I recently viewed this talk by Dan Buettner on the Blue Zones. The Blue Zones are the places in the world with the highest concentrations of centenarians–the people who live to be 100 or beyond. He compiled research about their eating habits and food choices over the course of three years. It came as no surprise to me that what he discovered about people who live long, healthy lives, shares striking similarities to what we’ve been recommending to our clients for over forty years.
I’d like to emphasize the common points of our mutual recommendations, as well as bring to light some things he briefly mentioned. He noted that people in the Blue Zones have a plant-based diet centered around grains, beans, and vegetables, and supplemented by seeds, nuts, and fruits. This is consistent with our recommendations. He also spoke about the significant difference between yeasted bread and naturally fermented sourdough bread and its effects on our blood sugar. All naturally pickled and fermented foods help regulate the digestion and absorption of nutrients as well as help regulate blood sugar. Although he mentioned sourdough bread and red wine, he did not get into other equally important pickled and fermented products (such as naturally made miso soup and sauerkraut) which aid in healthy digestion and enhance our ability to absorb all nutrients. We also share the observation that it is the combination and interaction of different foods within a meal which promotes the greatest health and longevity.
Longevity is a measure of the past more than the present. Someone who is 100 today was born in 1915 when the diet and lifestyle of people was much simpler– mainly organically-grown, simply processed, home-cooked, and plant-based food. People in the Blue Zones have maintained this pattern of eating. Although the Blue Zones are currently being affected by changes in the global diet, the centenarians today were raised with this simple, wholesome pattern. Time will only tell how modern, refined, highly-processed, chemicalized foods will affect our health and longevity.
History is our reality check. We’ve inherited the same pattern of dietary and lifestyle practices from all of the world’s long-standing civilizations, as can be observed today in the remaining Blue Zones. It is now time to re-establish the worldwide pattern for health and longevity that we’ve inherited from our ancestors. We also hope that this pattern will become a model for scientific research and inquiry.
I was recently surprised to read about the destruction of the natural life experienced by lorikeets when unnatural foods are introduced into their diets. Many are feeding lorikeets simple sugars from syrups, honeys, and jams to encourage them into their backyards. In turn, the regular diet of the lorikeets is changing.
Lorikeets are natural vegetarians. When they eat these unnatural foods, they become very aggressive in the pursuit of eating meat. Over time, they become ill, and develop diseases that are not found in their natural way of life. The health issues facing the lorikeets in Australia are remarkably similar to many who eat the standard American diet.
Imbalances perpetuate themselves. The foods we eat creates and changes the balance in our digestive system. Food creates our taste for other foods and eating unhealthy foods creates cravings for other unhealthy foods. It seems we have followed a similar pattern to the lorikeets. Since we introduced more processed flours and refined sugars and syrups, meat consumption has steadily increased. Many people aggressively pursue and strongly defend their right to eat meat. Consider that lorikeets naturally have a high carbohydrate, low-protein diet, which is similar to our natural diet.
Fortunately, balance also perpetuates itself. When we begin to reintroduce complex carbohydrates from whole grains, beans, vegetables, and fruits, we restore the natural balance of our digestive system. This leads to recovering a taste for healthy, natural foods as well as a gentle and enthusiastic approach towards sharing these ideas with others.
In a recent entry , I began to discuss the benefits of cooking food. Cooking is a lifetime study that makes humans unique. It is a practice we can enjoy and learn from everyday without end.
Each method of cooking affects the color, taste, aroma, and textures of foods in different ways. The best cooking looks good, smells good, tastes good, and holds our interest for the entire meal. We receive the most nourishment and satisfaction from the variety of flavors that are present when enjoying the combination of raw, cooked, and naturally pickled and fermented foods at our meals.
Cooking enhances the bioavailability of nutrition in foods by concentrating certain nutrients on the surface, making them easier to digest and absorb. I’d like to illustrate these points by looking at just a few methods of preparation.
-Naturally pickling and fermenting foods is a unique method of preparation because nutrients and probiotics are produced that simply did not exist before. Naturally fermented sauerkraut is much more than cabbage and sea salt. We recommend miso (grain and bean ferment), sauerkraut (vegetable ferment), and umeboshi plum (fruit ferment) in our macrobiotic practice because they aid in the digestion and assimilation of the full range of plant-based foods.
-Baking makes foods look and taste richer. It is considered healthy, but the main result of baking is that the fats and proteins in the food become more bioavailable.
