Oliver's Blog

Thursday 28th January 2021

What Is Unique About Macrobiotic Cooking?

Five Things You Need To Know About Macrobiotics

Macrobiotic cooking has developed and evolved over many decades and its particularly useful at this time due to its benefits for our overall health generally and our immune system specifically. When I first became interested in macrobiotics about forty years ago everyone thought we were crazy to be advocating a plant-based diet. Eating a diet based on vegetables, millet (which people referred to as bird food), beans and whole grains was very different to typical diets in western culture at the time, so there was a degree of ridicule from those who could yet see the benefits.

Fast forward to 2021 and many people are saying a plant-based diet based on wholefoods is the way to go. In fact, the latest advice on nutrition from the NHS recommends the type of diet macrobiotic practitioners have been advocating for decades. A diet made up of approximately one third vegetables, one third whole grains and complex carbs, one sixth dairy or alternatives to dairy, one sixth proteins from beans,fish and possibly meat.

A few years ago there were large sections for dairy foods and meat, these have now shrunk and include plant-based alternatives. Now the recommendation is at the most ⅛ made up of meat and dairy. Sugary foods and processed foods are now outside of their diagram altogether whereas four years ago, they were seen as forming a part of a balanced diet.

The NHS guidelines are now essentially a plant-based diet. You can see their recommendations here in full. Organisations such as the World Health Organisation and British Heart Foundation agree and the fascinating China Study, a very extensive piece of research by Colin Cambell came to similar conclusions. Dan Buettner in his Blue Zones Solution visited the five places in the world where people lived the longest and looked at what they were doing and eating. A range of things were found to be important including social support, exercise and eating a plant-based diet.

Macrobiotics got it right forty years ago, so did the whole foods movement. The world is now catching up, but what else does macrobiotic cooking have to offer?

What Is Macrobiotic Cooking?

One: A Huge Range Of Incredibly Delicious Food

I must admit when I first came to macrobiotics in 1980, the range of recipes on offer was relatively limited with dishes based around brown rice and miso soup with very few desserts. However, what I have witnessed since then has been an incredible evolution within the movement after decades of experimentation.

Macrobiotic recipes are now incredibly varied using a multitude of whole grains, vegetables and sea vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, beans and pulses and many different seasonings. In addition, due to the way macrobiotic food is prepared, dishes feel incredibly satisfying - something that people new to macrobiotics continually tell us.

Two: This Is a Flexible System of Cooking

It’s not one-size-fits-all like a lot of other dietary approaches. Macrobiotic cooking recognises that individuals need different foods and those foods need different cooking styles. For example someone with an active lifestyle will need more oils, protein and salt than someone who is much less active. And further adjustments are needed according to their constitution, any health issues, personality type and emotional needs.

More obviously people living in colder climates require more warming (yang) foods, including long-cooked foods to give them the energy they need, and those living in warmer climates will need more cooling foods and ways of cooking The easiest way of adapting to different climates is to eat primarily local foods, these are generally just what our bodies need to be comfortable in the local environment.

It is also helpful to change our cooking through the seasons, to keep our bodies adapted to the changing conditions - more salads and fruits in the summer, more soups, stews and root vegetables in the winter.

Three: We Use Yin Yang and The Five Elements To Create Balance and Vitality

Using the ancient principles of Yin and Yang, macrobiotic cooking sees everything in terms of pairs of complementary opposites. Some foods relax us, others give us energy and may cause tension; some cool the body, others add heat; certain foods take energy up the body and others down. Understanding this we can use our daily cooking to create internal balance throughout our body, emotions and thinking.
With this understanding, we can learn to support ourselves and others to be more calm and centred - whilst helping our system adjust to warm or cold weather. Understanding Yin and Yang and how ki flows in the body means we can remain more balanced whatever our circumstances.

We also look at how foods contain life energy (Ki, Chi or Prana) and how we cook them changes the quality of the energy and how it affects our body and being. This means we can use our cooking creatively to give us the most vitality and life energy possible! We primarily use fresh and whole food ingredients which still contain the most life force. Processed foods have had a lot of this energy knocked out of them!

Five Element theory takes us even further. With this we can see that there are five aspects to our personality, the functioning of our internal organs, our activities and emotions - with each Element governing a different pair of organs. For example, liver and gallbladder (Tree element), lungs and large intestine (Metal element). We can learn to nourish all five aspects of ourselves via food using five different types of ingredients, five main flavours, a good variety of colours and also different cooking styles to create dishes that are deeply nourishing for our whole being. It’s a very sophisticated system.

What Is Macrobiotic Cooking?

Four: How You Prepare Each Ingredient Changes How It Affects The Body

Macrobiotic cooking is an alchemy, an art and science for changing the nature of foods to bring the biggest benefits to our health. Western nutrition (which is useful and informative looks at the nutrients in foods but pays little attention to how different ways of cooking change the effects the food has on our body and mind.

Macrobiotics looks at ingredients very differently. Whether something is eaten raw, after light steaming, boiling, roasted, fried, blanched or fried dictate the effect they have on our organs, mind and emotions.

If we take a carrot as an example, if we grate it to make a salad, it would have a cooling effect on the body, and have an opening and cleansing effect on the liver. If we cut the same carrot into large chunks and coated it with oil and salt and roasted it, it would then become sweet and have a warming effect on the body. And this, in turn, will nourish and relax the stomach and pancreas - a completely different effect on the body.

Five: Seeing Food As Medicine

For forty years I have been using food as medicine, using this macrobiotic understanding. This means that when I feel out of balance, tired or tense I adjust my food to bring me back into balance and help me feel good again. Over the years I have had the privilege of giving thousands of consultations using food as medicine, helping people use food to heal a wide range of health problems. We are eating every day, so why not learn to heal yourself with food and maintain your health?

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Taking Things Further

Although macrobiotic cooking can be quite complex and involved, it’s also at its heart simple and accessible. We can start benefiting pretty much straight away. Have a look at our free introductory course here and our short courses here. If you have any questions, or would like to find out more about what we offer, contact us or follow us here.