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Proposals for the definition of a “Macrobiotic Dietary Pattern”
by Carlo Guglielmo

These proposals have been acknowledged by
JIFSAN Food Safety Risk Analysis Clearinghouse

I would like to make a proposal for the redefinition of general recommendations for the macrobiotic way of eating.

Dietary recommendations are but a small part of our macrobiotic lifestyle and vision and we all love to share experiences from other aspects of our life. However, Dietary recommendations are a fundamental part of what we can offer to the world, the most immediate interface with the general public, and an indispensable reference for beginners.

Intuitive autoregulation is a personal goal for all people interested in macrobiotics, but we all know that it takes a long time to develop. Moreover, the serious sicknesses manifested in some long term macrobiotic friends and teachers suggest that even the best and most experienced practitioners can make mistakes, and / or that we must reflect on the limits of our recommendations.

With our recommendations we can either help, or create problems for many people, so we should make them as easily implementable as possible. Sometimes, perfect ones can become useless or even dangerous if too difficult to apply, and this is more likely to happen if they are too strict and precise, suitable only for the very experienced.

It is true that ultimately everyone has the responsibility to take care of her / his health, but we cannot overlook the naive judgment with which many people approach the revolutionary adventure of discovering a new way of eating and managing their own health. So we should try to help them as much as possible with our recommendations.

I will start from some general considerations, and then I will proceed with some proposals that I hope can be a starting point for discussion among as many as possible of our macrobiotic friends, and practitioners as well as interested members of the public.

 

 

 


LEARNING FROM SCIENCE, TRADITION AND YIN-YANG - top^

In my previous contributions to The Macrobiotic Guide" (see: “Yin-yang, science and macrobiotic cancer” andUpdate to yin-yang, science and macrobiotic cancer) I proposed and discussed a few mechanisms that could possibly help us in understanding some of the reasons for the problems happening for some long term macrobiotic friends and teachers, or at least to reflect on them. However, it is not only a matter of vitamin B12 or cancer, as there have also been some unexpected problems with calcium and osteoporosis, and maybe more, of which we are not completely aware at this moment. It is a more general call for reflection on the whole eating pattern that we propose.

Clearly we cannot understand the mechanism of these problems only from the nutritional standpoint. Until now even scientists, far more competent than ourselves, have found this impossible to realize, in part because of the inherent limits of the analytic approach to health and food. However, we can get useful insights and vital information on this subject from the world of scientific research, that can complete and widen the conclusions that we draw with our Yin - Yang method.

Besides, even in the scientific nutritional field, at least in the part of it not sponsored by the big pharmaceutical companies, the idea is emerging that some common factors are at play in many different degenerative diseases, and that those factors depend on the divergence between our human needs and the eating and living patterns of modern society. Folic acid, vitamin B12 and D, the ratio between animal and plant food, the influence of food on insulin and growth factors, are elements that many researchers believe can play a primary role in the reduction of degenerative illness.

A whole new approach is being developed that takes into consideration not only the single nutrients, but primarily the so called “dietary patterns” of world populations, and tries to understand them from the perspective of the prevention of degenerative illnesses. We can learn much from this data, while at the same time we are in the favorable position of having experimented with food as few others can have, in recent history, and to be at least partially able to use such an extraordinary tool as yin-yang.

A particularly important point to consider is the soundness of our recommendations in view of what we know about our evolutionary voyage as human beings. In a previous contribution to "the macrobiotic guide". (See “Some reflections about the macrobiotic way of eating”), I proposed some considerations about this issue, and I'll start from some of them again here in order to start this discussion.


THE EVOLUTIONARY WAY OF EATING
- top^

As human beings, we share a common legacy that links our modern shape and abilities to the food consumed during our evolutionary period. This is an important topic, as we probably are optimally adapted to the foods that sustained our long evolutionary process. In brief, the main characteristics of these foods are:

Variety of food - A large variety of animal and vegetable food has been consumed by human beings during our evolutionary history, and we are fundamentally adapted to both of them.
Animal food was primarily represented by insects, bone marrow, eggs, mollusks, small animals, birds, fish, and more recently, and in colder climates, big game.

Vegetal food included tubers, seeds of wild grasses, wild vegetables, flowers and fruits. This is the evolutionary basis of our present way of eating, the general “food for human beings” that we must adapt to our present living conditions. No known culture has been totally vegan other than for scarcity reasons, and none has been totally based on animal food, even the ones from the extreme north of the planet.
Agriculture - The rise of agriculture and husbandry caused a very rapid shift in eating patterns. It made people live on a reduced number of staple foods, both of vegetable and animal quality, compared to the wide variety used before. It also profoundly altered their nutritional quality.

Grains - Grains substituted wild grass seeds and primitive grains, and were consumed in bigger amounts than before. Modern grains are richer in starch than primitive ones and wild grass seeds. They are also poorer in protein, calcium, iron, and fat. Among the presently consumed grains, amaranth is probably the most nutritionally similar to the ancient ones, together with quinoa and buckwheat.

Modern grains tend to require the production of much more insulin by the body compared to the ancient ones, also this varies very much depending on the variety, the refinement process and preparation. In many parts of the world grains substituted the tubers traditionally consumed that also had a very low glycemic and insulinemic index, while the modern potato has an extraordinarily high insulinemic index.

(Glycemic and Insulinemic indexes indicate the relative tendency of a specific food to raise the glucose and insulin levels in the blood. High insulinemic indexes are associated with a great number of pathological conditions).

Vegetables – The cultivated vegetables consumed in historic times and today contain much less calcium and antioxidants than the wild ones, and are usually richer in carbohydrates. Kale, broccoli, mustard greens and other green leafy vegetables are the most similar to the ancient ones, from this point of view.

Animal foods – The modern production of animal foods changed their nutritional quality dramatically, augmenting the total amount of fat, increasing the percentage of saturated fats and, with the polyunsaturated fats, raising the percentage of omega-6 fats compared to omega-3 fats that more or less disappeared. This is a problem in itself, aside from those relating to the use of antibiotics, hormones and other chemicals in modern meats. However, it is also a recent problem that started about a century ago.

