Kimberly, a nutritional therapy student in the UK, recently posted on her blog “The Little Plantation” about miso soup and her experience with macrobiotics. I wish to thank her for encouraging people to read “The Complete Macrobiotic Diet.” I’d also like to compliment her for recognizing that our style of macrobiotic practice is an orderly approach to life that connects us with our environment and brings us to better overall health.
It is clear that modern society does not prioritize health. When we begin macrobiotic practice, it takes effort to create an orderly, daily schedule and to carve out time for meals. However, over time, these health-supporting habits become second nature. The way in which we practice macrobiotics influences and determines our overall health. Because health is a direction, and not a fixed state, any efforts we make to improve our dietary and lifestyle practice moves us in the direction of health.
When I began my practice, I also thought that macrobiotics was based on a traditional Japanese diet. However, over time I began to realize this way of eating and living was common to the world’s long standing civilizations. With few exceptions, traditional diets from our ancestors around the world were based around a variety of grains, beans, vegetables, soups, pickled and fermented foods, seeds, nuts, and fruits. Not only that, but it is also common that our ancestors had lifestyles that aligned with nature’s orderly cycles.
Each civilization has made significant contributions that have become a part of our personal practice. For example, we eat a variety of whole grains and their products from temperate climatic zones. Not only do we eat brown rice, we also include pasta, polenta, unyeasted sourdough bread, and oatmeal. We tried to illustrate the global influence in our practice in the recipe section of “The Complete Macrobiotic Diet,” which serves as a reference point for those interested in integrating global cuisines. The future of modern macrobiotic practice is in embracing the contributions of these cuisines, which includes the traditional Japanese diet from which macrobiotics was originally based.
Thanks Kimberly for sharing with your readership what you have been learning and for helping to dispel some of the misconceptions about modern macrobiotic practice. As time goes on, macrobiotic, vegetarian, and vegan practices will align more closely as we focus more on planning our meals around grains, beans, and vegetables.
Craving sweets is usually associated with emotional satisfaction. We often feel guilty indulging our taste for sweets. Craving sweets may not be such a bad thing. Sweet is the most important and healthiest taste, followed by salty and sour tastes, followed by bitter and pungent tastes. It is the predominant and most abundant taste in healthy food, and also leads to the greatest emotional satisfaction. It is important to differentiate between healthy and unhealthy sweets. Healthy, sweet flavors come from complex sugars naturally found in grains, beans, and vegetables. These complex sugars break down in the digestive process and release their sweetness through chewing.
Healthy food is predominated by a mildly sweet, pleasant, and satisfying taste. Complex sugars give us steady and long-lasting energy. However, simple sugars from refined and processed grains, sugar, honey, fructose, and alcohol, often cause our blood sugar to spike and then crash. These same simple sugars create an acidic condition in our blood that causes a loss in minerals and other valuable nutrients that neutralize the acidity. If we don’t get enough healthy, mild sweets, we tend to crave poor quality sweets available from refined carbohydrates, simple sugars, and/or alcohol. The natural sweet taste in the modern diet is hard to find. However, in all traditional diets, there was an abundance of sweet tastes from grains, beans, and vegetables. The sweet taste was enhanced through various cooking styles.
We can satisfy our need for sweets by choosing different grains, beans, and vegetables in different cooking combinations. There are three types of healthy sweet tastes: well-cooked, well-cooked and puréed, and light, refreshing sweets. Natural sweetness can be enhanced with the use of grain-based concentrated sweeteners such as rice syrup and barley malt.
Here are some suggestions that demonstrate the different types of healthy sweets and how to recognize them.
Onions, carrots, winter squash and sweet potatoes all become sweeter the longer they are cooked.
Well-cooked and Puréed
Puréed vegetable soups are sweet and creamy and can be made from onion and cauliflower or carrot and sweet potato.
Light, refreshing sweet
Light, refreshing sweetness can come from steaming, blanching, or quickly sautéing greens such as kale, broccoli, or Napa cabbage.
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 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.
On December 28th around 8 p.m., Susan and I were in a restaurant having dinner with some friends. There was a call on my cell phone from Norio Kushi. Norio and I have been close friends for many years. He wanted to let me know personally that his father had passed away that morning. He wanted to give me the details before the news went public. Knowing this day would come did not lessen the shock.
Michio and Aveline Kushi were my spiritual parents. They invited me into their family shortly after we met. Even though I am dedicating this memorial to Michio, it is difficult for me to think of and remember him without also appreciating and acknowledging Aveline.
I met Michio in February, 1969 when he came to lecture in Philadelphia before we opened our store, Essene. I got to the lecture early simply so I could ask him a question. I told him I was opening a macrobiotic store, and asked him if he had any advice for me. His words were: “Keep it clean. If it isn’t clean, it isn’t macrobiotic.” These words stuck with me forever, and I think his words were one of the keys to our success. The same effort we put into keeping the store spotless, we put into the quality of our food and the quality of service to our customers.