-Blanching brings out the intense brightness of vegetables. This is because it enhances and concentrates the B vitamins, vitamin C, as well as minerals.
-Currently, there is much controversy over the use of oil in cooking. Is cooking with oil beneficial or harmful? It is a question I have been pondering a long time and I would like to share some thoughts. Oil has been used in cooking for thousands of years in the world’s long-standing civilizations. It is also used in the cuisines and cultures with the highest longevity. I wonder if cooking with oil is being studied out of context.
It seems to me that high quality sesame or olive oil, used sparingly, has a similar effect as salt in combining with foods. In macrobiotics, we only use salt in cooking in a way to bring out the natural flavors of food without leaving a salty taste. We recommend using oil in a similar way so that it enhances the flavors and energetics of the food without leaving an oily taste. My observation is that the elimination of oil for periods of time (weeks or months) can provide substantial benefit. However, do these benefits last over sustained periods of time? I think it will be seen over time that oil, used properly, has a deeply nourishing and protective quality for the bones, joints, blood vessels, and nervous system.
I hope that these ideas stimulate your creativity to prepare meals that are deeply satisfying and nourishing. The final act of cooking is our enjoyment, chewing well, and giving thanks to nature, the food, and to the cooks. All of these thing wake up the goodness in the food. I will be further exploring these ideas in future blogs.
Recently, The New York Times published a piece Angelina Jolie Pitt wrote regarding her recent medical decisions as they relate to her family’s history and struggle with cancer. In the article, she wrote about her choice to have a double mastectomy and later, to remove her ovaries and fallopian tubes. She offered readers the type of options she was offered, such as testing and surgery.
I appreciate her courage to share such a deeply personal situation; I am sorry she had to struggle with such difficult decisions. While I applaud Mrs. Jolie Pitt’s dedication to making her choices known, I believe that many possible options for health and well-being were not offered.
In my 43 years of experience, the combination of dietary practices, activities, and attitudes produces lasting health. It all begins with the desire and willingness to take control of these factors. The daily habits that we form have the biggest impact on shaping our long term health. The science of epigenetics shows that our daily life choices control how our genes express themselves. Cancer genes can be turned on or off through dietary and lifestyle practices.
This checklist will help you move in the direction of health.
– Lasting health starts with our desire to be healthy through natural means.
– Health is natural. Our body wants to be healthy and tries to maintain and return to health at every moment.
– Health is not all or nothing. You will experience the benefits of any healthy dietary and lifestyle practices you incorporate into your life.
– It takes time to gain confidence in your body’s ability to heal through daily lifestyle choices. Once you start to see results, you will gain stronger confidence in your ability to maintain and recover your health.
– Our daily lifestyle practices promote mental clarity and calmness that will help us make important life choices.
– Create a healthy support network of those that also make health a priority.
– Maintain and foster supportive relationships.
– A clear direction towards health provides the best results. Choose one diet and lifestyle practice that suits your needs and goals.
-Plan your meals around whole grains, vegetables, beans, and fruits. Use a variety of methods to prepare meals.
– The combination of books and seminars are important for supporting your journey towards health.
These choices that produce health and longevity are available to everyone. The world is polarizing into two groups of people. There are those who choose personal and environmental health based on aligning and harmonizing with nature. Then, there are those who choose artificial health through trying to control nature, the environment, and their bodies. Which side are you on?
Many believe that cooking destroys the nutrition in foods. Cooking literally transforms the nutrition that is available in foods. This can be done for better, or for worse depending on how food is prepared and cooked. All methods of preparation including pickling and fermenting are a part of cooking. Proper cooking can completely transform food. Michio Kushi called cooking the highest art form because it can create life, transform sickness into health, unhappiness to happiness.
The healthiest food looks beautiful, tastes delicious, engages all of our senses, supports health and clarity of mind, and inspires us to live to our fullest. Cooking brings to life and strengthens our connection to nature. It’s no surprise that some of our most memorable experiences come from a great meal. There’s no match for healthy food cooked over a wood stove or campfire.
Primatologist Richard Wrangham summed up his controversial research in “Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human” that gives credence to the act of cooking. Cooking increases and enhances the bioavailability of nutrition in food. Cooking lead to the smaller, more efficient digestive system and larger brain capacity of modern human beings. Primates spend most of their day eating to receive adequate nutrition. Cooking allows us to receive all of our nutrition in two or three meals each day. Cooking also enhances our ability to adapt to different climates, and is a uniqueness to human beings.