Fruits - In general, wild fruits contain very little sugar, and are primarily a source of vitamin C and fiber. Modern cultivated fruits are very rich in simple sugars and contain less vitamin C and fiber.

Acid / alkaline balance – The relative rise in the consumption of grains and animal products vs. vegetables and fruits, occurred in recent times, causing the modern diet to create acidic conditions in the body. This is something totally new for the human being, as the primitive diet had a strong alkalizing effect. The traditional diet was probably in between these two extremes.

Physical activity – Wild animals burn off two calories in movement for each calorie spent at rest, and ancient human cultures probably had a similar ratio. Modern humans burn off half a calorie in activity for each calorie spent at rest. It is very clear that physical activity cannot be separated from any choice we make about food.

Living outdoors – Vitamin D is produced by exposure of skin to the sun, and it is absolutely necessary for health, in particular for the prevention of degenerative diseases. It is difficult or impossible to produce it in adequate amounts when living indoors, in very polluted areas and at very high altitudes. Food sources are very rare, essentially some fatty meats, fish, such as sardines, mackerel and salmon, plus pork lard, but only if the pork is raised naturally outdoors, as it needs to create its own vitamin D by exposure to the sun.

This animal source has probably been one of the main food sources of vitamin D in traditional societies, apart from fish and some sea mammals in extreme northern regions, because pigs are one of the most ubiquitously raised animals for food. (Please note that pork, if raised traditionally, is rich in polyunsaturated and omega-3 fats). As for physical activity, spending time outdoors is a basic need for human beings and has a strong relationship with food.


THE TRADITIONAL WAY OF EATING - top^

In order to respond to the changes caused by the birth of agriculture, husbandry, and the end of nomadism, humanity developed a number of techniques, among which are:

Fermentation – Fermentation has been the main tool for the adaptation of new foods to human physiology. We are all aware of the importance of some of them for the health of the intestinal flora. However, many fermented foods and beverages are even more important in another respect, in that they have the ability to reduce the insulinemic index of foods. In this way, naturally fermented bread, vinegar's and fermented vegetables helped to reduce the negative influences of the increased consumption of grains and cultivated tubers occurring during the agricultural revolution.

Probably naturally fermented grain beverages and even wines had this same effect, apart from exerting an important nutritional role by providing more easily available micronutrients, and balancing the effects of animal foods. The ancient Posca in Italy and in all the Mediterranean regions was the most common beverage for adults, and was made of wine vinegar diluted with water (by the way, this is the beverage offered to Jesus on the cross.)

Fermented foods also allowed for a better utilization of proteins and fats: fermented animal foods such as salami or some cheeses undergo a process of predigestion that makes their proteins and fats more easily used by the body, as well as providing a way to preserve perishable foods. In this way, a small quantity of animal food can easily complete the nutritional profile of a grain and bean based diet.

The fermentation of animal foods is widespread throughout the world, and preceded that of vegetable protein-rich foods, as animal foods spoil easily. Chiang in China was an ancient fermented animal food from which miso developed many centuries later in Japan. The Nuoc Mam fermented fish sauce, fundamental in traditional cuisine from Thailand, is somewhat similar to the ancient Italian Garum of Roman times, and both represented an ubiquitary condiment, especially for the poor, that completed the nutritional value of their mainly grain and bean based diet. Since the Garum was made mainly from anchovies, sardines and mackerel, it probably also added valuable omega-3 fatty acids to the diet. Many more examples could be given for these kinds of food.

Use of Herbs – Herbs (rosemary, sage, thymus and more) are the most important source of antioxidants in traditional Mediterranean cuisine, far more so than all the edible vegetables combined, and probably it has been the same all over the world. The use of herbs in cooking helped to balance the reduction of antioxidants in cultivated vegetables and fruits compared to those in wild ones, as well as helping digestion, modulating the energy of foods, preventing spoilage and many other effects. Spices made a similar contribution in warmer climates, also in temperate areas of the world their use helped in balancing and preventing spoilage of some animal foods.

Sources of Calcium – As we have mentioned, in the passage from the evolutionary to the traditional eating pattern there has been an important reduction in sources of calcium from vegetables. Part of this reduction has been overcome in western cultures by a modest use of dairy, by cooking bones in broth, and by making fish soups also using part of their bones. Asian cultures developed the habit of frequently eating small dried fishes, small quantities of seaweed, and other strategies.

New Fats – From agriculture comes also the use of vegetable oils in cooking and as condiments. However, apart from some olive and sesame oils in the production zones for these plants, a small amount of walnut oil in colder zones and palm oil in tropical climates, very little vegetable fat has been used, until modern times, when technology allowed for efficiently extracting oil from grains and seeds. In many areas of the world most of the fats used in cooking have been of animal origin (lard, butter, and so on) and then used usually in very reduced amounts. These traditional fats consist primarily of monounsaturated fatty acids (as sesame and olive oils) or short-chain saturated fats (as those contained in butter and natural palm oil), that seem to be rather neutral or favorable to the body, while recent vegetable oils tend to shift the balance toward an excess of omega-6 polyunsaturated fats.

Traditional Cuisine – The above techniques converged with many other factors in creating the traditional cuisine of all the temperate areas of the world. The traditional cuisine made the foods more palatable, provided variety, assured balance in meals, and was frequently at the base of any therapeutic intervention. All traditional cuisine's developed a number of mainly vegetarian staple dishes integrated with small quantities of animal food, plus some animal food rich dishes reserved for special feasts or occasions. The greatness of the traditional cuisine has been in creating a healthy balance through the combination of ingredients within each dish, at the same time fully satisfying taste.


OUR MACROBIOTIC EXPERIENCE - top^

It is useful to combine the data reassessed above with the experience of our macrobiotic community, that encompasses a period of about forty years. The following are some frequently occurring examples, according to my experience and those of several other macrobiotic teachers. In my opinion, they are quite consistent with what comes from the study of the evolutionary and traditional ways of eating.

