About the Author
Wendy Esko has been teaching macrobiotics since 1976 and works for Eden Foods Inc., the largest distributor of natural and macrobiotic foods in North America.
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
OTHER AVERY BOOKS
American Macrobiotic Cuisine
Changing Seasons Macrobiotic Cookbook
AVELINE KUSHI AND WENDY ESKO
The Macrobiotic Approach to Cancer
MICHIO KUSHI WITH EDWARD ESKO
The Macrobiotic Cancer Prevention Cookbook
AVELINE KUSHI WITH WENDY ESKO
Macrobiotic Community Cookbook
Making the Transition to a Macrobiotic Diet
The earliest recorded use of the term macrobiotics is found in the writings of Hippocrates, the father of Western Medicine. In his essay “Airs, Waters, and Places,” Hippocrates introduced the word to describe people who were healthy and long-lived. Translated from the Greek, macro means “large” or “great,” and bios signifies “life.” Herodotus, Aristotle, Galen, and other classical writers used the term macrobiotics to describe a lifestyle, including a simple balanced diet that promoted health and longevity.
In the late eighteenth century, the German physician and philosopher Christopher W. Hufeland renewed interest in the term. His influential book on diet and health was entitled Macrobiotics, or The Art of Prolonging Life.
Nearly a century later, the term macrobiotics experienced another revival, this time originating in Japan. Two educators, Sagen Ishizuka, M.D., and Yukikazu Sakurazawa, cured themselves of serious illnesses by adopting a simple diet of brown rice, miso soup, sea vegetables, and other traditional foods. They spent many years studying and integrating traditional Oriental medicine and Eastern philosophy with Judeo-Christian teachings and holistic perspectives in modern science and medicine. Sakurazawa went to Paris in the 1920s. Later, he adopted the name George Ohsawa and applied the term macrobiotics to his teachings.
From the time of his illness until his death at the age of seventy-four, Ohsawa devoted himself to defining macrobiotics as it applies to modern living. He did much to spread information about the macrobiotic lifestyle, visiting more than thirty countries, giving more than 7,000 lectures, and publishing more than three hundred books.
Ohsawa had many students, among them Michio Kushi, the author of this book. Kushi was born in 1926 and graduated from Tokyo University with a degree in international law before coming to the United States in 1949. While completing further studies at Columbia University in New York, he also began teaching the macrobiotic approach to diet and health as the areas to achieve world peace. Kushi enjoyed sharing his knowledge of macrobiotics and natural health with others so much that he made it his life’s work.
When Kushi began teaching macrobiotics, he met many people who were eager to learn, but were unaccustomed to eating simple whole foods. He saw that there was a need to adapt the macrobiotic diet to modern tastes while retaining its integrity. Over the years, Kushi has traveled extensively, lecturing and teaching the macrobiotic way to groups around the world.
Macrobiotics advocates the use of traditional foods such as whole grains, beans, and locally grown vegetables as the primary sources of food energy and nutrition. In addition, the diet includes nutritious soyfoods, which have been used in Asia for hundreds of years, and mineral-rich foods from the ocean—sea vegetables and certain types of fish. In the macrobiotic diet, moderate amounts of white-meat fish and shellfish are often substituted for the red meat and poultry that are common elements of the typical Western diet. Sea salt and natural grain sweeteners such as rice syrup and barley malt replace the refined salt and sugar that currently play a major role in modern fare.
When Michio Kushi first accepted the challenge of helping people shift to a more healthful way of eating and living, he had trouble finding many of the wholesome foods that he recommended. So, with his late wife, Aveline, he started a natural foods business to fill the need. Later to be called Erewhon Foods, this small enterprise developed into a $17 million business specializing in macrobiotic and natural foods. After acquiring the nearly 100-year-old U.S. Mills, the company adopted U.S. Mills as its name, and Erewhon remains as a brand name.