Cooking makes nutrition more bioavailable by bringing nutrients to the surface and concentrating them. Different types of cooking bring out different nutrients. Including a variety of foods and using a variety of methods of preparation is a key to receiving abundant nutrition. Changes in color, taste, and texture are evidence of how we’ve transformed the food. In a future post, I will explain more specifically the effects of different methods of preparation.
Part of a macrobiotic meal prepares by Susan Waxman and students at a recent Strengthening Health Intensive seminar
One of the common misconceptions about vegan diets is that they are deficient in protein due to the lack of animal and dairy foods. However, all foods in their natural state contain protein; it is nearly impossible to have a protein deficiency. Eating a variety of grains, beans, vegetables, fruits, naturally pickled and fermented foods, provides the most complete and high-quality protein available.
The research of T. Colin Campbell brings to light epigenetics, and how our food choices regulate how our genes express themselves. It seems the combination of animal and dairy foods moves us closer to the potential to develop cancer. His research demonstrates that consuming casein (dairy protein) has a stronger potential to cause cancer than red meat. At first, I was surprised about these findings, but upon thinking, it makes perfect sense.
When we eat a whole-foods, plant-based diet, we are getting protein directly from nature. On the other hand, when we eat meat, we receive second-hand protein as well as the toxic waste produced by the animal through processing the protein. When we eat dairy foods, we receive third-hand protein, as the food went through another stage of processing in the animal. What we are told about the source of superior protein is actually much more inferior. Not only that, but the commercial conditions in which most animals are raised increases the amount of toxicity we receive from these animal products.
What we eat today enters our blood plasma by tomorrow. Plasma is the liquid portion of our blood that carries nutrients and transports waste to be eliminated. It makes up about 55 percent of our blood, and renews itself every ten days. So choosing a variety of plant-based foods over a 10 day period creates the best quality blood.
My long term observation has been that people naturally lose their taste for animal and dairy foods once they base their diet on grains, beans, and vegetables. I find it interesting that most macrobiotic children are in the top 50% of their class for height and weight. They are generally raised on what is considered a low-protein diet. Macrobiotic children raised eating a variety of healthy foods are never thinking about individual nutrients. Food is a source of physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual nourishment. Many of these children often have little taste for many protein-rich foods other than tofu and broccoli. Shifting our thinking away from food as a set of composite nutrients is one of the keys for adopting a healthy and satisfying way of eating.
Nature provides for us abundantly, and choosing plant-based foods that nourish us directly gives us the additional satisfaction of feeling a deeper connection with nature.
2 Comments | Tags: Adjusting Your Diet
Everyone seems to be concerned about aging these days. People take special preparations and treatments to reverse the natural process of aging. Most of these treatments are based on hormonal and/or nutritional supplements, creams and injections, or surgery. Unfortunately, these treatments are only temporary and oftentimes these treatments backfire. What are the differences between those who age well and those who do not?
The process of aging is a natural cycle of growth and maturity where we come to understand what is important to us in our lives. In a healthy aging process, we grow out of and discard the things that do not have lasting value and meaning. Healthy people naturally follow and enjoy this process.
In macrobiotics, we approach aging with the attitude that we have the ability to grow and create our health through all stages of our lives. As we age, we get better at creating our life. In healthy aging, our thinking ability, mental clarity, and memory enhances and becomes more powerful. Aging is something that we can look forward to and enjoy.
The keys to anti-aging are good nutrition, good digestion, and good circulation. These things enhance our ability to continually clean, refresh, and renew ourselves.
-planning meals around whole grains, beans, vegetables, and fruits
-have a variety of naturally pickled and fermented foods (miso, natural vinegars, pickles, sauerkraut, micro-brewed beer)
-choose foods that can naturally store for long periods of time without canning and artificial preservation
-include variety in the selection of ingredients and methods of preparations for meals
These foods and practices in combination create an abundant balance of all nutrients essential for health, longevity, and vitality.
-sit down to eat without doing other things.
-eat slowly and chew your food well
-stop eating at least two hours before bedtime
These practices improve your digestion, help you eat less, and feel more satisfied. Digestion begins in the mouth, and chewing well helps to keep your condition more alkaline. Sleeping on an empty stomach helps your body clean and repair itself while you rest.