At 19, I was lost and confused, and had no idea about how I wanted to live my life. The one thing I knew for certain was that I didn’t want to follow in the suggested path set by society. I had recently read George Ohsawa’s books that talked about a brighter future and how we could create our health and happiness, but I needed more. At the lectures, Michio spoke of everything under the sun, from the meaning of life, to how to cure cancer, to world peace. One, peaceful world was the central theme to Michio’s message. He taught that world peace can only be achieved through healthy people.
On the second day of Michio’s lectures in Philadelphia, I was invited to the home of Rod and Peggy House with about twenty others. At this gathering, Michio said that he didn’t want many friends. The statement startled me. Michio followed by saying he only wanted just a handful of friends who could really understand this way, and together we could change the world. At that moment, I knew I wanted to be one of those friends. Meeting Michio changed my life.
He had an amazing and indomitable spirit. In the early 70s, when I tried to expand the Essene distribution company too quickly, we ran into serious financial difficulties. As we were walking out the door on the way to a lecture, Michio paused and told me not to worry. He said that even if I lost everything, we would simply start again from my own home. This struck me deeply yet again, and demonstrated to me how clear and penetrating Michio’s insight and advice was in all areas of life. Incidentally, we were able to reach a settlement, close the distribution company, and save the store.
No one could keep up with Michio; he was relentless in the pursuit of his dream to change this world. He often talked about lighting fires as he endlessly travelled the world to inspire people and ignite them into action. Michio taught me that anything was possible and I always admired his vitality. His endless spirit continues to inspire my life and my own approach to healing. “The Book of Macrobiotics” largely sums up the heart of his teachings. I wanted to move to Boston to study with Michio, but Essene, being in Philadelphia, kept me there.
I went back and forth between Boston and Philadelphia to continue my studies and maintain my connection with Michio. Michio popularized study houses, which were houses run by individuals or couples where we could live, practice, and study together. The study houses made macrobiotic education both affordable and practical. I attended Michio’s leadership seminar for two months in 1973. In addition, I stayed at different study houses for two weeks twice a year. I also attended every new seminar that Michio created and sponsored his visits to Philadelphia. Through these regular visits, my friendship and mentorship with Aveline began to grow and became a crucial part of my life. During this time, it became apparent to me how Aveline was both a powerful stabilizing factor for Michio as well as a driving force for the entire macrobiotic movement.
In 1981, during my twelfth year of practice, Michio asked me if I ever doubted macrobiotics. When I replied “No,” he told me that now I could change the entire world. I was very blessed to have met Michio at such a young stage of my life. He told me on a few occasions that he was born too early to see the fruits of his labors, but that I would, and I took that to heart. He also told me that the macrobiotic movement would follow the development of this country, where the ideas started in Boston, but were enacted in Philadelphia. This is also part of the reason why I have chosen to remain in Philadelphia.
Michio had a powerful psychic ability that he used in his counseling. He had an amazing ability to see not only people’s specific health, but even certain foods they had eaten on certain days. I was often self-conscious that he would be able to tell I had been eating something he may not have approved of. His long term predictions were amazingly accurate. He painted a picture for society more than forty years ago that I would say that today, are precise. He saw in the 60s that we would continue down a path towards increasing degenerative illness, social unrest, over medication, and the further destruction of the environment. The vast scope of his teachings demonstrated very clearly the relationships and connections between diet, health, environment, and spiritual development.
The last time I saw Michio was August 3rd, 2013 at the Kushi Summer Conference in New Jersey. Michio scolded me among my peers for recommending sardines to a shared client. He asked me if I could help the client with plant-based recommendations alone, and if I was following up regularly to tell them to stop the sardines when they were no longer needed. The scolding was relentless and beyond intimidating and I did my best to remain calm and stand by my recommendations. I finally said “You know, Michio, that not everyone practices the way we like them to,” and that changed the tone. There was a running joke among the teachers about sardines for the rest of the conference. It was an experience that I am sure I will ponder for the rest of my life.
The last time I spoke with Michio was this past October. I called him just before Susan and I left for the teachers’ meeting in Lisbon to ask him if he had any messages for the group. He asked me to give his and his wife’s, Midori, regards and he hoped that everyone would study well together. These were the last words we exchanged. I always called on January 3rd or 4th to wish him and his family a happy new year, so I was very glad to have called him then. Otherwise, we would not have spoken.
There was no stone he left unturned regarding the education about all of health and all of life. Michio had a powerful presence and magnetism; people wanted to be around him. He had an amazing ability to inspire people and encourage them to pursue their dreams. People would travel great distances just to see him, and would also pay large sums of money for his counsel and guidance. He constantly tried to help people see and realize their full potential in both health and life.