To research and popularize the macrobiotic approach, Michio and Aveline Kushi founded the East-West Foundation and the Kushi Institute (of which their son Phiya is now executive director), both nonprofit educational organizations; the East West Journal, a monthly magazine that reached a worldwide circulation of more than 75,000 copies; and several macrobiotic restaurants. The Kushis had five children and five grandchildren.
Michio and Aveline Kushi wrote many books on macrobiotics, including The Book of Macrobiotics; The Book of Do-In: Exercise for Physical and Spiritual Development; The Cancer Prevention Diet; Your Face Never Lies: An Introduction to Oriental Diagnosis; The Macrobiotic Approach to Cancer; Natural Healing Through Macrobiotics; How to Cook with Miso; The Changing Seasons Macrobiotic Cookbook; and Macrobiotic Pregnancy and Care of the Newborn. Michio Kushi is also the author of a series of books, Teachings of Michio Kushi.
I came to know Michio and Aveline Kushi well—both extraordinary people with endless reserves of energy, patience, and compassion for others. As a scholar, philosopher, writer, and teacher, Michio Kushi is often busy from early in the morning until after midnight. Whether he is greeting individuals for counseling sessions, discussing plans for the further development and growth of the macrobiotic way, attending a session of the macrobiotic scientific committee, giving a seminar for medical and health-care professionals, or just talking about life with a friend, Kushi is always actively sharing his boundless enthusiasm for living and his ability to view life’s problems with gentle good humor.
This book is the result of my desire to understand Michio Kushi’s macrobiotic approach to diet and health and to explain it in simple terms to a general audience. Michio Kushi is the author of this book inasmuch as its contents are derived from discussions with him. In addition, material from his lectures, published books, and articles has been drawn upon.
Both Michio and I are indebted to our families and friends for their valuable assistance in preparing this book. We would especially like to thank Aveline Kushi and Wendy Esko for helping to develop the recipes and cooking sections, with the assistance of Karen Williamson, Caroline Heindenry, and Colleen Blauer. Special thanks also go to Lawrence Haruo Kushi of the Harvard School of Public Health, to Phillip Kushi and Ed Esko of the East West Foundation, to Bill Tara of the Kushi Institute, and to Lenny Jacobs, Linda Roszak, and Mark Mayell of the East West Journal, for reviewing the style, tone, accuracy, and clarity of the other sections of the book.
My greatest hope is that the spirit of sharing and cooperation, through which this book became a reality, will somehow touch the lives of its readers. For in giving is to be found abundance, peace, and happiness.
Macrobiotics is a way of eating and living that has been practiced for thousands of years by many people around the world. It stems from an intuitive understanding of the orderliness of nature. Modern macrobiotic philosophy focuses on offering a way of living that closes the widening gap between humans and the natural world. Macrobiotic theory suggests that sickness and unhappiness are nature’s way of urging us to adopt a proper diet and way of life, and that these troubles are unnecessary when we live in harmony with our environment. The macrobiotic diet is based on whole grains and traditional foods in harmony with the seasons.
As we have become somewhat removed from the natural elements, we have lost much that is valuable. We can learn a great deal from cultures such as those of the Hunzakut people, of a region now in northeast Pakistan; the Vilcabambans, who live high in the South American Andes; and the Abkhasians, who reside in an area of the former Soviet republic of Georgia located between southern Russia and the Black Sea. One characteristic shared by these cultures is that the people often live in continuous close contact with nature. They are also vitally healthy and very active physically, many beyond their hundredth birthday. Most of the foods they eat are locally and organically grown, vegetarian, and unprocessed. Their diet is essentially macrobiotic, as it is based primarily on whole cereal grains such as wheat, barley, buckwheat, corn, and brown rice, with fresh vegetables and greens, peas, nuts, beans, and fruits. Though they do eat some meat, dairy products, and poultry, these foods account for less than 1 percent of the diet.