-outdoor activities including walking
-rub your skin with a hot damp cloth for ten to fifteen minutes everyday
-adopt practices that encourages natural, deep, and rhythmic breathing
Activity outside cleans and refreshes our energy. Rubbing our skin deeply cleans and renews our skin and activates our circulation in the deepest parts of our body. Practices such as yoga, tai chi, qigong, and meditation naturally bring in more oxygen, keep us fresh, and promote health and longevity.
Bonus: sleep and rise early
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
This list from U.S. News & World Report ranked what they consider the healthiest overall diets. The diets were ranked using the following standards: short-term weight loss, long-term weight loss, diabetes management, heart health management, ease of compliance, nutritional completeness, and safety/health risks. Macrobiotics ranked 26th out of 35 on the list among others such as the flexitarian, vegan, Atkins, and Mediterranean, to name a few. Criticisms about the macrobiotic diet were all cloaked in the many myths that surround this way of eating and living. I believe that now is a good time to look at some of the myths regarding the practice of macrobiotics.
Macrobiotics should be rated as number one because of the substantial benefits gained in the areas of short/long term weight loss, diabetes management, heart health, and nutritional completeness. In addition, there are marked improvements in physical vitality, mental alertness, an increased sense of gratitude, as well as anti-aging effects. Macrobiotics has never been more timely a choice given the rapid increase in obesity, diabetes, heart disease and other degenerative illness. A common perception is that macrobiotics is a restrictive and highly rigid way of eating. However, the practice itself is the most flexible and varied way of eating that can be adapted and integrated into the life of any person.
Macrobiotics is the oldest, yet simultaneously most progressive way of eating because it is based on the dietary patterns of the world’s longest standing civilizations. Meals are based around the selection and preparation of grains, beans, vegetables, soups, naturally pickled and fermented foods, and mild beverages. A variety of other plant-based foods can also be included such as nuts, seeds, fruits, and natural sweeteners. While the majority of the practice is vegan, some also choose to include fish or other animal foods. Within these “food groups,” there is endless possibility for varying and combining flavors, using different cooking styles, and working within one’s particular climate. Macrobiotics is often hard to understand because the lifestyle puts as much emphasis on how we eat. We also emphasize other lifestyle practices (such as walking outside and developing a deep sense of appreciation for life) that goes far beyond the scope of modern definitions of diet.
Furthermore, our approach places emphasis on what you add and do, not on what you take away or don’t do. There is no end to adding, you can always discover a new cuisine, or vegetable, or way to prepare a grain. Adding leads to more openness, variety, and flexibility. You can start out simply by eating one meal with a macrobiotic format every week. A part time practitioner will still derive beneficial effects. These principles can be practiced at home or at restaurants. In addition, if you don’t want to change food choices right away, you can begin with altering your lifestyle practices. Increasing healthy activity also increases a taste for healthy foods. Because health is a direction and not a fixed state, healthy foods and activities create cravings for other healthy foods and activities. As we move closer to health, unhealthier foods and lifestyle practices naturally fade away.
Originally, macrobiotics centered around a Japanese style of cuisine. Although many of these foods and cooking styles are still included, we have opened up macrobiotic practice to include foods and cuisines from around the world. Now we can enjoy the full range of the unique dishes and cooking styles that have been developed and passed down from all the world’s cultures. Combining macrobiotic principles of preparation with these dishes and cuisines transforms foods into deeply nourishing, enjoyable meals. By adding more variety and flexibility to the preparations of meals and individual food choices, macrobiotic cuisine is potentially the healthiest way a person can eat.
The book “The Complete Macrobiotic Diet” demonstrates a comprehensive approach to health that combines diet and eating habits with healthy lifestyle practices. The recommendations that are common practices in the macrobiotic lifestyle are continuously becoming validated by science. For a long time, macrobiotic practice has been perceived as the cancer recovery diet, when it is actually an orderly approach to life and eating that allows us to attain the highest degree of health. It is the best way of eating for all aspects of life, from pregnancy to old age.
It is my belief that if U.S. News had accurate knowledge about our approach to macrobiotic practice, it would score number one. Hopefully one day, diet and health can be measured by the seven steps that I’ve outlined in my book more than seven physical indicators of health and resistance to illness.
For more information about the macrobiotic principles that guide the practice, visit the webpage for The Strengthening Health Institute.
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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.