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Japanese Macrobiotic Diet: Guide To Perfectly Balanced Meals

Japanese macrobiotic diet

Here’s a guide to Japanese macrobiotic diet so you can make perfectly balanced meals at home!

Keto, paleo, intermittent fasting in combination with Zumba, yoga, HIIT. If you’ve tried everything and nothing seems to give you long-lasting results, try the Japanese macrobiotic diet. 

This is not just a diet, it’s a way of life. I love trying out different diets and getting to the root of them. So you can imagine just how intrigued I was with the Japanese macrobiotic diet. 

I started it and in just a few days I could see changes in how deeply and easily I fell asleep, how my mood improved and how I was feeling so much lighter and healthier. 

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I’m going to break down the Japanese macrobiotic diet for you in this article, so read on:

What is a Japanese Macrobiotic Diet?

The Japanese Macrobiotic Diet is a way of eating based on balance and harmony. It emphasizes whole, natural foods like whole grains, vegetables, beans, and fermented soy products. Processed foods, refined sugars, and dairy are avoided.

It promotes mindful eating and locally sourced, organic foods. Its goal is to support overall health and a balanced lifestyle.

Like most healthy diets, the macrobiotic diet also involves procuring and consuming only organically grown seasonal produce. One of the most important thing about choosing the vegetables and fruits is that it should be locally grown. 

Let’s talk a bit about the idea behind eating only seasonal and locally grown produce. The Japanese believe that nature knows what our bodies require and gives us just that.

For example, peak summers are a time for water based fruit and vegetables. These grow in plenty and nothing quenches our thirst and keeps us hydrated like these. 

Once the weather cools down and the fall leaves are everywhere, root vegetables grow in plenty. These vegetables give us enough starch and warmth to keep our bodies toasty. 

The same applies to locally grown produce as well.

The Japanese macrobiotic diet consists of:

  • Consuming 40-60% whole grains. This can include whole wheat, bran, buckwheat, barley, oats and brown rice
  • 20-30% of your food intake should include fruits and vegetables, making sure to choose from what’s in season
  • Include 10-25% plant protein such as beans and bean products. Here you can eat tempeh, tofu and miso. It’s quite common to see people eating seaweeds.

Over time, people have started including small quantities of certain other foods too like nuts, dried fruit, seeds, fermented vegetables and pickles. I have also seen some followers of this diet eat fish at times, though not regularly. 

Related: Are Japanese Rice Crackers Healthy?

Yin and Yang in Japanese Macrobiotic Food

Many Eastern philosophers believed that food is not just for the stomach or to just keep you alive. Like all elements, food also can be divided into “yin” and “yang” and must be consumed accordingly. 

Yin food is supposed to be light, refreshing and energetic whereas yang food helps you relax and makes you tired. Too much yang food can bring down your energy levels and this is precisely why there has to be a good balance of the foods. 

For example, all animal-based foods are considered yang. Imagine eating a meal heavy with animal protein. You know the next thing you want to do is crawl into bed and fall into a deep slumber! 

Examples of yin foods are all the leafy greens, fruits and grains. Even sugars fall under the yin category. Too much yin can also be harmful as the body cannot be high on energy all the time. 

Food has energy and when you consume the right kinds of food in the right balance, it will benefit your mind, body and soul. 

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George Ohsawa was a Japanese philosopher who introduced the macrobiotic diet with the intention of getting people to lead holistic life. 

It included meditation and exercise as well but food played the most important role. 

It goes without saying that regulating our diet and following a healthy lifestyle with good exercise and meditation can certainly reduce ailments and even help us recover from long term illnesses. The macrobiotic diet is one such holistic diet that helps achieve this. 

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What Is In A Typical Japanese Macrobiotic Diet?

A typical Japanese Macrobiotic Diet consists of a variety of whole, natural foods. While individual variations exist, here are some common components you might find in a typical Japanese Macrobiotic Diet:

  • Whole Grains

Whole grains like brown rice, barley, millet, and quinoa are the foundation of the diet, often consumed in the form of steamed or boiled grains.