1. The so called “Standard Macrobiotic Diet”, together with its adaptations to activity, climate, sex, and so on, has shown a remarkable ability to help the body discharge deposits from itself, fill frequent nutritional gaps and generally create equilibrium in the individual as a whole. This assured the recovery for a great number of people from a vast range of ailments - cardiovascular, autoimmune, allergies and all the sickness so common today. Even with cancer, we all know of people who succeeded in healing themselves through macrobiotics, even if this makes even more paradoxical the occurrence of this sickness in old macrobiotic friends. This experience means that the yin-yang balance expressed by the Standard Macrobiotic Diet, and the range of foods included in it, are generally correct.

2. However, After a period of practice variable in length, many individuals feel the need to widen their diet. Some refrain from that in fear of creating trouble for themselves, and frequently have problems later. Others go ahead but don't know how to do it in a balanced way, as the existing macrobiotic informational material or events don't provide any help for that. So many of them just introduce some foods to which they were once accustomed, but in this way they create imbalance, new problems and frequently then quit macrobiotics. A similar fate meets those who confine the use of more extreme foods to the secret realm of “bingeing” or the vague one of “from time to time use” as this makes it impossible to find a harmonious incorporation of these needed foods in daily meals.

3. A substantial number of long term macrobiotic practitioners and teachers have probably already widened their diet in the direction suggested in this article. However, this remains a matter of individual (and somewhat “secret”) choice, while the general recommendations for people approaching the macrobiotic way of eating remain the same.

4. Sticking for too long a period to a diet that features a very reduced amount and variety of animal foods and good quality fats, as the Standard Macrobiotic Diet is presented in most of the macrobiotic books and at events, can create a number of problems. These are easily solved by introducing those foods and various condiments in more substantial amounts and in a wider variety.

Practical examples: people that heal themselves from some sickness through a balanced standard diet and then, after a while, cannot sustain their previous activity, especially if it includes physical labor and staying outside during winter. Also children who develop asthma or other immune problems if they are not eating dairy or sugars, and recover when they start consuming more animal food beyond fish.

Long term macrobiotic people and even teachers who, after many years of practice, still try to correct their craving for sweets by drinking sweet vegetable broth, reducing the use of salt and avoiding baked products, all without any effect, and more... In all these cases, while the theoretical possibility to widen the diet is a solid part of the macrobiotic philosophy, these people (or their parents, in case of children) believe that the solution must be found within the Standard Macrobiotic Diet because they lack the relative information, or because they don't receive any encouragement to freely explore their real needs from the macrobiotic community and teachers.

And we should not forget that, as reminded in other contributions of mine to this "guide" that the partial deficiency of vitamin B12 in a substantial percentage of macrobiotic individuals is a documented fact.

Taken together, all these facts suggest that, after a cleansing and rebalancing period, the Standard Macrobiotic Diet become too poor, especially in animal proteins and fats, and in other nutrients contained in animal foods. It is worth considering that vegetable protein-rich foods traditionally consumed rather rarely, such as tofu, tempeh and especially seitan, now have become a staple for many people practicing a macrobiotic diet.

Since these individuals come from a diet rich in animal proteins, they try to substitute them with the vegetable ones, but the effect of large quantities of these foods is dubious in the least. At the same time, they do not really satisfy the need for animal foods and for the nutrients contained in them.

Since the lack of fats and proteins of appropriate quality often cause craving for sweets and sugars,while even the best sources of sugar, as grain malts, should be used only in very moderate amounts, this conditions leads to a number of other problems.

5. With the relative aging of the macrobiotic population some cases of osteoporosis are now starting to emerge. In a few cases this problem has occurred even in advance of the normal expected age. This appears to be linked to a lack of calcium in the diet probably mediated by the constitution of the subject, and secondarily to a lack of vitamin D, physical activity, and fats that are needed in order to fully utilize vitamin D and calcium. In general, less calcium is required by the body when less animal protein is eaten, regular physical activity is taken and exposure to the sun is frequent.

We definitely eat less animal protein than the general population, but probably also too little calcium, especially for the standard ability to use it in western populations. While it is possible in theory to find all the needed calcium also in a very well combined vegan diet, it is very infrequent that such a strict level of perfection can be assured for most of the time. This raises the question of the opportunity to include a small quantity of dairy, and/or other sources of calcium in the daily diet, and the best way to do that.


SOME PROPOSALS - top^

Starting from the above considerations, here are some proposals regarding general macrobiotic recommendations. For the sake of clarity it is probably better to discuss the style of eating suited to people living in temperate climates, and I will proceed in this way thereafter.
1. Definition - Taking example from an important sector of epidemiological research, I would propose speaking about a “macrobiotic dietary pattern”, instead of a “macrobiotic diet”. “Dietary pattern” conveys the idea of a general style of eating shared by a population which relies prevalently on specific foods and culinary traditions, . So we can speak of a “western dietary pattern”, a “traditional Mediterranean dietary pattern” a “North- African dietary pattern” and so on. Speaking of a “Macrobiotic Dietary Pattern” helps in making things less tight, suggesting the idea of a group of people that follow a common way of eating within which ample variation exists.

2. The “Macrobiotic Rebalancing Diet” - Within this dietary pattern, a clear difference should be made between the general macrobiotic way of eating and the more focused and rebalancing Standard Macrobiotic Diet. If we speak of a “macrobiotic dietary pattern” as the big picture within it we can evidence a more focused, cleansing and rebalancing program called the “Macrobiotic Rebalancing Diet”, or something similar, that corresponds to the Standard Macrobiotic Diet and its adaptations. This specific regimen can be effectively advised in order to regain both health and the sensibility on which the natural ability to intuitively create our own individual diet can be built. At the same time, it should be clear that this scheme is not the “macrobiotic” way of eating, but only a specific form of it, suitable for a rebalancing or training period.

3. The “Macrobiotic Dietary Pattern” - The wider Macrobiotic Dietary Pattern itself could be
defined according to:

A) The most important reference foods.

B) The concept of equilibrium in the ingredients and preparation.