We may not be able to adopt these peoples’ level of activity (although many people feel we should), or their more rustic lifestyle, but we can adopt a more wholesome diet. In fact, nutritional research performed for the United States government has long recommended a more simple approach to diet. Two publications, Dietary Goals for the United States and Diet, Nutrition and Cancer came out in favor—in 1977 and 1982, respectively—of sweeping dietary changes, including more whole grains, whole-grain products, beans, fresh vegetables, and fruits, and less red meat, cheese, eggs, poultry, and highly refined foods that are lacking in fiber. The studies also recommend reducing salt, sugar, and fat consumption.
Medical and nutritional scientists believe such dietary changes can reduce the incidence of heart disease, hypertension, obesity, gallbladder and liver disorders, and cancer. The first report, issued by the McGovern Senate Select Committee on Nutrition and Human Needs, concluded that our present eating habits “may be as profoundly damaging to the nation’s health as the widespread contagious diseases of the early part of the century.”
Although these monumental studies received little, if any, attention from the news media at the time, thousands of people began turning to alternatives such as the macrobiotic diet to prevent illness and improve their health. Several well-known physicians, including Dr. Keith Block, a medical and nutritional consultant for CBS radio in Chicago, and Dr. Robert Mendelsohn, former medical director of the American International Hospital in Zion, Illinois, praised the macrobiotic diet as a ray of hope in the prevention of illness.
Drs. Edward Kass and Frank Sacks of Harvard University reported in the American Journal of Epidemology, May 1974, that the macrobiotic diet normalized blood pressure. Their study of 210 individuals who switched to macrobiotics showed that the largely vegetarian diet was effective in bringing high blood pressure down to normal levels and that it maintained these levels far more effectively than the diet eaten by the average American.
A year later, The New England Journal of Medicine published another study by Drs. Kass and Sacks, this time stating that people who switched to the macrobiotic diet had healthier-than-average blood fat and cholesterol levels, despite having eaten the typical modern diet (which tends to elevate blood fat and cholesterol levels) most of their lives. In 1982, J. T. Knuiman and C. E. West confirmed Drs. Kass and Sacks’s findings in their own research, which compared the total blood fat and cholesterol levels of macrobiotic, vegetarian, and nonvegetarian males. Their report was published in the journal Atherosclerosis.
The success of the macrobiotic diet in controlling blood pressure, fat, and cholesterol levels has made it medically credible. Some physicians are now recommending it to their patients along with standard medical treatments. In fact, at Boston’s Lemuel Shattuck Hospital, wholesome macrobiotic meals are available to the staff and some patients. In Linho, Portugal, a group of prisoners have been given the opportunity to eat macrobiotically. Chico Varatojo, director of a macrobiotic center for the prison, feels that the poorly balanced nutrition of the conventional diet is largely responsible for crime and delinquency in modern society.
Unlike most other diets, macrobiotics has continued to grow and expand its sphere of influence for well over fifty years. Macrobiotic educators have been pioneers of the natural and organic foods revolution. Today, there are more than 500 learning centers teaching macrobiotics worldwide. In just about any large city, from Dublin to Dallas and from Athens to Atlanta, you will find people following the macrobiotic way. In many cities you will find one or more macrobiotic restaurants or restaurants that serve macrobiotic meals. Many individuals throughout the world have tried macrobiotics and discovered that it truly helped them to overcome poor health, even if they had been suffering for some time. They credit three factors as contributing to successful recovery:
• The proper quality, quantity, and combination of well-prepared food;
• Regular exercise; and
• A positive mental outlook.
These aspects of the macrobiotic way are the focal points of this book. In the chapters that follow, you will learn what the macrobiotic diet consists of, how it compares to the diet currently eaten in many parts of the world, and exactly how you can use the macrobiotic diet and lifestyle to improve your health and that of your family.
The Way to Better Health
The macrobiotic approach to diet, exercise, and living can lead to better health for you and your family. If you choose to eat macrobiotically and follow the other suggestions in this book, you will reap the rewards of an active, intelligent, energizing approach to life. You will discover richness and harmony in nature, even amidst the pressures and hazards of our complicated world.