It is my hope that the depth and scope of Michio’s contributions will be more fully understood. Before Michio, there was no natural foods movement because there were practically no natural foods. He encouraged the development of local, natural food producers and processors, food stores, restaurants, educational, publishing, and distribution centers. High-quality, natural foods as well as pickled and fermented foods are now widely available and sought after. He was largely responsible for introducing futons, the practice of acupuncture, shiatsu massage and making the work of Masanobu Fukuoka (the author of “One Straw Revolution”) known. His teachings have influenced people from all walks of life, across the entire range of professional and artistic fields.
We are on the cusp of a nutritional and biological revolution which is laying the groundwork for the age of macrobiotics. The future of macrobiotics is with those who can understand, reinterpret, and express the teachings of Michio, Aveline, and their associates for our times. Now that both Michio and Aveline have passed, I find it more important than ever to dedicate the next part of my life to mentoring the new generation of macrobiotic teachers and leaders. I want to align with those who are like-minded so that our combined expression conveys the attractiveness and timeliness of the spirit and teachings of macrobiotics.
It is hard to express the loss and sadness of Michio’s passing. I find it unfortunate that his work is not more widely acknowledged and recognized today, despite how many lives have been transformed by his life. However, I feel that recognition of Michio’s contributions to society will continue to grow, as will his memory. It is my hope that we as his students and associates can bring honor to the teachings that he and Aveline gave to us.
There will be a memorial service followed by a reception in Boston on January 31, 2015 to honor and celebrate Michio Kushi.
I invite you to take the MACRO leap.
Macrobiotics is not a fad diet; it is humanity’s original way of eating. Perhaps most importantly, macrobiotics is a lifestyle for everyone. The practice is all-inclusive because it is a constant journey of adding healthy, balanced practices into daily life. Practicing macrobiotics is flexible and adaptable to anywhere we happen to be.
This way of life is based on the dietary and lifestyle traditions of all of the world’s long-standing civilizations. These civilizations learned to create health and longevity through adapting to their climate and specific conditions. Each culture contributed to our global culture through its cuisine, history, arts, and sciences.
Our nutrition comes from plant-based foods either directly or indirectly. We receive second-hand and inferior nourishment from animals who have eaten these foods. Grains, beans, and vegetables enable us to make a direct connection to nature and the environment. Choosing local and indigenous foods makes the strongest and most direct connection to where we live. Grains, beans, and vegetables alone also provide enough food to feed and sustain a global population.
Macrobiotics is an empowering practice that awakens and deepens our confidence in our own ability to create and maintain lasting health. We can start immediately with just one meal, and expand and develop our practice over time. As we move in the direction of health, we experience a deeper connection with our own source of life and nature. We begin to move towards fuller physical and emotional well-being, and our fears and anxieties melt away.
The macrobiotic diet has many things in common across cultures, such as the cultivation of grains, beans and vegetables, as well as the natural preservation practices of pickling, fermenting, smoking, salting, and drying foods. Along with an appreciation of broader, universal patterns, there is also an appreciation of unique connections to locality. There is no one “Chinese food,” “French food,” or “Italian food,” but different regional cuisines that express a people’s harmonious relationship with a locality or region. Macrobiotic practice helps us to develop an orderly rhythm to life and a deep resonance with our unique circumstances.
Pickling and fermenting foods using traditional methods naturally preserves the foods. Secondly these methods enhance the taste and nutritional qualities of the food. This transforms the life of the food by inviting bacteria, microbes and oxygen to derive nourishment from the food and transform it into something new. The most unique and enjoyable foods and beverages in the world come from a simple principle of inviting life in. This is one of the core messages of macrobiotics: let life in.
From this, everyone can learn to make health-supporting choices, no matter the circumstance. The orderly practice of macrobiotics supports the transformation of healthy choices into healthy habits. Our health and environmental health are related. The environment is a direct reflection of our collective state of health. The macro leap embraces the outwardly spiraling journey towards health, for with health, there is life. Are you in for the macro leap?
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.
I found an interesting article from NPR about gut microbes and diet soda. Healthy gut microbes aide in digestion and absorption of nutrients and the elimination of waste. All of these processes are supported by good eating habits and a whole-foods plant-based diet, together with naturally fermented and pickled foods. I have discussed the details of these processes in another blog.
As healthy gut microbes diminish, unhealthy ones try to take over. Certain foods specifically interfere with our healthy gut microbes. The most harmful foods are artificial sweeteners, chemicalized foods, iced drinks and cold foods like ice cream and frozen yogurt. Hard baked flour products, dairy, and animal based products also interfere with the healthy functioning of our gut. If we cannot eliminate unhealthy foods, they have more of a tendency to putrefy and toxify us.
Common sense tells us that natural foods simply prepared nurture healthy gut microbes. It has been my longtime observation that people that consume these harmful foods have more problems with weight, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and certain kinds of cancers. It is not a good idea to wait for scientific evidence to come to a final decision regarding our diets. Grains, beans, vegetables, nuts, seeds and fruits have weathered the test of time and have proven to support our health.