Macrobiotics and the Raw Food Diet

On the surface, Macrobiotics and a Raw Food Diet seem either very close on the continuum or very far apart. Both can be viewed by the mainstream as “radical,” “extreme,” often “vegan,” and “quasi-religious in their fanatism.” Both focus on the energy of food, albeit in different ways. On the other hand, Macrobiotics cooks nearly everything, including fruit, eschews things like chocolate, coconuts and bananas as far too yin for the Northern Hemisphere, and views beer as superior to wine. Most raw foodies steer clear of grains, whereas Macrobiotics puts grains, especially brown rice, into the highest category of nutrition. Despite these apparent contradictions, in my raw food coaching and dietary transition coaching, I have found that Macrobiotics and Raw Food can synergize into quite a valuable combination.

Here’s how you, too, can combine “big life” with “the best day ever”:

Eat with the Seasons

Primarily a Macrobiotic principle, this one offers some strong benefits to raw foodies, most obviously in terms of produce freshness. It also ensures a variety of nutrients instead of the green smoothie ruts many raw foodists can slip into.

You know what I mean, right? Throw some bananas and spinach in the blender and you’re good to go … every single day … for weeks on end! Uh-uh. Green smoothies are great, but every diet needs variety, especially ones that exclude a wide range of “normal” foods. Eating seasonly helps bring trace nutrients and different vitamins into the mix. You can still drink a green smoothie every single day, but mix it up a bit with whatever fruit and greens are in season where you live.

Eat Locally

A Macrobiotic corollary to the last principle, this one seems both obvious and challenging to raw foodies. On the one hand, of course! Support your local Farmer’s Market or CSA. It’s cheaper, fresher, seasonal and usually organic. And did I mention cheaper??

On the other hand, most superfoods come from all over the globe. It is a common feat for that Vitamix to contain items from perhaps 5 of the 7 continents on any given morning. Hey, I love my cacao, hemp, goji berries, and acai just as much as the next superfoodist. OK, maybe more in the case of cacao. ๐Ÿ˜‰ I personally find superfoods a valuable and sustainable addition to the raw food diet, and I would find life without blue green algae, well, a little less fulfilling.

But … and this is a big but … there is something to eating locally. According to Macrobiotics, tropical fruits (especially bananas and coconuts), coffee, nightshades and chocolate are extremely expansive and “yin.” Macrobiotics looks at the energy of food in terms of yin (up, opening, feminine, expansive) and yang (down, contracting, masculine, focusing). I am drastically oversimplifying here, but please bear with me.

Sometimes raw foodists have a difficult time staying “grounded.” They enjoy the clarity and high of 100% raw food but after awhile start feeling spacey, out of body or generally disconnected from “the real world.” If this describes you, then eating locally can help in two ways. First, if you live in the Northern Hemisphere, you will drastically reduce the amount of airy fairy yin foods in your diet because bananas, coconuts and cacao don’t grow in Pennsylvania or New Hampshire. Or England. Second, eating food grown within 1-50 miles of where you live anchors you to that locale. Raw foodies like to say, “You are what you eat.” Indeed, you are also “Where you eat.” If you have trouble with “Be here now,” try working in some local goodies. It really does help!

You will also feel warmer if you eat more local foods, especially in winter. Tropical foods help to cool the body because it’s HOT in the tropics. If you find yourself shivering on a raw food diet during a Chicago January, cut back on the bananas in your morning smoothie and see if it doesn’t curb those goosebumps.

Chew Your Food

Macrobiotics advocates chewing each mouthful 50-100 times. Indeed, with all the whipping, blending, chopping and juicing of a raw food diet, we sometimes forget the necessity of truly chewing our food. Raw foodists emphasize “enzymes” as one of the greatest advantages of raw food over cooked food. Please remember that digestive enzymes begin in the mouth. “Chew your smoothies” even if you blend them thoroughly. You will digest them better. When you eat crunchy things, especially dehydrated crackers or “breads,” make sure you chomp them into a liquid slurry. You’ll find your body handles them much easier.

Eat Sea Veggies

Yep, nori, wakame, kelp … they provide rich nutrients in both Macrobiotics and many Raw Food Diets. If you want to stay strictly raw, watch your sourcing of sea vegetables. Most supermarket ones are cooked. As an added treat, you can use Irish Moss to congeal or thicken raw pies. Holy wow, does that make a tasty difference! Actually, you won’t usually taste the Irish Moss, but you’ll appreciate the texture of Raw Lemon Meringue pie and Chocolate (gasp!) Mousse that much more with this wonderful sea veggie in the mix. Because both Macrobiotics and Raw Food Diets tend to eliminate or minimize most meats, sea veggies provide important minerals that might otherwise be lacking in these diets. Eat up!

Whole Foods

No, I’m not talking about the grocery store that drops your jaw every time you reach the cash register. I’m talking about the principle that whole, unprocessed foods tend to offer more bang for your caloric buck than crazy mixtures of ingredients ground into “flour” or mixed together in strange ways to resemble “traditional” foods. Yep, I’m talking about Gourmet Raw Food and processed raw snacks.

Confession: I adore both and I love supporting places like Cafe Gratitude and One Lucky Duck. Truly. I hope they take over the world like Dunkin’ Donuts, McDonald’s, Hostess and Little Debbie. But … do consider what you’re eating on the most regular basis, especially if you find yourself locked into the “it must be 100% raw” mindset. Do you honestly believe that an entire bag of coconut macaroons is “more nutritious” than an occasional cup of brown rice for dinner? Or that a side of lightly steamed broccoli pales in comparison to say, a jar of raw nut butter? If so, that’s fine. Trust your own body’s response at ALL times over anything I say. If, however, you gradually begin to feel less energetic, more sluggish or generally less than “the best ever” on a 100% raw food diet, examine two things:

1) How much fat are you eating?