Macrobiotic philosophy teaches that a wholesome diet is the most direct path to good health, so the first part of this book is directed to examining the role of nutrition in the macrobiotic way. More so than any other approach to diet, macrobiotics appreciates and emphasizes individual differences such as where you live, what you do, and your present state of health.
Based on the philosophic principles of balance and harmony, the idea behind the diet is simple: your climate or geographical location, activity level, and physiology determine your nutritional needs. In making dietary choices, these factors are far better guides to follow than general nutritional and caloric tables.
In addition, macrobiotics points out the harmful effect modern methods of food processing and refining have upon our physical and mental health. The macrobiotic diet uses only whole foods and foods that are processed by traditional methods.
WHOLE, UNPROCESSED FOODS
Unlike the people of Hunza, Vilcabamba, and other traditional cultures, who eat locally grown whole grains, fresh vegetables, and fruits, with few (if any) processed foods containing chemical additives, Americans have come to rely primarily on processed foods. As Dr. Alexander G. Schauss noted in his book Diet, Crime, and Delinquency, “The U.S. had the dubious distinction of becoming the first nation on earth to consume processed foods for more than 50 percent of its diet.” Samuel Epstein, M.D., in The Politics of Cancer, tells us that the average American now consumes nine pounds of chemical additives per year, in the form of preservatives, artificial colorings and flavorings, and texture agents. This “American” diet is actually fairly typical of the average diet in other affluent industrialized nations as well. Yet, as the longevity and general good health of people whose diets contain few processed foods attest, the use of chemical food additives is not necessary for the maintenance of good health.
An excess of calories and saturated animal fats, combined with both the depletion of nutrients through food and the heavy use of food additives, is largely responsible for the staggering rate of health problems in many Western nations. The National Center for Health Statistics estimates that nearly one in every two Americans has a chronic condition that may result in disease of some sort. To reverse this situation, the macrobiotic diet recommends eating whole foods, primarily of plant origin, which are lower in calories, contain less saturated fat and no chemical additives, and require little or no processing.
LOCALLY GROWN FOODS
Each region of the United States (and of the world), through its geography and climate, places certain demands and stresses on the people who live there. Eating foods that are grown in the same conditions as those in which we live enables us to adapt more successfully to the changes taking place around us. A person living in a place with a cold, wet climate, such as Scotland or Ireland, would do well to eat the oil-rich oats that have traditionally been consumed in those places. Someone living in the southern United States, on the other hand, would be better off eating brown rice or the sweeter corn products grown in that region.
As much of our food as possible should be native to the area in which we live. For a New Englander to eat Florida oranges or Costa Rican bananas is to ignore the close connection between the body and its immediate environment, thus inviting seasonal imbalances such as colds and flu, and possibly more serious illness.
Most residents of the United States and Canada live in the temperate zone, north of the tropic of Cancer and south of the Arctic Circle. The foods that grow naturally in the temperate zone—especially whole grains, beans, seeds, vegetables, and some fruits—are balanced nutritionally for those of us who live where they are grown and harvested.
THE MACROBIOTIC DIET IN PERSPECTIVE
A three-way comparison of the macrobiotic diet with the one eaten in modernized societies and the one recommended by a government panel in the publication Dietary Goals for the United States is illustrated by Figure 1.1.
The macrobiotic diet is composed of whole foods. Most of the food energy comes from complex carbohydrates. On the macrobiotic diet, proper cooking methods preserve nutrients and enhance flavor in foods. Highly processed foods containing additives, commercial salt, and cane or beet sugar are avoided as much as possible. Dairy products, red meat, poultry, and foods containing these ingredients are generally not recommended for people living in temperate climates.
The Dietary Goals recommendations do not exclude heavily processed food items containing additives and preservatives. This diet is still too high in saturated fats, cholesterol, and highly refined vegetable fats to be considered optimally healthful. No special recommendations are made on cooking procedures or on balancing the diet. Yet these recommendations are a tremendous improvement over the way most of us eat now.
