The Oxford Dictionary defines macrobiotics as the science of prolonging life. Macrobiotics means macro: great, biotics: life, or living life to the fullest with joy and health. The macrobiotic approach is based on the view that we are the result of, and are continually influenced by, our total environment, which ranges from the foods we eat and how we prepare them to the lifestyle we choose to lead and the climate and geography in which we live.
Macrobiotics amounts to understanding our physiological/biological limitations and living within them in a state of balance. This also leads to the cultivation of humility. The macrobiotic way of life teaches us that we are part of nature and the more we live in accordance with the natural laws, the healthier and happier we will be. Apart from teaching us the profound effect food has on our wellbeing, macrobiotics emphasises that the way we eat affects us physically, emotionally, mentally, sexually and spiritually.
Macrobiotics relies on the principles of yin and yang for understanding the effect the environment and food have on an individual. Yin is expansion, cold and passive, and lunar energy. Yang is contraction, active and solar energy. For example, consuming too many yin foods, such as fruits, caffeine, alcohol and sugar, will create an excess yin condition, resulting in headaches, fuzzy thinking, passiveness and lethargy. This is because yin rises upward, causing energy to disperse into the head. This is another reason why a yin headache, such as a hangover, cannot be treated by aspirin another extreme yin substance. Yang foods, such as animal protein, fish caviar and salt, cause the energy to move downward and create contraction in the body. An excess yang condition leads to aggressiveness, impatience and rigidity of the mind and body. The ideal is a balance of yin and yang, achieved by following the basic macrobiotic guidelines.
The foundation of the macrobiotic diet is based on 50-60 per cent whole grains. This includes brown rice (both short and long grain), whole wheat, barley, millet, oats, rye, corn, buckwheat, cracked wheat and rolled oats. Wholegrains are right in the middle of the yin/yang spectrum. The Eastern term for peace combines the two words rice and mouth, while the Chinese calligraphy for energy, chi, combines the characters for rice and breath. By eating more wholegrains, we cultivate a more balanced energy in our body and thus become more grounded, centred and calm.
The remainder of the macrobiotic diet comprises 25-30 per cent vegetables (locally grown and seasonal); 5-10 per cent beans; 5-10 per cent soups and sea vegetables and five per cent supplemental foods such as seeds, nuts, fish (optional), pickles, oils, and fruit and desserts, which are to be consumed occasionally but not on a daily basis.
Its interesting to note that the foundation of the macrobiotic diet is based on human biology. The structure of our teeth indicates were designed to chew more grains and vegetables than meat. We have a total of 32 teeth. Twenty are molars, which are specifically for grinding grains. The most important stage of digestion of grains takes place in the mouth while we are chewing and not in the stomach, as with meat, which requires hydrochloric acid for its breakdown. We also have eight incisors for biting fibres of vegetables and four canines for tearing meat.