  • Vegetables

A wide variety of cooked and raw vegetables are central to the Japanese Macrobiotic Diet. Common choices include leafy greens, root vegetables, seaweed, cruciferous vegetables like broccoli and cauliflower, and seasonal vegetables.

  • Beans and Legumes

Beans and legumes, such as soybeans, lentils, chickpeas, and adzuki beans, are important sources of protein and fiber in the diet. They can be cooked, sprouted, or fermented.

  • Sea Vegetables

Seaweed, such as nori, wakame, and kombu, is commonly consumed in the Japanese Macrobiotic Diet. These nutrient-rich sea vegetables provide minerals like iodine and trace elements.

  • Fermented Foods

Fermented soy products like miso, tempeh, and natto are often included. Fermented foods provide beneficial probiotics and enzymes that support gut health.

  • Small Amounts of Fish or Seafood

Some variations of the Japanese Macrobiotic Diet include small amounts of fish or seafood, typically consumed a few times a week. Fish high in omega-3 fatty acids, like salmon and mackerel, may be preferred choices.

  • Natural Sweeteners

Natural sweeteners like barley malt syrup, brown rice syrup, or small amounts of maple syrup or honey may be used sparingly in place of refined sugars.

  • High-Quality Oils

Small amounts of high-quality oils like sesame oil or olive oil are used for cooking or as dressings. Refined and hydrogenated oils are generally avoided.

  • Seasonings

Natural seasonings like soy sauce, tamari, sea salt, and herbs and spices are used to enhance flavor.

  • Beverages

Common beverages in the Japanese Macrobiotic Diet include roasted grain coffee, green tea, herbal teas, and filtered water.

What foods to limit and avoid In the Japanese Macrobiotic Diet?

In the Japanese Macrobiotic Diet, there are certain foods that are generally limited or avoided. Here is a list of foods typically restricted in this dietary approach:

  • Processed Foods

Highly processed foods, including refined grains, packaged snacks, and fast food, are generally avoided. The focus is on consuming whole, natural foods.

  • Refined Sugars

White sugar and other refined sweeteners are limited or replaced with natural alternatives like barley malt syrup, brown rice syrup, maple syrup, or honey.

  • Dairy Products

Dairy, such as milk, cheese, and butter, is typically avoided or consumed sparingly. Plant-based alternatives like almond milk or soy milk may be preferred.

  • Meat and Poultry

While not strictly prohibited, most adherents of the Japanese Macrobiotic Diet consume meat and poultry in small amounts or avoid them altogether. The emphasis is on plant-based sources of protein.

  • Eggs

Eggs are generally limited or excluded from the diet, although some variations of the diet may allow them in small quantities.

  • Highly Processed Oils

Refined and hydrogenated oils, such as vegetable oil and margarine, are often avoided. Instead, small amounts of high-quality oils like sesame oil or olive oil may be used for cooking.

  • Tropical Fruits

Fruits that are not native to the region, such as tropical fruits like bananas, pineapples, and mangoes, are often limited due to their perceived imbalance with the local climate.

Rules to be followed while on the Japanese Macrobiotic Diet

This Japanese diet comes with a set of rules that need to be followed for cooking the food and how to consume it:

  • Only eat when you’re hungry. The Japanese follow this strictly, and I guess this is the secret behind their slim physiques
  • Only drink when you’re thirsty. This is something that contradicts all the excessive “drink 3,4,5 litres of water a day” advice from around the world. Your body knows when water is required and it’s enough if you drink water when it indicates it’s thirsty
  • Filter or purify the water you use to drink or cook
  • Chew your food until it turns into a liquid inside your mouth. Are you one of those people who quickly gulp down their food? Time to slow down, chew your food until it turns soft, mushy and liquidy, and then swallow it
  • Do not use microwave ovens and electric stoves to cook your food. Food is to be cooked on a flame for it to be cooked the right way
  • Cook your food only in cookware of natural materials like wood, glass and China
  • Stay away from caffeine, alcohol, flavoured drinks and drinks with added sugar
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Seems like a lot of rules and some of them take a bit of effort and time to get used to. But once you practice these, they become part of your life.