Figure 1.1 Three-Way Comparison of Macrobiotic and Other Diets
The modern diet relies heavily on processed and synthetic foods. It is much too high in saturated animal fats, cholesterol, and highly refined vegetable fats, and it is deficient in complex carbohydrates, fiber, and natural vitamins and minerals. Excessively high in salt, sugar, and chemical additives (some 3,500 have found their way into our food supply), the modern diet is increasingly subject to criticism from a standpoint of nutritional quantity and quality.
THE STANDARD MACROBIOTIC DIET
The macrobiotic diet consists of the following:
• 50 to 60 percent whole grains and whole-grain products;
• 20 to 30 percent locally grown (and, if possible, organically grown) vegetables;
• 5 to 10 percent beans and sea vegetables;
• 5 to 10 percent soups; and
• 5 percent condiments and supplementary foods, including beverages, fish, and desserts.
Figure 1.2 shows the proportions of the diet in graphic form.
Many of the foods that form an important part of the standard macrobiotic diet may be unfamiliar to you. These foods, and the menu shown below, will become more meaningful as you read this book and sample the recipes. On the macrobiotic diet, you can look forward to delicious and healthful eating as a way of life. If you would like to find out more about macrobiotic foods right away, turn to the Glossary on page 240.
Figure 1.2 General Proportions of the Macrobiotic Diet
Although red meats, poultry, and dairy products, and dishes prepared with these foods, are generally not recommended for people in temperate climate zones, the macrobiotic diet need not be completely vegetarian. It includes small amounts of white-meat fish and certain shellfish. Richly nourishing tofu and tempeh (soy products that are minimally processed without chemicals, using traditional methods) are used in place of other animal foods. Seitan, a protein-rich wheat product; amasake, a sweet milklike drink made from brown rice; and a number of other supplementary foods that we will discuss more fully later on, are also included in the diet, often in place of meat and dairy products. Figure 1.3 outlines a sample of a day’s macrobiotic menu.
In macrobiotics, whole foods are eaten as close to their natural form as possible. In place of refined grains or flours, we suggest that you use brown rice with only the outer hull removed, whole oats, whole rye, whole wheat, corn, buckwheat, and millet. Flours made from whole wheat, rye, buckwheat, and corn can replace white flour for making breads and pasta. Whole-grain breakfast cereals can be made from whole or rolled oats, freshly ground cornmeal, brown rice, and so on. A typical day’s menu might look something like the one in Figure 1.3.
Whole-wheat sourdough toast with apple butter
Cucumber sushi and tempeh-sauerkraut sushi
Boiled salad with tofu dressing
Bancha tea with lemon
Baked sole with rice
Grated daikon with toasted nori strips
Quickly boiled watercress and carrots with umeboshi-scallion dressing
Couscous cake with pear sauce
Roasted seeds or nuts with raisins, rice balls or rice cakes, homemade popcorn, seasonal fruits (cooked, dried, or fresh), mochi cakes (made from sweet brown rice), or unleavened whole-wheat crackers
Figure 1.3 Sample Macrobiotic Menu for One Day
Denmark’s “Macrobiotic Experiment”
During World War I, Denmark was blockaded, and widespread food shortages and malnutrition were a very real threat. Mikkel Hindhede, superintendent of the Danish State Institute of Food Research, was appointed food advisor to the Danish government. Hindhede not only solved the problem, but also achieved a complete reversal of the situation.
In the years before the war, Denmark imported inexpensive grain. Danish farmers bred pigs, cattle, and poultry, and sent eggs and butter to England. The Danes themselves were big eaters of meat and eggs. After the blockade, however, their grain supply was cut off, and there were more than 5 million grain-eating domestic animals and 3.5 million people to feed.