C) The concept of equilibrium in the individual and their environment including personal health      status, age, activity, etc.

In fact, what makes the difference between the macrobiotic style of eating and the modern and even the traditional style? The macrobiotic style is different because it is based on foods suitable for the human being, consciously chosen and prepared according to the balancing yin-yang principle, and taking in to account who we are, where we live and what we wish to realize in our life.

The modern way of eating is industry and economy driven, while the traditional way represents the effort to use the available foods in best the way possible for assuring health and satisfying taste, but without the extreme choice that we now have at our disposal. So the Macrobiotic Dietary Pattern takes inspiration and learns its lessons from the past, but it is something totally new, never fully experimented with in human history, and adapted for living in the present globalized and technological world. Because of that we need to stay always open to what we learn from our experience, and ready to change according to the evolving conditions of life.

4. Foods in the “Macrobiotic Dietary Pattern” - Within this eating pattern, everybody should be encouraged to find his own best choice and balance of foods, through the study of yin-yang and macrobiotic cuisine, and through personal experience. My suggestion is that the Macrobiotic Dietary Pattern can be identified as based on whole (with due exceptions) grains, vegetables and fruits in season, a variety of fermented foods and mostly vegetable condiments, completed by protein-rich foods of both vegetable and animal quality. Among the last, the most frequently consumed are beans and seafood, and more rarely vegetable proteins, eggs, poultry and dairy. Occasionally, any traditional food or beverage is consumed, while strongly refined, industrial and chemically-loaded foods are usually avoided. When available, organic foods are preferred.

5. Balance in food – In the Macrobiotic Dietary Pattern food is chosen and prepared according to the yin-yang balancing principle that helps in creating balance in the components of the diet. Much can be said about this issue, taking inspiration from our experience and from traditional, world cuisine. We should try to offer some general principles that may help in creating a balanced way of eating while including a little more extreme (in terms of yin-yang) food, such as the use of herbs, the best way to prepare specific animal food, a general way of arranging proportions in the more important groups of food (grains, vegetable, protein, etc.), the acid-alkaline concept, and so on. For example, if we believe that dairy can sometimes be useful, what is the best ways of using it?

6. Balance with the environment This section looks at the revision of the Standard Macrobiotic Diet, adapted in order to rely on a wider range of foods, as stated in point 4.

In particular, the difference in the diets for people engaged in physical or sedentary activities,or living in urban or rural environments, should be made more clear and practical, both from the nutritional and the culinary standpoints. It is important that we make some proposals more updated and precise also for what regards the real nutritional needs of older people, considering the aging of the populations living in industrialized countries.

7. Children and pregnant mothers A specific reflection is needed on pregnancy and the first years of life. It is clear that a pregnant female or an infant have very different nutritional needs than an adult, and that in these periods of life advice must be sought from competent therapists. However, perhaps we can come to a certain consensus among ourselves regarding B12, proteins, folic acid, and calcium, probably the most sensitive nutrients in this period, or to the general equilibrium of the diet during this time of life. I would suggest that a moderate consumption of yogurt and fermented cheeses, as an integration with other vegetables sources of calcium, is good for a rapidly growing body, especially if we are well aware that excess does create problems.

We should also reconsider the macrobiotic literature on this subject which clearly needs to be revised.

8. Studying the traditional fermented products from the World – Fermented products are a must for a grain based predominantly plant diet. We still have not begun to learn from the thousand of varieties of these wonderful products, developed by all the world cultures, that could represent a way to complete and balance our current daily nutrition. Africa, Asia, Central America and traditional Europe have all much to offer in this direction.

9. Way of living – Our macrobiotic proposal about eating must be clearly presented as a more comprehensive proposal for health that includes appropriate physical activity outdoors. We always stated that this was the case but, as, generally, we did not practice it very much, we frequently gave very little attention to this subject in our daily work. It should be clear to all of us also that if we eat in the best way we cannot balance this with a sedentary life spent indoors and make this fact part of our proposal to individuals approaching the macrobiotic way of living.

These are but a few ideas for discussion. I am encouraged by the support received for my other interventions, and I hope that this one can start a useful, frank and specific discussion on these themes among macrobiotic teachers and practitioners.

As this is already a long and thorough article to read, I did not made a list of references for what was stated in it. If requested, I can provide them in a future contribution.

If this discussion takes off and something interesting comes from it, it would be just great to listen to the opinion of Michio on this subject. We all owe our being here at this moment to his and Aveline's tremendous effort in spreading this wonderful tool for health in the world, and we can always learn very much from his experience and intuition.

Our community has a deep experience of the relationship between food and health, and we have discovered much. We are now able to help many people to live a more healthy life, to effectively prevent many sicknesses and to regain their health when lost. However, we must be aware that we have far more still to discover.

The cases of grave sickness happening to some of our long time friends and teachers must not be explained away, confining their reasons only to small errors in the application of the diet, or only to individual stubbornness and rigidity. Quite the contrary, they just show us the limits of our understanding about the order of nature, and about the ways to use food and other aspects of everyday life in order to keep our health, in particular with regards to cancer. They ask of us to go further, and help us in learning more.

If we do not start from this awareness, and instead we believe that all we need is to apply better an already complete and perfect model of eating, we cannot make progress and will begin to disappear as a positive force in society.

Thank you to everybody.

Carlo Guglielmo


About Carlo Guglielmo:

Carlo discovered macrobiotics in 1974, while He was a medical student but then already very critical of conventional medicine. He came pretty close to the end of his studies, but he decided to quit them just before getting his doctorate, and threw himself into the macrobiotic adventure.

In 1978, together with his friends, He started the East West Centre in Turin, Italy (The city of the 2006 winter Olympics). His Centre rapidly developed to include a restaurant, a store, a small publishing company, while offering courses and workshops on macrobiotics and natural health and living. He started teaching macrobiotics and advising people in Turin and all over Italy during those years, so he now have almost thirty years experience. In 1982 he qualified as an Associate Teacher at the Kushi Institute.

In 1983 they organized a seminar in Turin for Michio and Aveline, at that time a very inspiring event for all the Italian macrobiotic community.

