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
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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.
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.
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?
Nature continually seeks balance. We can look to the natural world as a model for our health as we ourselves are a part of nature, inseparable from it even. An image I follow in my macrobiotic counseling practice to guide others to return to health is that of a mountain stream.
In this mountain stream, water flows uninterrupted in a perfect amount and at a perfect rate. Within this equilibrium, the water constantly cleans and renews itself. It is fresh, slightly alkaline and full of oxygen. Water comes from the clouds and atmosphere surrounding the mountain, it bubbles up from under the ground and flows down the mountain, and reaches the bottom. Each drop goes through the water (hydrological) cycle and returns to the sky again, in a beautiful, perpetual loop with the mountain. Though the water coming to the mountain may have evaporated from an ocean or a river, in the process of becoming part of the stream, impurities disappear, as they themselves “go with the flow”. They transform into different things, bond with other things, settle in the sediment, become rocks, etc. As long as there is unimpeded movement through the volume it carved for itself over a long time, the stream as a whole takes care of itself.
However, things can cause a stream to lose its pure vitality and balance.
*Lack or Excess of Water Affects Flow
1] Say there is a drought. Imagine the earth beneath the stream loses moisture, and is overdrawn due to lack of rain as water previously saturating the soil drops to a lower level. Though the original source of the water may have been pure, the water putrefies in stagnation. The stream becomes a network of puddles that are now breeding grounds.
2] Imagine heavy snows all winter and in the spring, the snow melts and tumbles into the stream, causing flooding. The flooding erodes the banks of the stream, dredges in sediments that were previously undisturbed and inundates the natural filtration system of the stream.
*Interfering Elements Affect Flow
1] A storm comes. A tree falls. No one hears it, but it falls over the stream, slowing down the flow or perhaps blocking it all together.
2] Perhaps a boulder rolls into the stream and settles there. The water, as it’s flowing, hits the boulder and “splits” apart around the boulder. On the edges of the boulder where the water suddenly changes course to converge again on the other side, sediments and other impurities, collect along the edges of the boulder and build up.
A healthy stream is one whose flow is in balance. I enjoy this image and example from nature because the stream is very much a reflection of our own bodies. For health, there is a balance between the food we eat, our digestion of the food and the circulation of its nutrition. Food is the water, digestion and circulation are the volume of the stream and flow of the water.
*Lack or Excess of Food Affects Digestion & Circulation
1] When our food is too simple or we are not eating enough, then our bodies can stagnate and degenerate, even if the food is natural and unrefined.
2] When we eat foods that are too rich or excessive, our bodies become inundated with things we can not process as well, also leading to degenerative illness.
3] Food of poor quality affects our nourishment, digestion and circulation.
4] Our emotions also behave like water in that they can flow through us, and affect us. Anger is a surge and depression a stagnation. Healthy emotions, on the other hand, like healthy streams, clean and renew us.
*The Trees and The Boulders in our Bodies
1] Blockages in our body can come from clogged arteries, fatty deposits, calcification, chronic overeating.
We can recover our natural sense of balance by aligning ourselves with nature’s orderly cycles. Orderly cycles such as the stream, but there are other rhythmic cycles too, such as that of the sun and moon. If we align ourselves to wake up and go to sleep with the natural rhythm of the day and night, our bodies and emotions align more naturally to the “flow”. If we align ourselves to practice having specific mealtimes, we align with the rhythm of the sun. Aligning in this way also helps up to be more aware of how the food we eat affects us physically and emotionally.
Health is natural and our bodies are always trying to clean and renew themselves and we lessen the burden when we are aware and tend to our food, digestion and circulation. With our unique approach to macrobiotics at the Strengthening Health Institute, we teach people to apply these principles to create lasting health. We can use our diets, eating habits, mental, emotional, spiritual practices and activities as tools to seek and find the balance that nature seeks, much like the mountain stream.
*If you are interested in learning more about me or scheduling a consultation, please visit the home page of my website here.
Susan and I are on our way to Taipei, Taiwan at the invitation of our client. We will be there for about a week to support her on her journey back to health.
We are also going to explore new foods and cooking styles. This will help us to further understand the application of our macrobiotic principles in tropical environments. So many of the vegetables and other foods she has described are so different from the ones we are using to here.
Over the years I had the chance to offer seminars and counseling in many countries, both east and west, north and south. These travels and experiences helped me develop my understanding of the best practice of macrobiotics in each of these regions. Now this opportunity to visit Taiwan will further help Susan and I make our approach to macrobiotics truly international.
We look forward to reporting on our new adventure after we return. Please also check out Susan’s latest travel blog.