There are some people who follow these rules very strictly and there are some who are more flexible depending on their living conditions, where they work and what is available to them. 

Health Benefits of Following a Japanese Macrobiotic Diet

Following a Japanese Macrobiotic Diet is believed to offer several potential health benefits. 

While scientific research specifically on the Japanese Macrobiotic Diet is limited, many of its principles align with overall healthy eating patterns. 

Here are some potential health benefits associated with this dietary approach:

  • Balanced Nutrition

The Japanese Macrobiotic Diet emphasizes whole grains, vegetables, beans, and other plant-based foods, providing a balanced mix of nutrients. This can contribute to a well-rounded and nutrient-rich diet.

  • High in Fiber

The emphasis on whole grains, vegetables, and beans means the diet tends to be high in dietary fiber. Adequate fiber intake is linked to improved digestion, reduced risk of heart disease, and better weight management.

  • Antioxidant-Rich Foods

The diet includes a variety of antioxidant-rich foods such as vegetables, seaweed, and fermented soy products. Antioxidants help combat oxidative stress, which is associated with various chronic diseases.

  • Reduced Processed Foods

By avoiding processed and refined foods, the diet can help minimize intake of added sugars, unhealthy fats, and artificial additives. This can support overall health and reduce the risk of conditions like obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease.

  • Omega-3 Fatty Acids

The inclusion of small amounts of fish or seafood in some versions of the Japanese Macrobiotic Diet can provide a source of omega-3 fatty acids, which are beneficial for heart health, brain function, and inflammation management.

  • Mindful Eating Practices

The diet encourages mindful eating, promoting a slower pace, chewing food thoroughly, and savoring meals. This can enhance digestion, portion control, and overall enjoyment of food.

  • Locally Sourced and Seasonal Foods

The emphasis on locally sourced and seasonal foods promotes freshness and minimizes the environmental impact of food production. It also encourages a connection to local food systems.

How to Incorporate a Macrobiotic Diet in your Life

These days almost every ingredient can be found in your closest farmers market or organic supermarket. 

Go by the thumb rule that the Japanese macrobiotic diet is all about eating whole foods. Include fish, nuts, seeds and dried fruit occasionally, but with it, make sure you eat lots of “yin” foods as well to balance it out.

 A good place to start is by stocking up on brown rice and vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, leafy greens, some starchy root veggies, and green beans. 

Tofu, tempeh and miso paste are all great additions to your pantry. Having these staples on hand will make your meal preps easy, quick and make the food taste absolutely delicious. 

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These even help satisfy meat cravings, especially for hardcore non-vegetarians making the shift. They are packed with nutrients, yet very light on the digestive system.

For beginners who might get bored and crave variety, try variants of your favourite noodles and kinds of pasta using whole wheat flour, chickpea flour or other grain flours like oat flour. 

The Japanese macrobiotic diet and lifestyle is something that can be successfully and satisfyingly followed for a healthy body and mind. 

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It is quite difficult when you start but the benefits are plenty, so don’t give up! Many seasoned followers suggest getting help from blogs, books and taking the advice of those who have been following this diet for years. 

There are also several classes you can take to learn about the diet and how to adapt to the lifestyle.

Japanese Macrobiotic Diet: FAQs

Can you eat tofu on a Japanese macrobiotic diet?

Yes, tofu is commonly consumed in a Japanese macrobiotic diet. The macrobiotic diet emphasizes whole grains, vegetables, beans, and fermented foods, and tofu fits into this framework. Tofu, made from soybeans, is a good source of plant-based protein and is often used as a substitute for animal products in macrobiotic cooking.