In 1987, He contributed to the foundation of our natural foods distribution company, “La Finestra sul Cielo” which is still very successful today. From the beginning, they decided to stick to a rigorous policy of quality, and He believes that his company is one of the very few in the world that has been able to thrive without selling any refined sugar (included agave syrup and similar) or dairy as ingredients of any of its hundreds of all-organic products. (You can get an idea of the company here: www.lafinestrasulcielo.it).

In 1989 He began to practice traditional Chinese qigong, that in time made him understand much better both the strong points and limits of my macrobiotic experience and what qi really is.

In 1990 he wrote my first introductory book to macrobiotics.

In 1992 he closed the East West Centre. He went on giving consultations for a couple of years more, and then dedicated himself totally to his company, that he managed until 2000. This activity helped him very much to develop a more practical attitude and learn to put things in practice, an attitude that it is sometimes neglected when we limit ourselves to only educational activities. However, his main interest was still in education so, in 2001, he entrusted others with the management of the company, still remaining a partner in it, and returned to teaching and writing.

In 2005 Edizioni Mediterranee published His main book “Il grande libro dell'Ecodieta”, a 600 page work in which he apply both the scientific approach and the yin-yang / macrobiotic one to the issues of eating, prevention and recovery from illness.

The book has been presented to the Department for Preventive Medicine of the National Cancer Institute in Milan, thanks to the work done during the last ten years. He also had the opportunity to get in contact with, exchange ideas with and offer some suggestions to the research team.

 

FEEDBACK

From Michael Rossoff -- top^

I appreciate Carlo's enthusiasm for keeping the discussion going. This is a key step in the revitalization of macrobiotics.

The only point that I want to add is this:

We need to embrace the simple truth that most people eat for emotional, ingrained habit patterns and sexual reasons. No matter how much nutrition a doctor knows or how much yin-yang cosmology a macrobiotic practitioner knows, they can be overruled by these deeper, primal compulsions. The emotional realm makes sense because on our first days of life we were given protection, warmth, love and food. Whenever any of these is missing, we will turn to food for comfort and primal security. Our lifetime of food habits are often difficult to see accurately or we may even be totally blind to them, which can lead to addictive behavior. The sexual powers, when frustrated or over-charged, can overwhelm the logical mind. The chocolate industry is one of the main beneficiaries of this.

Another reason for compulsive eating is that the main diet is nutritionally unsound, which can be the case with longtime, strict macrobiotic eating. In this case, wider eating is the starting point along with supplements as needed.

A core way to change these is by acknowledging them. Only then can we grow from there. For the emotional eating, we can make better quality choices and be moderate. Habits are challenging us to awaken and experiment with change. And sexual tensions need soothing and transformation. These are spiritual paths for self-development.

 

From Hans-Werner Heuser -- top^

In regard of the recent discussions on some hidden dangers in the macrobiotic diet I want to bring some attention on the problem of ACRYLAMIDE, which was recently very much discussed in Germany.
Acrylamide is carcinogenic and it comes from long time baking, long cooking and roasting on a high temperature. Some practices which are know as yangenising may thus led to cancer forming substances.
The issue is very new and I am not in the position to give a deeper advice.

On the following links you can find more information:

> http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Acrylamide -- > http://www.foodrisk.org/acrylamide.cfm

 

From Christina Pirello -- top^

I love, adore and completely agree with carlo’s thinking…it is time we step away from conceptual living and actually live…not in theory, which always sounds fine on paper, but in actual experiential living…each person’s practice is individual and guidelines must reflect a dietary pattern not only for the sick, but for the healthy and active, otherwise how will we ever attract them? Perhaps it is my Italian heritage that aligns me so easily with carlo’s thinking…I love how my own practice differs when I am in Italy… Thanks for sending me the most interesting reading…


From David Briscoe -- top^


I think much of what Carlos has written is very timely and important, and it may come as a surprise to many that this is very similar in numerous ways to what Herman and Cornellia Aihara taught for over 30 years. Unfortunately, in my opinion, not enough macrobiotic students complimented their understanding or training by studying with Herman and Cornellia and other's of similar open outlook and deep heart, so that what we have today is a somewhat incomplete view of what macrobiotics can be. I am very happy to see macrobiotics becoming a multi-faceted approach, encouraging people toward creative thinking and application of its principles. Could it be that through voices like Carlos' we are finally hearing Ohsawa's message more clearly and moving forward toward new horizons based on our own understanding?

I would like to invite all who are interested in exploring what Carlos has written and more, to join me in Antwerp, Belgium this July at the annual three weeks of daily macrobiotic events sponsored by Jan and Mieke Vervecken. If enough are interested, we can create sessions specifically to address the issues Carlos has presented and explore the on-going creative evolution of macrobiotics. Please contact me for more information.



From Steve Acuff -- top^


Carlo has written an excellent summary of the important issues facing macrobiotics today.I have a few thoughts to add.

1. Grains are not generally acid-forming, as the potassium content makes them alkaline. The problem lies with the refined grains which do not have the minerals of whole grains.

2. Cod liver oil has a long tradition as a reliable source of vitamin D, which is a problem in the "Standard Macrobiotic Way of Eating". It should be included in the updated recommendations for the dark months of the year in temperate and cool climates, as the sun is too weak to provide it then.

3. The medium-chain fatty acids of natural coconut oil support health in several unique ways and coconut oil should be part of these new recommendations. It contains beneficial lauric acid and is much better than palm oil. The general fat phobia in macrobiotics should be replaced by recommendations to eat generous portions of healthy fats and oils, including extra virgin olive oil.

4. If yoghurt and cheese are included, these should be made from sheep and goat milk rather than cow milk, which has much more harmful potential. Also it is easier to get non-pasteurized dairy products from sheep and goat milk than from cow milk. Pasteurized dairy food should not be included in the program.

5. It should be clearly stated in the recommendations that pork should be avoided. Pigs eat almost anything and pork is not a healthy form of animal food.