2) What ratio of whole foods versus processed items do you eat per day? The body does like simple things, so some brown rice or quinoa with steamed veggies might actually feel more balancing and energizing after awhile than multiple raw fats combined into a tasty “sandwich” or pate.

Watch Your Sugars and Salts

Macrobiotics likes to focus on foods that rest comfortably in the middle range of yin and yang. Sugar, sweet fruits, alcohol, chocolate, coffee and recreational drugs are the most expansive or yin. Meat, eggs, and salt, including miso, Nama Shoyu and sea veggies, are the most contractive or yang. If you find yourself bouncing between extremes of energy and lethargy, between euphoria and irritability, or between spot on intuition and brain fog, you might want to explore your sugar-salt patterns.

The body likes balance. That’s why Coconut Bliss tastes so yummy after a seaweed salad. Oh, alright, Coconut Bliss tastes good anytime! But seriously, even on a “conscious” diet like Raw Foods, we can quickly become a slave to the yin-yang tyranny of foods. If you feel less than optimal on any diet, consider how you’d like to feel and utilize foods to bring you there. If you feel too spacy, think roots. If you feel like you want to bite someone’s head off, back off on the salted sauerkraut and flax crackers for awhile. And if you want to live on cacao, don’t forget your celery-cucumber juice to bring you back into orbit.

For more on the Raw Food Diet, mood and food and Macrobiotics, please check out The Lazy Raw Foodist’s Guide, which takes out most of the work and leaves the fun. ๐Ÿ˜‰

8 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Mindy on April 29, 2010 at 4:00 pm

    Good information here, Laura. I’m glad I live in Louisiana (not always, but in this case) as I can justify eating more bananas in this semi-tropical climate then those who live further north :).

    Something else comes to mind for me though, as I read this. I think it is good to realize that there are a lot of other things that could cause us to feel less than stellar, or sluggish, what have you, besides diet. If you live next door to a toxic landfill, or work in a place that is commonly a hornet’s nest of negativity and gossip, food alone won’t help. I know you are very aware of this. Here’s the reason I bring it up. I think whenever we take up dietary practices that are out of the norm, the first thing that seems to come up if we aren’t feeling great is, “Oh, the diet isn’t working for me.” This thought process is fed by those around us. I have a close friend who is normally pretty accepting of my various lifestyle choices. A couple years ago, before I began to transition to raw or seriously contemplate it, I mentioned I didn’t want to eat meat, and I had mostly stopped consuming it. It was winter, and I’m not a cold weather lover and never have been, regardless of what I may be eating. I happened to mention I had really been feeling cold lately, and the first thing out of her mouth was “well, you said you haven’t been eating meat”, like it’s obvious that’s the problem. I don’t think she was invested in making me eat meat, but that was her very assumption. I try hard not to mention physical concerns to others who don’t approve of or understand my dietary choices for just this reason. Of course, none of this discounts all the great information and ideas you have shared. I just wanted to share my idea, that before we panic and start altering our diet, it’s worth it to stop, take a breath, and look at the whole picture of our lives. I’m betting you agree :).

    Thanks again and again for all you share with us! I’ll know you are ready to fly away from us all and leave this life behind when you paint a fruit salad door/portal covered with tropical fruits (hope that’s not for a very long while yet.) OXO.



  2. Posted by laurabruno on April 29, 2010 at 4:45 pm

    LOL, yes, I agree! And I HAVE been painting this morning, but not a door full of tropical fruits. Oh, if only! That would be SO much easier than what I’m actually painting. Door Number 8’s a tricky one. Tall and skinny with only one long panel in the middle. Try to paint a Tarot card and corresponding bottom panel on THAT!

    But seriously, yes, it’s not all about the food, folks. Please use common and uncommon sense if you’re not feeling well … and sometimes it’s not even about the physical realm at all. If you suspect that’s the case, call me: 775-750-9140. That’s what I “do” besides blogging and painting doors! xo



  3. This is a really informational post and I appreciate the depth and instruction. I like the 6 guiding principles that you’ve laid out here. I’ve experimented with raw and still have a green smoothie daily but find it really hard with my schedule and my family. Your information is useful and I’ll check out the lazy guide as well.



  4. Posted by jess Sine on April 30, 2010 at 12:33 am

    So, has anyone ever had any weird feelings after eating brown rice? And how would one consider less meat in the diet if she can’t eat soy, dairy, and when too many muts do NOT agree with the system? ๐Ÿ˜‰ I’ve been pondering food a lot this week.

    p.s. what if you have a slight sugar addiction (namely chocolate), but NO desire to eat anything salty?



    • Posted by laurabruno on April 30, 2010 at 2:25 am

      Greens, Jess, lots and lots of greens! And green juice. ๐Ÿ™‚ You can also try other grains like quinoa and millet. Some people don’t do fabulously with brown rice, but smaller grains can still work well. Also, you might try soaked seeds rather than nuts. You can substitute seeds for nuts in most raw recipes with a little creativity, and they tend to be much easier to digest.

      For sugar addiction: pau d’arco tea?

      And I have to say … this does NOT consititute medical advice. I’m just passing along information to give people a springboard for their own research. ๐Ÿ™‚



  5. Posted by Giacinta on May 1, 2010 at 7:06 am

    A truly great post, Laura. It’s good to know we are not confined by what we think works best but given the freedom to choose what really does. As our bodies heal we have access to more and more information on deeper and more infinite levels and dimensions. I think this contributes to the changes that, if we listen, we’re being asked to make on a daily basis. I think that this is a huge part of growing and expanding into areas we may never have dreamed possible. You pointed out some truly great things for consideration. Thanks for sharing and for your compassion and care. Love, Giacinta



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