Immediately, Hindhede ordered that four-fifths of the pigs and one-fifth of the cattle be killed, so that more grain would be available for human consumption. In addition, consumption of pork and other meats was reduced or eliminated altogether. Hindhede also limited the production of alcoholic beverages, knowing that the grain used to make them could be better used to make a special whole-meal bread called kleiebrot. The Danes began to eat more porridge, fresh greens, vegetables, peas, beans, and fruits, and lesser amounts of milk and butter.
From October 1917 to October 1918, the most trying period of the war, Denmark became the healthiest nation in Europe. In one year on a diet similar to the macrobiotic diet, the cancer rate dropped by 60 percent and the death rate fell more than 40 percent. After the war, the Danes adopted their former diet and the mortality rate quickly returned to prewar levels.
The Best Foods You Can Eat
Do you avoid starches because you have heard that they are fattening? You may be surprised to learn that the complex, natural starches found in whole grains, such as brown rice and whole wheat, and in vegetables are in reality the best foods we can eat. Natural foods that contain complex carbohydrates are energy foods. Compared with proteins or fats, complex carbohydrates provide the body with more easily usable fuel for energy and leave behind fewer waste products.
Nearly everyone eats carbohydrates in some form at each meal. However, in our modern world, where processed and refined foods are readily available, up to half of the carbohydrates eaten by the average individual are supplied in the form of simple carbohydrates. The problem is that simple, refined carbohydrates can damage our health.
COMPLEX VERSUS SIMPLE CARBOHYDRATES
A doughnut and coffee with cream and sugar in the morning or a candy bar in the afternoon may seem to give you a lift, but in reality these simple carbohydrate foods cause fatigue within a few minutes, when the sugar leaves the bloodstream. What happens is that the blood insulin level shoots up to counteract the overly quick release of sugar. This brings the blood sugar level down, way down, so that you start feeling tense and hungry for more sugar. Day after day, your body takes an uncomfortable roller-coaster ride, and your emotions can’t help rising and falling along with it.
The macrobiotic diet replaces simple carbohydrates with more complex, slower-burning ones. Brown rice, for example, releases a continuous stream of glucose into the blood at a rate of about two calories per minute. The sugar in a candy bar is burned more quickly, releasing thirty or more calories per minute. Simple sugars such as honey, refined white sugar, and even fruit sugars are absorbed quickly because they are digested without the use of pancreatic enzymes, but they do not provide long-lasting energy. A macrobiotic meal of whole grains, vegetables, and beans will release its energy over a period of hours, without resulting in wide swings of mood or hunger for sweets.
ENERGY FOOD VERSUS BUILDING FOOD
Carbohydrates give us energy, whereas proteins help us to build and renew cells, muscles, and tissues. Even though the body contains a large amount of protein, our primary dietary need is for energy to maintain a balanced internal state. Carbohydrates must be supplied continuously in the diet because the body can store only small reserves of them. Only when the supply of carbohydrates is insufficient, as in starvation, does the body begin to break down proteins for energy.
The people of Hunza, well-known for their overall good health and longevity, get about 75 percent of their total caloric intake from complex carbohydrates, with the other 25 percent coming from proteins and fats. The ratio of complex carbohydrate to protein in their diet is about six or seven to one—identical to the macrobiotic diet. In contrast, the diet in many parts of the world contains about 12 percent protein and only 22 percent complex carbohydrates—about a two-to-one ratio, as you saw in Figure 1.1.
This means the average individual’s body must work much harder, because it is forced to convert a portion of the fats and proteins consumed into energy. In addition, these conversions create waste products that must be acted upon by the liver and kidneys and eliminated from the body. The mainstays of the macrobiotic diet, on the other hand, are clean-burning complex carbohydrates that are converted by the body into glucose for energy, carbon dioxide that is exhaled, and water.