Dr. John McDougall recently posted a blog about Angelina Jolie’s double mastectomy. Immediately after reading, I was so inspired to elaborate on some of his ideas. I admire Dr. McDougall because he presents research in understandable terms, but in experience with my clients I have seen that there are other necessary dietary recommendations that he failed to elaborate upon. He is rightfully one of the medical superstars in our popular culture.
I am aligned with him in thinking that although problems such as breast cancer are large and terrifying, and the solution can be far less difficult and far more enjoyable than it seems. My experience, through my business as a healthcare practitioner, is that health is natural. The body wants to be healthy. We need good food, good activity, and a good attitude, but people don’t know what this means. Too much information and too much unqualified instruction exists. I went back and found a testimonial from a client and remembered how much impact concise and correct information can do. After consulting with me about/for her diagnosis of breast cancer, her medical records now conclude she has had an unexplainable disappearance of cancer. This is why Angelina Jolie’s double mastectomy concerns me. Woman make these types of decisions to drastically alter their body in order to prevent cancer. But according to the ground breaking research by T. Collin Campbell, there is another option. He proved that nutrition controls the nature of our health.
Colin Campbell, author of The China Study, proves that nutrition controls the way that genes express themselves by demonstrating that diet activates gene markers. In essence, we turn on the cancer genes by eating unhealthful foods. He even discovered an upper limit for animal and dairy protein as well, which is ten percent of the diet. When less than ten percent of the protein in our diet is animal and dairy based, we turn off our cancer genes. The confusion lies in, “What is healthy?” Most people think they are eating well, but they’re not practicing the right behavior to cultivate health.
Some of the foods that most consider harmful, are actually helpful. Traditional soy products such as miso, tofu and tempeh protect against harmful estrogen. Japanese woman have the one of the lowest rates of breast cancer in the world…What do they eat regularly? Tofu and miso soup.
The main culprit that turns on the genes necessary for breast cancer: cow’s dairy. This includes milk, cheese, butter, ice cream and especially yogurt which is so popular theses days. As infants we need our mother’s milk to promote growth, but as adults we’re not trying to grow at a rapid rate. Dairy confuses our system. From your own experience, you can probably relate to how dairy contributes to the severity of skin problems and allergies. When you stop eating dairy within a short time, you feel better.
In macrobiotics, we discuss emotional health as it parallels to nutrition. In my practice, the breast cancer victims have a commonality in that their underlying philosophy is to over nurture others at their own expense. Cancer is a disease of overdevelopment, not deficiency. So, this makes sense that the breast, an organ used for nurturing, would house cancer in over nurturing people. Alarm bells go off in my head when I hear parents say, “I need to do this for my children.” I help them to understand that the most lovable thing they can do it nurture themselves too. I tell them to put on their own oxygen mask FIRST.
People who take the time to nurture themselves through food and lifestyle become happier. I think this is because they experience control over their health.
So here are my suggestions on how gain some control back in preventing and recovering from breast cancer:
- Eat at regular times without skipping meals. Regular meals regulate all the body’s function, including the hormonal system.
- Center your diet on whole grain products, beans, vegetables, soups and other plant based foods. They nourish our body and mind properly on all levels. Humanity evolved through eating grains and plant based foods, why stop now?
- Lastly, eat local foods. Turn off your cancer genes by embracing your natural environment. If you live in a temperate climatic zone, then eat fruits that originate in this zone. For example: apples, peaches, pears, berries and melons.
One sidenote: If you are worried about developing breast cancer, avoid night shades like potatoes and tomatoes because they are highly acidifying. Acid weakens our blood, lymph system, and our ability to absorb nutrients.
Other foods and activity that are particularly helpful:
Eat our two most important grains: brown rice and millet. Try quickly steamed greens like kale, broccoli, and bok choy served with a squeeze of fresh lemon. Eat miso soup every day (even instant miso soup is great if you can’t find real miso easily). And be sure to walk outside. Walking is great for helping the body eradicate upper body complications. All natural and life-related exercise is helpful including gardening, cleaning and yoga. Begin this practice everyday: Rub the wrist, hands and fingers; feet, ankles and toes; face and neck. Use a warm cloth to activate the circulation and improve the movement of lymph. Peripheral stimulation activates lymph, so gently do this on your skin for at least ten minutes a day.
I’ve helped woman gain their health back after breast cancer. If you are interested in learning more, please don’t hesitate to contact me via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. In the subject write
Your Name: Nutrition to Yield breast health.
Please also check out Susan Waxman’s blog for recipes and more information on breast health.
