A Beginner's Guide to a Macrobiotic Diet

The macrobiotic diet emphasizes 'balance, harmony and change' in the eating and lifestyle choices the dieter makes, like the ying and yang symbolizes balance in life. ArpornSeemaroj/Shutterstock

The macrobiotic diet, an ancient diet that regained popularity in the 1960s, is making a comeback.

The diet attempts to balance the yin and yang elements of food and uses specific percentages of foods to be included in every meal — like 40 to 60 percent whole grains, for example, and 20 to 30 percent vegetables, according to WebMD. There's no common menu to a macrobiotic diet, so you can mix the vegetables and grains you consume, and even include locally grown fruits and nuts and seafood once or twice a week. The only things to avoid on a macrobiotic diet are processed foods, refined sugar dairy, eggs, chicken and red meat.

But that's just the food. Lifestyle and eating processes matters on a macrobiotic diet, too. Chewing bites of food at least 50 times to aid digestion is a common practice, and exercise is a big part of the diet as well, as U.S. News and World Report points out. Experiencing nature through walks or getting in touch with yourself through yoga and mediation are actively encouraged while on a macroboiotic diet.

There are a lot of reasons to consider this diet, says Denny Waxman, author of "The Complete Macrobiotic Diet."

"The highest goal of macrobiotic practice is personal, social and planetary health," he says. "Although macrobiotic practice could at first seem quite restrictive, it is actually the most adaptable and flexible eating and lifestyle practice that emphasizes the importance of sleeping and rising early, eating at regular times, basing meals on grains, beans and vegetables, and outdoor activity, which can be done at home or away." Read on as Waxman answers five key questions you may have about the macrobiotic diet before you consider starting it.

MNN: How did this diet originate?

Denny Waxman: Macrobiotics is based on the most traditional diets of the world's long-standing grain- and vegetable-based civilizations. The diet and lifestyle guidelines came from observing the eating patterns and lifestyle practices of civilizations from different parts of Asia, India, the Middle East, Africa and Europe. These civilizations all based their diets primarily on grains, beans, soups, vegetables, seeds, nuts and fruits. Before the Industrial Revolution, surprisingly small quantities of animal and dairy foods supplemented these mainstays.

Why do you think more people are interested in the macrobiotic diet these days?

There are countless kinds of diets offered today and enormous amounts of information about nutrition and health, but macrobiotics provides the necessary order and structure for integrating and synthesizing all that we have learned about health without being forceful or rigid.

What are the biggest misconceptions about a macrobiotic diet?

The most common misconceptions are that macrobiotic practice is rigid and restrictive, is based on a Japanese diet and that it is mainly for recovering from serious illness, especially cancer. Although there are small elements of truth in each of these misconceptions, they are taken out of context and have been spread wildly in popular culture.

What's the most important thing we need to know about it?

Macrobiotics is not only a diet. It is a way of life based on the principles of balance, harmony and change. The practice is guided by gratitude and appreciation for all aspects of life. Practicing macrobiotics helps connect us to our body's natural rhythms and environment and brings a sense of order and harmony into our lives. The principles are guides for all aspects of life, including health, activity and relationships.

Any tips for the early days of starting a macrobiotic diet?

Think about adding healthy foods and eating habits, as opposed to avoiding or taking away. Go at your own pace — do as much as you can comfortably each day without feeling stressed. Macrobiotics is not an all-or-nothing practice. We understand within the practice that health is a direction that we move into as opposed to a fixed state. We try to create habits that support and nurture our health and life over time.