SWEET LOW, SWEET HIGH
The quality of the carbohydrates consumed is just as important as the quantity. A lack of complex carbohydrates, along with an excess of simple carbohydrates, is largely responsible for the problem of hypoglycemia (low blood sugar). Hypoglycemia first reveals itself as insatiable hunger, which may persist even on a full stomach. Fatigue, excessive perspiration, yawning, shaking, and emotional instability are a few of the other symptoms.
More than 10 million Americans suffer from hypoglycemia, some of them without ever knowing it. At first glance this would appear to be an absurdity: How could so many people have low blood sugar while consuming an average of nearly two pounds of sugar a week? If you recall our discussion of simple carbohydrates, you can see how it is the sugar itself that causes the problem.
Since sugar, in the form of glucose, supplies energy to the whole body, a lack of it can weaken every organ, including the brain, which depends on sugar to function properly. When too much sugar is eaten, however, it actually reduces the amount of sugar available to the body for energy.
The islets of Langerhans are tiny glands located in the pancreas that are responsible for the production of the hormone insulin. They become overstimulated when there are excessive quantities of fast-burning sugar in the diet. For example, when a person with hypoglycemia consumes a candy bar or soft drink, the islets spurt insulin into the blood, lowering blood sugar levels and depleting stores of glycogen (a source of quick energy held in reserve in the liver). Unable to increase the blood sugar level without glycogen, the liver sends an SOS to the brain for help—and all of a sudden the hypoglycemic person craves more sugar. If additional sugar is consumed, the cycle is repeated. If not, the body secretes the hormone adrenaline, which, among other things, makes sugar available for energy in emergencies. The release of adrenaline is in part responsible for the symptoms mentioned earlier. And even though doctors may tell their patients with hypoglycemia not to eat sugar, many still do, because they do not understand why it is bad for them.
The standard recommendation for people with hypoglycemia is to follow a high-protein diet. In the short run, this seems to work fine. Every time such individuals feel a craving for sugar, they are instructed to eat a high-protein item to satisfy it. With a short supply of glycogen in the liver, the body is forced to convert protein into glucose for fuel. Making this conversion requires a tremendous amount of energy, and after a few weeks, a hypoglycemic person often finds it impossible to follow a high-protein regimen. Totally exhausted and craving sweets more than ever, he or she goes off the diet.
Years of experience in working with people who suffer from hypoglycemia has led me to a different approach to the problem. People with this condition need no more protein than anybody else. What they need most is the same thing we all need to have plenty of—fuel for energy, in the form of complex carbohydrates. It is best for those suffering from hypoglycemia to avoid sugar and refined foods. Moreover, hypoglycemic individuals may need to eat smaller, more frequent meals for a time. This is a relatively simple transition once you decide to do it, because the absolutely safe form of sugar, slowly released by the macrobiotic diet, replaces lost energy and reduces the craving for sweets. Every situation and every individual is different, however. Any questions regarding your personal needs should be brought to a trained macrobiotic counselor.
The Sweet Life of a Sugar Junkie
For years, my friend William Dufty, radio personality and author of Lady Sings the Blues, loved to eat sugar. “I must have been hooked very early,” he says, “because my earliest memories of mealtime at home with the family was a kind of purgatory of meat and potatoes which I suffered through in order to get to heaven: a sweet dessert.”
It wasn’t until years later, though, while seated next to actress Gloria Swanson at a New York luncheon press conference, that Bill awoke to his problem. He was about to drop a sugar cube into his coffee when Gloria whispered, “That stuff is poison, I won’t have it in my house, let alone my body.” The conversation that followed stayed on his mind for days. He was overweight and felt lousy much of the time.
After Bill met Gloria and discovered macrobiotics, he gave up eating sugar and went on to write about his experiences. In the introduction to his book Sugar Blues, he writes:
One night, in one sitting, I read a little book that said very simply if you’re sick, it’s your own fault. Pain is the final warning. You know better than anyone else how you’ve been abusing your body, so stop it. Sugar is poison, it said, more lethal than opium and more dangerous than atomic fallout. Shades of Gloria Swanson and the sugar cube. Hadn’t she told me everyone has to find out themselves—the hard way? I had nothing to lose but my pains. I began the next morning with firm resolve. I threw all the sugar out of my kitchen. Then I threw out everything that had sugar in it, cereals and canned fruit, soups and bread. Since I had never read any labels carefully I was shocked to find the shelves were soon empty; so was the refrigerator. I began eating nothing but whole grains and vegetables . . .