Food is a touchy and personal subject. It affects us in so many ways and we often feel threatened by changes in our food choices and preparation. I hope to express these ideas with openness, curiosity and respect, as food is at the very core of our health and life.
We have grown up with so many mythologies surrounding food. Thanks to T. Collin Campbell and his ground breaking book, The China Study, it is finally becoming more widely known that plant protein is superior to animal and dairy protein in every way. I was so happy to find The China Study as it confirmed everything that I wrote in my book, The Great Life Diet.
Modern education about the importance of animal and dairy proteins has created far more harm than good throughout the world. Yet, most people still ask, “Where’s the protein?” The correct answer is that it is in all plant-based foods including grains, beans, vegetables, seeds, nuts and fruits, and not just animal and dairy foods.
At the same time we have been brought up to think that cooking destroys nutrition. That idea is also not completely accurate. It is far more accurate to say that cooking has the ability change nutrition for better or worse. Cooking can increase or decrease nutrients and their digestibility depending on the food, cooking style and length of cooking. Cooking also increases the taste and enjoyment of our food as well as giving us the ability to preserve it for long periods of time.
I have the greatest respect and appreciation for all plant based ways of eating and living. There is no doubt that these are all the way to a healthier future. At the same time I find Richard Wrangham’s research about the effects of cooking on nutrition compelling as it confirms my many years of macrobiotic practice, study and personal experience. Through my macrobiotic counseling practice, I have seen repeatedly that learning how to cook well is of central importance to creating long-lasting health and fulfillment.
The relationship between food choices, cooking and health has become my lifelong study since living in London from 1981 to 1983. At that time I was the director and main instructor of the Kushi Institute and had the experience of meeting so many people from all over eastern and western Europe that came to study there. The more that I talked with these people about their food traditions the more I began to realize that their food choices and cooking were the key to not only health but the uniqueness of the varying cultures and environments that they were from.
I like to refer to all methods of food preparation including raw, pickling and fermentation as cooking since they are all done with a specific purpose in mind. Skillful cooking has a number of advantages. It makes food more delicious and digestible. Cooking actually increases the bio-available nutrition in our foods. It also increases the energetic level of the food and provides more physical and mental energy. Think about eating a raw salad, steamed greens or a stir fry. The raw salad is the most relaxing, the steamed greens more soothing or settling and the stir fry is the most energizing.
Cooking also increases our ability to adapt to our environment by increasing our ability to disperse or maintain heat. Think about the differences of the cuisine from different parts of the world. Just compare Indian, Japanese, Mediterranean, British and German cuisine. It is easy to see that the cuisine of India is much more cooling than the cuisine of a colder climate such as Germany.
I find it interesting that most plant based approaches to eating and living are separating and polarizing rather than aligning these days. To me, the way to a healthier future personally, socially and environmentally will be fostered by combining raw foods, sprouting and juicing with a wide variety of cooked foods according our environment, desires and individual needs.
I will expand on this topic in my next blog including the use of oil in our foods.
We all know the value of a good nights sleep. We are told about it from when we were young and the value of a good nights sleep just appeals to our common sense. Unfortunately, an ever increasing number of people have difficulty sleeping, difficulty waking up and getting out of bed or just not feeling refreshed and ready for the day upon waking. There is mounting evidence that our diet affects our sleep.
A lack of sleep is associated with an increased number of accidents while driving or at work, chronic degenerative illnesses and obesity. When we feel tired even our food does not taste the same and we are likely to eat foods that we would not think of eating when we are well rested. When we feel tired our memory is not as sharp, we get irritated more easily and often do not experience the same degree of appreciation for life as we usually do. Sleep affects all aspects of our life and well-being.
In Oriental medicine and diagnosis, which is the basis of my macrobiotic counseling practice for more than 40 years, opposites show each other. The day shows the night and the night shows the day. In other words, the combination of our diet and eating habits during the day regulate the quality of our sleep at night. One of the most common things that I hear from my clients is how much better they are sleeping from following my recommendations. They also report on better energy, mood and a sense of well-being.
Please follow these steps to steadily improve the quality of your sleep and overall well-being.
Eat at regular times without skipping meals. See my previous blog.
Stop eating three hours before getting into bed.
Eat a plant based diet including a variety of unrefined grains and grain products, beans, vegetables, soups and other foods. This will help even if your diet is not exclusively plant based.
Walk outside for at least a half hour a day. It can be a combined half hour. All outdoor activity is helpful especially when surrounded by nature.
If you have a sedentary job, take regular breaks from sitting to walk around and stretch.
Keep green plants in your bedroom.
Even small steps can start to make a difference in your sleep. Just get a start in the areas you are comfortable with.