It can be prepared in various ways, such as grilled, boiled, or stir-fried, and incorporated into a variety of dishes like soups, stews, and salads.

Can you eat avocados on a Japanese macrobiotic diet?

Avocados are generally not considered a traditional part of a Japanese macrobiotic diet. The macrobiotic approach emphasizes local, seasonal, and whole foods, and avocados are not native to all regions where macrobiotics is practiced. However, individual variations and personal preferences can allow for occasional avocado consumption.

It’s recommended to consult with a qualified practitioner or nutritionist for personalized guidance on incorporating avocados into a macrobiotic diet.

Can you eat bananas on a Japanese macrobiotic diet?

Bananas are not typically included in a traditional Japanese macrobiotic diet. The macrobiotic approach prioritizes locally available, seasonal foods, and bananas may not be native to all regions where macrobiotics is practiced.

Additionally, bananas are considered a tropical fruit and have a cooling nature according to macrobiotic principles, which may not align with the desired balance of energies in the diet.

Can you eat salmon on a Japanese macrobiotic diet?

In a traditional Japanese macrobiotic diet, fish is often included, and salmon is one type of fish that can be consumed. However, it’s important to note that the specific guidelines and restrictions of a macrobiotic diet can vary among individuals and practitioners.

Macrobiotics generally emphasizes whole, locally sourced, and minimally processed foods. Fish, including salmon, is considered a more yang (expansive) food compared to the more yin (contractive) nature of red meat. Some practitioners may include small amounts of fish in their diet for its nutritional benefits and as a source of omega-3 fatty acids.

Can you drink coffee on Japanese macrobiotic diet?

In a traditional macrobiotic diet, coffee is generally not encouraged or included. The macrobiotic approach promotes the consumption of whole, natural, and unprocessed foods, and coffee is seen as a stimulating beverage that can disrupt the body’s energy balance.

Coffee contains caffeine, which is a central nervous system stimulant. It can increase alertness and provide a temporary energy boost, but it can also lead to imbalances in the body and interfere with the natural flow of energy. 

Additionally, coffee can have potentially negative effects on sleep, digestion, and overall well-being for some individuals.

Can you eat potatoes on a Japanese macrobiotic diet?

Potatoes can be included in a macrobiotic diet, but their consumption is generally limited or used sparingly. 

The macrobiotic approach emphasizes whole, locally sourced, and minimally processed foods, with an emphasis on balancing yin and yang energies.

Potatoes are considered a yin food in macrobiotics due to their cooling nature. They are often used in small quantities as a side dish or as an ingredient in soups, stews, or other dishes. 

It’s common to choose varieties of potatoes that are more grounding and less starchy, such as sweet potatoes or root vegetables like turnips or parsnips.

Are tomatoes macrobiotic?

Tomatoes are generally not considered a staple in a traditional macrobiotic diet. The macrobiotic approach emphasizes whole, locally sourced, and minimally processed foods, with an emphasis on balancing yin and yang energies.

Tomatoes are considered a more yin (expansive) food in macrobiotics. They have a cooling nature and can be acidic, which may be seen as potentially imbalancing. However, the inclusion of tomatoes in a macrobiotic diet can vary among individuals and practitioners.

Is kale a macrobiotic food?

Yes, kale is considered a suitable food in a macrobiotic diet. Kale is a nutrient-dense leafy green vegetable that provides various vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals. It is often appreciated for its high fiber content and potential health benefits.

In a macrobiotic approach, whole and locally sourced foods are emphasized, and kale fits into this framework. It can be used in a variety of macrobiotic dishes, such as soups, stir-fries, salads, and side dishes. 

However, it’s important to maintain a balanced approach in a macrobiotic diet, incorporating a variety of other vegetables, whole grains, legumes, and other plant-based foods.

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