I had it very rough for about twenty-four hours, but the morning after was a revelation. I went to sleep with exhaustion, sweating and tremors. I woke up feeling reborn. Grains and vegetables tasted like a gift from the gods.
The next few days brought a succession of wonders. My rear stopped bleeding, so did my gums. My skin began to clear up and had a totally different texture when I washed. I discovered bones in my hands and feet that had been buried under bloat. I bounced out of bed at strange hours in the morning. My head seemed to be working again. I had no problems anymore. My shirts were too big. So were my shoes. One morning I discovered my jaw.
To make a long, happy story short, I dropped from 205 pounds to a neat 135 in five months and ended up with a new body, a new head, a new life.
The “little book” that changed Bill’s life was Macrobiotics, by George Ohsawa.
Protein and the Macrobiotic Diet
Proteins are complex molecules found in almost all living things. Whereas carbohydrates are the best source of food energy, proteins are the best source of raw material for the vital processes of growth and repair.
Proteins are the building blocks of the human body. They are found abundantly in the muscles, tendons, blood, and organs. The hair, finger-nails, and skin are all made of protein. Yet it is not protein itself that we need in our diet, but the components of proteins known as amino acids.
In the process of digestion, the body breaks down proteins into amino acids. The amino acids supplied by foods, along with those recycled internally, are reassembled by the liver, creating the proteins required by the body for the repair of cells and tissues, for growth, and to maintain metabolic processes. Of the twenty-two amino acids needed to maintain health, eight of them, known as the essential amino acids, can be obtained only from food. The body is able to manufacture the others from various substances.
This chapter considers protein and the macrobiotic diet from two perspectives: how the quality and quantity of protein in the diet affect health, particularly athletic performance; and how protein consumption relates to the problem of world hunger.
PROTEIN SOURCES IN THE MACROBIOTIC DIET
The macrobiotic diet supplies protein, including the eight essential amino acids, from the best available protein sources—whole grains, beans, vegetables, sea vegetables, seeds, nuts, white-meat fish, and fruit. Other protein sources, such as red meat, poultry, and milk, generally contain a high percentage of substances that can contribute to coronary disease and other health problems.
Many people today eat far too much protein, and since foods that are high in protein are often high in fat, these people may be eating too much fat (especially too much saturated animal fat) as well. Excessive protein in the diet can result in accumulations of urea, uric acid, fat, and cholesterol in body tissues and in the blood. Excess acid and fat in the blood tend to wash away stores of essential minerals, such as iron, magnesium, zinc, phosphorus, and calcium, causing the bones and teeth to weaken. In addition, as the National Academy of Sciences publication Diet, Nutrition, and Cancer, suggests, high protein intake may increase the risk of cancer of the breast, colon, rectum, pancreas, prostate gland, and kidneys.
Table 3.1 summarizes the nutritional composition of various foods. The percentages for protein, fat, and carbohydrate are based on the total caloric value of the particular food. For example, in brown rice, 7 percent of the calories come from protein, 4 percent come from fat, and 89 percent come from carbohydrate. In the root vegetable daikon, 16 percent of the calories come from protein, 5 percent come from fat, and 80 percent come from carbohydrate.
On the average, about 12 percent of the total caloric intake on the macrobiotic diet comes from protein, 15 percent comes from fat, and 73 percent comes from complex carbohydrates. The way to achieve this ideal balance is to eat a variety of foods that offer an optimal amount of high-quality protein, without excessive amounts of saturated fats or cholesterol.
IF YOU’RE AN ATHLETE