phytic acid is beneficial or harmful in a grain based diet. Phytic acid is found in whole grains, beans, and seeds, including brown rice. Some people think that phytic acid interferes with mineral absorption. I doubt that is true when it is eaten as part of a varied diet together with other mineral sources. I have observed that so many of my clients have increased their bone density from the regular consumption of whole grains, beans, and leafy green vegetables. It may be possible that phytic acid actually gives protection against environmental toxins including heavy metals such as arsenic. It also seems that phytic acid has anti-cancer properties and aids in the regulation of cholesterol and blood sugar.

In order to be careful about arsenic exposure it is best to minimize the consumption of cereal bars, energy shots or the use of infant formula. It is also best to minimize the use of brown rice syrup until we have more information. I will post another blog when I have more information to share. We also recommend using filtered water for both drinking and cooking. The filters we recommend are carbon block water filters that filter out lead, arsenic and other common water contaminates.

I invite everyone and their families to share their personal experiences with the long-time, regular consumption of brown rice together with other whole grains, beans, seeds, and vegetables. Please also share pictures of your children who are born and raised on a varied plant based diet. Let common sense and personal experience prevail to let more and more people know the benefits of this way of eating and living.

No Comments | Tags: Adjusting Your Diet, Articles and Research, Cancer, Macrobiotic Diet, Macrobiotic Philosophy

What’s So Great About Brown Rice Anyway?

Posted on by Denny Waxman

I started to eat brown rice in 1967 after years of indulgence in an almost exclusively junk food diet. Interestingly enough, one of the few foods that I liked in my junk food incarnation was kasha and bow ties, a typical Russian dish, which my mother made on a regular basis. Kasha or buckwheat is commonly eaten in Eastern European countries where my mother is from. There was something about it that I found both delicious and deeply satisfying. It wasn’t until I encountered brown rice in 1967 that I found another food that had a similar degree of satisfaction. I started to eat brown rice because of a challenge from a friend.

Doing that brown rice challenge led me to begin my macrobiotic practice over the course of the next two years. One of the first things I noticed after I started to eat brown rice on a regular basis was that many of the foods that I had avoided in previous years started to become delicious. For years I had refused to eat vegetables other than lettuce and tomato on a sandwich. All of sudden I became attracted to eating vegetables. The only thing I could attribute this change to was my regular consumption of brown rice. One by one, my diet began to widen with healthy foods. I also found that my cravings for junk foods were declining. Brown rice transformed me from a junk food eater to a healthy foodie, almost overnight.

As I became more familiar with brown rice, I discovered that it had some other very interesting qualities. Brown rice is the only cooked grain you can eat everyday and always find it delicious. I discovered this in the early 1970‘s when the crop of brown rice would not last the entire year and we were forced to try eating other grains. Try eating oatmeal or millet everyday for weeks or months and see if it is still appetizing.

Brown rice has two other attributes that I find even more amazing. Whatever you cook with brown rice cooks in the same period of time as the rice, even if it takes much longer to cook without the rice. Chickpeas, which can take hours to cook on their own will cook in one hour when pressure cooked with brown rice. It is the same with other foods with long cooking times.

Brown rice also combines well with and enhances the taste of all other foods. Brown rice combines well with all other grains, all beans, all seeds and nuts, all vegetables, all fruits, all different types of meat, poultry fish, shell fish, all dairy foods, and finally all different types of sweets.

Because brown rice has these unique capabilities, I think it is safe to assume that eating brown rice on a regular basis will also give us unique abilities. My experience is that brown rice helps us in all areas of our life, physically, mentally, and spiritually. Eating brown rice helps us to align with or understand the thoughts and ideas of others, even if they are divergent from our own. I have seen the power of brown rice in helping people to recover their physical health and also to re-direct their lives in many ways. These are bold statements and probably seem hard to believe. So now, I pass the brown rice challenge on to you. Try eating brown rice on a daily basis for two to three weeks. If you experience positive results (and I am confident that you will), please pass this brown rice challenge on to others.

No Comments | Tags: Adjusting Your Diet, Macrobiotic Diet, Macrobiotic Philosophy, Macrobiotics, Mental Health