6. It should be clearly stated that unfermented soy foods such as tofu and soy milk should be avoided, as they contain lots of phytic acid which blocks mineral absorption. Fermented soy products such as miso, tamari and tempeh are OK only in small quantities, as the thyroid-inhibiting phytoestrogens of soy are not broken down by fermentation.

 

From Phiya Kushi -- top^

If Carlo is responding to Michio's Standard Dietary suggestions (a/k/a the "pie chart") then I think he should know that Michio has revised that presentation many years ago into a pyramid that includes red meat and dairy as optional. The "Great Life Pyramid" can viewed on this website: and was developed in conjunction with nutritional reseachers at Columbia University (actually, my brother, but it sounds more impressive that way, doesn't it?).


From Ed Esko -- top^


Macrobiotic dietary practice is a constantly evolving process. It is something that we need to continually re-evaluate and change according to our changing needs. Let us continually strive to deepen our understanding and make our understanding universally applicable. Efforts such as this are to be applauded.



From Simon G. Brown -- top^


I agree with much of Carlo’s thinking and it surprisingly similar to the ideas that I had whilst writing Modern Day Macrobiotics. I would like to add a few thoughts.

My feeling is that macrobiotics should be as experiential as possible and be as free as possible from concepts. I have written about this before but let me say again, there are no concepts that accurately match the real world in all situations. Most are just approximations that work some of the time. Some of them are so poorly thought out they are no more than opinions. The more concepts we believe in the harder it is to live in the moment. We create an internal reality filter that matches real life experiences with our most cherished beliefs and risks favouring our pet theories at the expense of real life experience. This edges us closer to a world of delusions. Somewhere I think we as macrobiotic people have been close to at different times. To move macrobiotics forward we only need very few concepts and those should be flexible, open and not bound by any culture or history. To make this happen we have to move away from people sitting down taking notes in a classroom setting (which will inevitable perpetuate and even adds to the problem) and shift to a more open, free thinking, experimental, experiential sharing of macrobiotics where we learn from each other.

Going back and looking at ancient diets is interesting and help understand humans relationship to food, however, it is most important to see this relationship as a process. I think macrobiotics could be more free and current. Rather than being dragged backwards by arguments over what different cultures ate at different times we have the resources and experience to say what eating macrobiotically means now. It needs to be current and applicable to modern living. Carlo’s point about acid and alkaline is a good example. The traditional macrobiotic diet was probably acid forming. Grains, beans and fish (acid forming – not to mention alcohol, cigarettes and coffee!) made up most of the diet and this needs to be balanced with a similar or greater amount of vegetables and fruit as a general guide to be slightly alkaline forming. Guidelines should evolve to reflect lessons learnt. For this to happen it is essential to be open minded and not attached to any concepts. Let concepts and principles be the result of experience not lead it or worse colour it. The process of evolution in terms of our relationship with our food is ongoing, it is still happening now. To be a part of it macrobiotics has to be free to change and develop. The whole idea of acid and alkaline is very topical and current as there are indications that cancer cells find it harder to survive in a more alkaline environment.

One of the things that I think held the development of macrobiotics back from the 1970s through the 1990s was the idea the we could cure cancer and all you had to do was eat macrobiotically and if you did it properly you would recover. (If you didn’t recover it was your fault not the diet) .This gave out the message that here was the perfect diet. Development stopped in many people’s mind. Of course this is not true and it may be that this more open, honest phase of discussion is the realisation that it is not true, people eat really well and sometimes do not recover, people who have eaten macrobiotically for thirty or more years do sometimes developed cancers. There is still work to be done and quite a lot of catching up. In my view and experience a modern version of the macrobiotic diet has amazing healing properties. However, we do not live in a black and white world, it is not all or nothing. Eating well may increase your chance of recovery from an illness and will reduce the risk of getting ill, but only by a percentage. By how much we do not know. Reducing the incidence of cancer for example by 50% would be a huge success, 5% would be disappointing. I suspect it is somewhere in-between, perhaps 30%. It is therefore not particularly surprising when some of our community fall ill and die prematurely. Of course there may be lessons to be learnt but we have to be realistic. The boasts that eating macrobiotically was the best insurance policy you could have, just made us appear arrogant and without a humble spirit, stunted evolution and development of the whole movement.

 

From Jacques Mittler -- top^

It is true that many adepts (and teachers too) widen their macrobiotic diet after a while. So did I,
of course ! But really, I feel much more concerned by how a macrobiotic practice can contribute to our personal and spiritual evolution, what is definitely its original intention.

Are the changes we can observe in our diets simply caused by some physiological needs ?
In fact, what I think is:

- There is obviously a connection between food and diseases.
- The most common conclusion (for macrobiotic people) is that unbalanced food creates illnesses.
- Of course, we can succeed in curing many illnesses by changing our food.
Then, why do so many people feel the need of widening their diet and then go into new troubles ?
My answer is that we don't only eat proteins, vitamins, etc., but, and it is the most important to my mind, we eat and assimilate the specific qualities of the food.
- If people are still attracted (evenly addicted) to certain foods, it means that unsatisfied desires are still remaining in their psychological and deep beliefs.
- Those desires are related to a need of identification with some subtle qualities of the vegetal or animal beings we eat.

To be short, I would say that we eat according to what we want to be (or to become): if what we want to be (or to become) doesn't develop in a spiritual direction, it is logical that we'll soon come back to our previous habits.

As a conclusion, eating the "perfect" way is not enough to provide a true "health". Macrobiotics is intended to improve our judgment. But who speaks or teaches about judgment to day ?

 

From Verne Varona -- top^

I like Carlo's contributions. He's questioning and experimenting. This is the Non-Credo spirit. Bravo, Carlo!

