Macrobiotic Nutrition time to re-embrace an ancient diet
What is macrobiotic nutrition and why might it help you? The Macrobiotic way of eating could be described as a traditional form of veganism. Written by macrobiotic nutritionist and culinary teacher Georgina Richardson.
When I was first introduced to macrobiotics about ten years ago in Brighton, after eating a vegan diet, it was as though I had entered a new state of being. In fact over the years it changed my life so much that I now run a specialised macrobiotic shop online together with small cooking classes in and around the Peak District. My partner and I have also began making our own miso, koji, natto, kimchi and kombucha called “Be Wild Inside”. We love talking about the mysterious world of the microbiome and when we explain it to others the seed of excitement and possibility begins to spread.
Macrobiotic cooking to some people is something of an art and it requires a certain amount of intuition to bring out the nutritional benefits of whole foods and good quality organic vegetables. This is done by way of various cooking techniques. It’s a lifelong experience of learning; of listening to and mastering your own body, mind, spirit, physical and mental abilities and with this comes self-healing and a strong intuition. The taste buds come alive too, as if reborn, and tasting any foods with a heavy refined sugar content bring shock rather than satisfaction.
However, the mystery of this art form is very simple once you apply the basic principles and then you can design dishes as elaborate as you want or simply adapt them for your own self-healing needs.
What does Macrobiotics mean?
Macrobiotics, noun, (used with a singular verb)
1. a way of life that guides one’s choices in nutrition, activity, and lifestyle.
2. a system of principles and practices of harmony to benefit the body, mind, and planet.
– macrobiotic, adj., such as macrobiotic philosophy or macrobiotic diet. Origin: from Ancient Greek: Macro (large or long) and Bios (life or way of living).
The body is very efficient at healing itself; it naturally digests our food, it does the breathing, clearing toxins out of our system, regenerating new cells and more. And it continues to do all of this whilst we go about our daily lives. If we constantly help ourselves each day by feeding ourselves quality wholefoods and plenty of organic vegetables that are in season and grown in our immediate environment, then gradually, we become connected to nature and begin harmonising our lives to the seasons, to night and day, to our various moods and feelings and to live in way that is more in sync with what we each want and need out of life.
Vegetables and other natural wholefoods that have been grown in a rich biodiversity of soil will be rich in vitamins and minerals. We’ve been seeing now for decades the problems with food which has been grown using hydroponics or in factories or grown using extreme amounts of pesticides and fertilisers. We ingest these chemicals too in a small amount, but over time, toxins begin building up inside us and it can overburden our bodies if we don’t work with it to help clear them out. As a species, we haven’t been around long enough to see the consequences of our modern ways of eating.
"As a species, we haven’t been around long enough to see the consequences of our modern ways of eating."
These days many are starting to question our civilised behaviours, actions and mental stability as well as the huge rise in serious diseases and premature deaths. There is the old cliche that we’re living longer, but our health is certainly not living long.
I have always believed that good health develops from living the life you love. With the added benefit of a good diet and plenty of exercise. For many years when I lived in crowded cities in my 20’s and 30’s I felt like I always had to be searching for something that I could fit into. I used to suffer from various anxieties. It wasn’t until later that I began researching the impact that city living has on our health. I found that eating a one-pot miso soup every day with a root vegetable, a round vegetable, upward growing vegetables, some fried tofu or tempeh, wakame (seaweed) and a sprinkle of black sesame seeds with a few herbs healed the anxieties I was having.
Seaweeds have been consumed for over 10,000 years according to archaeological evidence. Over the last few decades, medical researchers have discovered that including sea vegetables in one’s diet reduces the risk of some diseases and helps eliminate heavy metals and dangerous toxins from environmental pollution. They are virtually fat-free, rich in essential minerals, vitamins, protein and important trace elements that are lacking in land vegetables due to soil demineralization. Four tablespoons of cooked hijiki contains over half the calcium found in 250 ml of milk and more iron than in an egg, so they are beneficial for vegans. They also contain vitamins B1, B2, B6, niacin, Vitamin C and folic acid so they’re excellent for maintaining a balanced mood and clarity of mind.
The Macrobiotic way of eating could be described as a traditional form of veganism in one respect, although as a whole, the climate where a person lives is where that person’s food ideally should come from. Eating whole, living foods means you eat the energy of the foods along with all the nutrients and this is why the body becomes harmonised and satisfied. Eating a meal is not meant to be rushed. The more we chew, the more the nutrients in the food get broken down into usable energy. After eating a meal prepared in a macrobiotic way, you shouldn’t be left hungry and craving non foods such as refined sugary desserts and the like.
In the kitchen, it’s all about being calm and using simple, delicate cooking techniques such as steaming, sauteing, simmering, blanching, pan-grilling or stir frying quickly over a high heat. These methods have the advantage of saving the majority of the nutrients in our foods.
