History and Benefits of Diets Zen Macrobiotics

About the history and benefits of the Zen Macrobiotics diet plan.


Zen Macrobiotics

The Head Man: True believers consider Georges Ohsawa a kind of philosophical Marco Polo, an Easterner who brought the spiritual wealth of the Orient to the West. Born Yukikazu Sakurazawa in Japan in 1893, he traveled extensively abroad and eventually settled in Paris. Ohsawa rejected medication, surgery, and vaccination in favor of a food theory of disease; he believed that cancer was caused by eating sugar and claimed to be able to cure polio, diabetes, kidney disease, asthma, and morning sickness with arcane dietary prescriptions. In 1942 he came up with Zen macrobiotics, a culinary regime based on the ancient Chinese polarities of Yin and Yang. According to Ohsawa, the most perfect food--ideally balanced between Yin (sugar) and Yang (salt)--is brown rice, the staple of the macrobiotic ("large-life") diet. Relying entirely on whole natural foods, locally produced and ritually prepared, the macrobiotic diet is designed to bring the individual into harmony with the seasons, the ecology, and the cosmos. It is not a diet for dilettantes. "Without the guidance of the Philosophy of the Unique Principle [the Yin-Yang concept]," Ohsawa warned, Zen macrobiotic vegetarianism "can descend into mere sentimentalism."

Overview: The macrobiotic diet rejects all "industrialized" food and drink--anything canned, bottled, artificially colored, or adulterated. Animal products also are to be avoided, particularly beef and dairy products, although fish and game are considered relatively free from pollution. Tomatoes, potatoes, and eggplant are taboo, because they are too "yin," and liquids are restricted, with a preference given to green tea. To detoxify and purge the body, the devotee begins with a 10-day rice diet, after which he or she selects a diet from minus three to plus seven on Ohsawa's scale. Minus three is a diet composed of a mixture of meat, vegetables, fruit, and 10% grain. With each step up the ladder, the proportion of grain is increased 10% until the ideal total grain diet is reached at plus seven.

All foods on the macrobiotic diet should be raised organically within a radius of 100 mi. from the consumer, and they should be eaten fresh and whole. (In the case of fish, that means eating the head and tail too.) Refrigeration is discouraged as artificial. The cook should work standing tall in the "kitchen-shrine," preferably completing in the morning all preparations for the whole day. The dining table should be maintained as the center of social life. Macrobiotics is above all a way of life, and only incidentally a way to lose weight.

Pro: A macrobiotic diet is relatively cheap and easy to prepare. There is no calorie counting. Also, it emphasizes fresh vegetables, whole grains, and restricted animal products, insuring high fiber and low cholesterol intake. Processed foods are forbidden as being a source of potentially harmful sugar and chemical additives.

Con: His diet theory of disease notwithstanding, Ohsawa died of cancer in 1966. In November, 1965, a young New Jersey woman on the plus-seven diet wasted away to 70 lb. and died. Following this incident, the Food and Drug Administration closed down the Ohsawa Foundation in New York. A few years later, however, Newsweek reported that there were still some 10,000 macrobiotic devotees in this country, primarily in and around Boston, San Francisco, and other centers of the counter-culture. Pediatricians have condemned the diet for its effect on children, and in 1971 the American Medical Association warned that a macrobiotic diet can lead to anemia, protein and calcium deficiency, emaciation, kidney malfunction, scurvy, and malnutrition.

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