At the same time I am a bit weary of immediately embracing recent nutritional paradigms, or whatever the current nutritional rage might be, whether it be corn oil avoidance, the benefits of balanced omega's, exotic anti-oxidant juices from unfamiliar fruits grown in remote lands, etc. Over the last 20 years, I have been a co-founder and director of a busy Los Angeles medical clinic, worked as a keynote at a number of medically-sponsored expositions, wrote a book on cancer prevention that is frequently used as a text book in alternative teaching centers (currently in an eighth printing), taught alternative medicine at physician retreats, continue to take nutritional courses and currently am part of a popular medical clinic where I offer pat-time nutritional and lifestyle counseling. So, I am no stranger to nutraceuticals, newly emerging nutritional theories, esoteric alternative treatments or cultural folk medicine. However, the advantage I feel in examining new information has much to do with what I originally learned from the polarity principles of macrobiotics.

I think that macrobiotic teachers need to be more responsible in keeping up with what develops in the field of nutrition. We need to carefully discern when modern nutrition should take precedent over traditional cultural theories. I've seen macrobiotic clients who consistently had assimilation problems make dramatic recoveries after using temporary but discreet use of supplements and a more flexible diet guideline. And conversely, I've seen clients who were taking supplements until they were coming out of their ears, improve greatly, when they stopped all supplementation and began a basic grain/vegetable/bean/sea vegetable approach with daily exercise. There can really be no one-size-fits-all paradigm for either approach. If we really want to be taken seriously within the scientific community, we should be able to back up what we say with scientific reference and not rely on anecdotal musings from the converted, or lofty energetic theories that are really simple suppositions.

Many macrobiotics convey a self-righteous indignation for things scientific. Our rational is that it's reductionistic (sees a part and thus, misses the whole perspective) and thus invalid. However, by shunning science, or dismissing it for posturing in wordy academics, we end up suffering from a conceptual myopia. Maccrobiotics often holds to concepts that are unproven, yet make energetic sense, at least philosophically. But there's a limit to the practicality of all that. I once heard a speaker say, "don't worry about calcium, we can transmute the stuff--just eat a lot of greens." But, with all due respect to the theories of Louis Kervran, this is not always the case. In fact, not everyone has the same absorptive abilities. Additionally, what we eat in with green vegetables might help us to better absorb some of its minerals. These are called synergistic co-factors— trace minerals within the calcium matrix that help digest or better absorb calcium. Some of these ingredients may be Vitamin D3, boron, or magnesium. We can get these from foods or from supplements, depending on one's digestive capability. To really support people in their health, we need to be sensitive to their conditions and sometimes regard nutritional support as a push for that car with a low battery that sometimes just needs a jump start.

The macrobiotic preference is to use deduction, as opposed to induction, as a reasoning tool. Deduction means to begin with a principle and gathers data to confirm those principles. We do this with the Yin-Yang principle. For instance, if we look most conditions that are characterized as inflammatory, such as arthritis or acid reflux, our recommendation is to avoid foods classified as "Yin." Many of these so-called yin foods have an expansive effect, as we have been taught. That is, they have a structural effect, once in the blood, of making tissue swell. Truth be told, this has been demonstrated in many studies. Sugar, is a reliable example. It can foster inflammation, diminish our mineral status and promote the growth of harmful gut bacteria (anaerobic) within the intestine. Some of the nightshade vegetables, particularly tomatoes (botanically, actually a fruit) and peppers also foster inflammation—not across the board, but in certain people. If we look at the condition of acid reflux (aka: GERG - Gastro-Esophageal-Reflux-Disorder), where stomach acids and the breakdown of these foods generate increased acidity is not only with acids--it's their vapors that can aggravate. Rising vapors can harm Esophageal tissuue. Often, this can cause asthmatic symptoms, ulceration, bad breath and chest pains, also colloquially known as "heartburn."

Induction, the basis of science, means to draw conclusions by gathering data and then formulating a principle. This method can create a colossal headache because it continually contradicts itself. Inductive reasoning looks at lycopene (found most abundantly in red fruits and vegetables) and says, "studies show that lycopene is beneficial for the prostate, so individuals with prostate cancer should plenty of tomatoes." Recently, I heard a physician on the radio recommending that people with prostate problems regularly eat pizza. Tell me this isn't crazy. While lycopene might be helpful, the acids from the tomatoe are not, and this is an obvious failing of inductive reasoning in nutrition. Matter of fact, this is why you have so many opposing nutritional theories--everybody seems to be looking at individual parts and not the whole. Same for green tea. It's suggested that we drink it for the benefit of catacholemines--beneficial cancer-fighting substances. However, research suggest that we need 4 to 6 cups to get an adequate "protective" amount. This amount of caffeine from brewed green tea (120 to 150 mg. for 4 cups) can, in the long run, weaken adrenal function (critical for immunity) and stimulate tumor growth in someone with advanced cancer. We're so busy looking at parts, we can't see the whole. No wonder everybody seems so confused.

I've hard and read statements made by macrobiotic counselor's, that no matter how personalized they seem, make little practical or scientific sense. If they are called to the mat, they arrogantly claim that science is fragmented medicine and only symptomatic. I get the feeling that exposing their ignorance would interfere with their Utopian ideal of how things work according to their Order of the Universe. It should never be a case of them or us when we're talking about conventional nutrition. We really need to find some kind of balance. The premise of a documentary that I'm working on currently is to explain that our western medicine is essentially crisis-oriented. If you get hit by a bus, you need ER care, immediately and not an herbalist--at least not in an immediate sense. But as someone who has been on both sides, as a patient and as a health consultant, prevention and maintenance is up to you. MD's are simply not educated. And, what would you expect for an average office visit of 6 to 10 minutes?

Publically, I no longer use the word's yin and yang but other more descriptive terms according to what I'm examining. If I'm looking a certain condition in a client that is inflamed, I don't think "yin." I think inflamed—characterized by expanded tissue. Simple. Certain foods promote inflammation: sugar, overeating, alcohol, yeast, excessive muscle movement, spices or anything chemically toxic. Instead of thinking what we may take to reduce the inflammation, we need to first think of avoiding what aggravates. First sooth (halt progressive symptoms) and then heal (by dietary recommendations and either herbal, supplement or external remedy techniques). Using esoteric terms from Chinese medicine or macrobiotic jargon only alienate--especially if its from another culture, be it Japanese or East Indian. Make your explanations simple and direct so that more people can understand them.