Instead of smothering dishes in rich, creamy sauces or seasoning them with overpowering spices, macrobiotic cooking requires subtle flavourings that have a light, understated approach. This allows the natural essence of the food itself to be tasted. A great example of this is a dish called nishime, a traditional Japanese slow cooked vegetable dish using just a little water but allows the vegetables to simmer for a long time in their own juices. Near the end, a little tamari or shoyu is added to highlight the sweetness. It’s a beautiful combination of flavours. I like to use, pumpkin, leeks and onion as the main vegetables.
A common criticism levelled at vegans is that ruminating animals such as cows or sheep have several stomachs to digest vegetables. Of course we only have one stomach, therefore we are not designed to eat vegetables. There is some validity to this point, as the digestive systems of such animals do have an important role in fermenting and eventually digesting raw plants. Most of the vital wholefoods used in macrobiotic cooking are fermented. The mainstays are miso soups, tempeh, natto, amazake and condiments such as wheat-free tamari which is the run off liquid from making miso paste, brown rice vinegar, refined sugar free shoyu, mirin and umeboshi (Japanese plum) which is the most alkaline of foods and has been used to help with alcoholism and as a digestive aid by neutralising the acidity of the blood.
Fermented foods help the digestion of fats, grains and proteins, rendering the food easier to assimilate. Homemade kimchi and sauerkraut is essential to have if you suffer from bloating or digestive problems due to stress. It cleans out the gut which will also help ease depression or low moods. I’ve experienced this so many times, it’s an absolute must in our kitchen. It’s also helpful if you’ve gone off track a little and been eating extreme foods or alcohol.
Sugar and alcohol create acid conditions in the body, leading to inflammation and fluctuating blood sugar levels which, if continued, carry on to create further problems. We are seeing some of this now with very high levels of younger people suffering from depression, anxiety and stress, violent behaviour and obesity. Amazake is a great way to tackle any sugar cravings and is also used as an energy drink. Also, a warm juice made by simmering sweet vegetables such as carrots, onions and pumpkin with a little added rice syrup if needed can also have this satisfying effect with the added benefit of keeping the blood sugar stable.
These may all come across as being imported from Japan, but miso can be made in any country with grains such as barley, rice or chickpeas and instead of the Japanese plum for fermenting, you can use the plums that grow here in the UK. Amazake can be made with oats or millet by just adding koji (Aspergillus Culture), which is the bacteria used for fermenting. The amazing process of this ferment, especially in making the super-food miso, is that new compounds are created such as all essential amino acids, lactobacillus as well as many B vitamins. One particular plant isoflavone, found in miso called genistein has been known to rapidly suppress the growth of cancer cells. Numerous studies have reflected this and it has been reported in the British Journal of Cancer.
To get you started
Cook with the five tastes in mind:
Sweet: Foods that are naturally sweet - sweet potatoes, pumpkin, squash, carrots, sauteed onions, whole grains
Sour: Sauerkraut, kimchi, umeboshi, lemons, rice vinegar, apple cider vinegar (unpasteurized)
Salty: Tamari, shoyu, sea salt, miso, sea vegetables, gomasio
Bitter: Kale, watercress, radish, burdock root, parsley
Pungent: Ginger, turnips, raw onions, daikon (long white radish), garlic, horseradish
Experiment with textures and try to include a variety into each meal. Try to include a variety of cooking styles to make your meal: Include a light miso soup with boiled carrot, chickpeas or aduki beans a small amount of wakame, topped with coriander, parsley or basil.
Steam leafy dark green veg such as broccoli, kale or cabbage and drizzle a tahini and lemon dressing over the leaves.
Lightly fry some tofu or tempeh that has been marinated in a little shoyu, mirin and rice vinegar, with green beans, celery or pak choi. Pressure cook whole grains such as organic long brown rice, organic millet, organic barley or mix a few grains together such as one part brown rice with half part barley. Make a sea vegetable dish like arame simmered with sauteed onion and ginger, topped with toasted sesame seeds. Grate some raw carrot and daikon
Include some unpasteurized sauerkraut or kimchi. Dessert could be a seasonal wild berry kanten using agar agar.
In the spring and summer go for lighter and quicker cooking styles using seasonal vegetables and during the Autumn and winter, go for longer cooking styles using more root vegetables.
Seasonal healing foods:
Spring: is a good time to cleanse the liver and gallbladder. Foods that help include: Barley or Hato Mugi, leeks, leafy greens, spring onions, ume plum
Summer: Heart / Small intestines. Foods to help include bitter dark greens, corn, salads and late summer for the spleen - Pancreas / Stomach, Millet, hokkaido pumpkin, other round vegetables.
Autumn: Lungs / Large Intestines - Brown rice, hardy greens, pungent roots
Winter: Kidney / Bladder - Aduki Beans, Hatcho Miso, root vegetables
Macrobiotic Nutritionist & Chef, Culinary Teacher, Positively Vegan Magazine Contributor.
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See recipe: amazake dessert