Carlo's proposal for using the compound word: "dietary pattern," is nobel, but for me, too abstract. If you have to think about an alternate meaning for a word that you hear it creates more intellectual work. I feel its too vague.

My evolving education is convicted that the essential elements of a macrobiotic-oriented diet are sound, however must be personalized, sometimes with more transitional foods from their past, or more permissive foods to make the transition or one of gradual change without the typical physical denial that many later feel. Sometimes, we need more animal protein, sometimes digestive help for assimilation, often more movement to heat up our body and promote circulation; sometimes with more cooking styles, more textures and more tastes. This understanding from the basic nutritional Chinese nutritional approach can do much to help people transition without the stress of cravings. It's always a practice of fitting the cure to the patient. There can be no generic approach.

I believe that the percentage of whole grains ("50-60%) recommended to people just getting into a macrobiotic diet is excessive. I have been very successful introducing people to whole grain, but recommending different combinations of grains, minimizing the use of gluten grains (absolute minimum on barley, sweet rice, wheat, rye, oats, corn--especially for clients that already are plagued with allergies, obesity, asthma or sinus problems) and also minimizing bread, and grain products. I never recommend seitan. It is pure gluten and for many, a big problem, particularly those with leaky gut or digestive sensitivity.

Many nutritional or science statements you hear in lectures or macrobiotic books, have their origins with Kushi or Ohsawa. Counselor responses or rebuttals are often laden with faulty chemistry, nutritional idealism, cultural mis-information and a general absence of heart. That's because the philosophy, rule observance and general concepts all conspire to keep you in your head. It's not intentional and this is not a negative thing. It's frankly, more cultural. Our Asian brothers and sisters are not adept at navigating the world of emotions. It was just not a part of their culture--at least not openly. Having undergone a communication renaissance in the last 25 years of western culture and unmasked the important role of emotions in healing, we now know how intertwined our emotional systems are with our physical health. They are inseparable, as is our spiritual health. To me, spiritual health always relates to the kind and amount of faith a client has; faith in themselves, faith in a purpose, faith that there might actually be an order to this universe. Ultimately, it becomes a condition where faith is replaced with fear. Ohsawa spoke about this when he succinctly said that, "if you know yin and yang you'll never be out of a job" and advising that macrobiotics will all you to always know how to recover your health--the foundation of our happiness and judgment.

Some of the dictates from Kushi and Ohsawa were made confidently because their personal barometer of measurement was based on their concept of energy, meridian flow and diagnostic associations from pre-natal development, etc. Asserting value by adding science to macrobiotic teachings was usually an afterthought, and more often typically inaccurate or simplistically general, at that. Naturally, everyone following tends to repeat the same thing—it's like a game of telephone where down the line you know the message is going to get distorted. Ohsawa said smoking was not good or bad but produced a yin or yang effect. Michio said the same, but no longer promotes, or seems permissive about it. You get the impression from Micho that he's just tired of being asked about it and accepts that it's his own thing that he is simply not interested in dealing with it regardless of what specialists, research or the people around him say. And, Frankly, that's his business. While many counselors have stopped smoking, some still do, but have very lame and strange abstract reasonings (which make no sense) for why they continue to smoke and how they're minimizing its negative effects. It's an addiction and anti-spiritual, as it keeps us anything but free, since we become dependent on its stimulative qualities and its effect on blood sugar.

Reducing the addictive use of powerful carcinogens to a matter of philosophical extremes, supposedly justified it's use for "balancing" purposes. We used to hear that holding the cigarette pointed up will burn off "the purple smoke" --that being the more carcinogenic "yin smoke." I think someone was just being creative here, as both ends produce toxicity. Many of us who used to smoke would imitate our teachers by holding our cigarettes at an angle, burning end up. Get a macrobiotic smoker involved in a game of full court basketball and watch them wheeze and wonder where their breath went.

Whether or not we should have animal protein in our diets depends on a number of factors. Personally, I eat a little as possible--and that might be white meat fish, but I have to be feeling pretty run down to eat it. Yet, I will recommend all types of animal protein to some clients and for others, passionately suggest that they take a breather from it and go vegetarian for a brief experimental period. I think that what we recommend to people has to take into account their previous diet. We also should ask the standard health practitioner question that reveal much about their immediate health; their appetites, moods, cravings, energy levels, sleep quality, humor, complexion, bowel movement, blood sugar sensitivity, etc. To rely on facial diagnosis is a big mistake, as many aspects of diagnosis show future potential or past indulgences. For current conditions, we have to rely more on complexion, emotional states, questioning them, tongue textures and color and assorted facial swelling.

For counseling, there can be no real rules, as our conditions and needs are always changing. I have about four different templates I initially recommend, but this is just a base. It becomes customized as we do follow-up and this is how a dietary approach becomes personalized. To just throw out a pie-plate recommendation, give 40 recipes and tell them to chew well and sing a happy song, can often be self-defeating.

It is truly amazing to look at an individuals diet record for a week and see what choices they make. Often these choices are instinctive, compulsive, convenient or just from habit. Welcome to the real world. For many people that have suddenly stopped animal protein, they should be aware that the first casualty of animal protein reduction is a heightened sensitivity to sweets and acid-residue based foods. If a person suddenly stops animal protein and particularly the use of salt, they must make an immediate adjustment in the amount of all "yin" related foods as well; chocolate, sugar, carob, nightshades, overeating, vinegars, oils, fruit juices, etc. Particularly in vegetarian and raw good groups, I see the common condition of pale complexions,weak muscle tone, diminished sexuality, depression, irregular bowels, blood sugar sensitivity, etc. I think this is because that while they have made immediate changes in their animal protein consumption, their sweet and acid-related food consumption has remained the same. Initially, they might feel great, but eventually it catches up with them.

What we may have to overcome, in the large picture sense, is to redefine what we have been taught. So many seem afraid to think outside the proverbial macrobiotic box. The only way to really find out what is working is to continue pursuing your own health refinement and following-up on your clients. Question them--relentlessly. They are our teachers.

 
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