best natural foods

Whole grains - a macrobiotic view

Whole grains like brown rice, millet, barley, oats and wheat are considered "principal foods" in the macrobiotic diet.

This seems to go against the current teaching of many modern health practitioners, who advise that we should reduce our consumption of carbohydrates.

In particular, they recommend that people who are obese, overweight or suffering from diabetes should eat less carbohydrates - including both simple carbohydrates like refined sugar and complex carbohydrates like whole grains.

Such blanket advice against carbohydrates has created confusion and fear. Many people today have become fearful of carbohydrates and they try their best to eat as little carbohydrates as possible.

Yet the teachings of macrobiotics recommends that grains, especially whole grains, should be our principal food, making up about 50 to 60 percent of our total food intake.

Traditional foods

Why does macrobiotics place such high importance on grains?

The reasons have partly to do with yin and yang, which we will discuss later. But macrobiotics is not just about esoteric philosophies like yin and yang. It is mainly about observations of daily life and traditional practice. And if we look all over the world, we will see that grains are the staple foods of almost all communities, except for isolated groups like the Eskimos and the Masai tribe of Africa.

Contrary to what many think, macrobiotics is not a "Japanese diet" but practically all traditional diets follow roughly the same macrobiotic guidelines - with grains as the main food.

Once, I had a three-day macrobiotic workshop at my home and one of the participants was a Punjabi lady of Indian descent. On the second day of the workshop, she had an "enlightenment" and she told everyone: "I just realised that I had been eating a macrobiotic diet all my life."

For the main foods in a Punjabi diet include rice and chapati, a flat bread made from wholemeal wheat flour. The secondary foods are mainly beans and lentils (particularly chickpeas) and vegetables.

Some people point out, rightly, that pre-historic humans ate mainly wild plants (leaves, berries, roots, etc) and meat and that whole grains entered the human diet only with the advent of agriculture about 10,000 years ago.

The macrobiotic counter-argument is that civilisation began when humans started eating whole grains. The belief is that humans began to develop an intellect only after - and because of - eating grains. Of course this cannot be proven. But it is interesting food for thought.

Macrobiotic 'Diet Number 7'

George Ohsawa, who introduced macrobiotics to the West in the 1950s and 1960s, wrote about a "100 percent grain” diet. In his book Zen Macrobiotics, George Oshawa introduced the idea of seven levels of diet, in which the proportion of whole grains increases until the highest level, called Diet Number 7, where whole grains form nearly 100 percent.

(In fact, George Ohsawa had three other levels, called Diet Number Minus 1, Minus 2 and Minus 3, which described the typical modern diet of junk foods.)

This idea of a Diet Number 7 was misunderstood by some people – particularly the Hippies – during the 1960s. Some thought they could attain spiritual development and enlightenment by following such a diet. They switched suddenly to it without making a transition through the other levels. They also continued taking marijuana, LSD and other drugs while eating only whole grains. One or two of them died. As a result, macrobiotics got a bad name and macrobiotic centres were raided by US health authorities.

But in rural societies, many poor people eat such a diet without problems. Many early macrobiotic practitioners also did a “brown rice fast” where, for 12 days, they ate practically nothing but brown rice – and recovered from many, long-term health problems as a result.

I say this not to recommend eating grains and nothing else. Even if you wish to do it for only 12 days, I recommend that you seek the advice of a macrobiotic counsellor first.

But the fact that people survive well, and even recover from long-term and "incurab;e" diseases from eating only whole grains, shows that grains are not all that unhealthy, They are, in fact, very healthy foods.

'Human food'

One of my macrobiotic teachers call grains the "true human food”. Grains are the only food that humans can eat, every day, at every meal, from past-weaning to old age, without falling ill.

If a person eats only meat, only vegetables, only fruits or only some other food, sooner or later sickness will set in. Apparently, some people had "proven” that they can survive eating only meat and nothing else – but they did it for only one year.

Likewise there are people who eat only vegetables, or sprouts, or fruits... and they appear to be in good health. But they have not done it from birth till old age. These people also need to spend long hours in the sun in order to keep warm. Many Americans who adopt such a diet end up moving to warmer states like Florida and California.

Followers of a raw foods, no-grain diet also tend to have very soft and red palms. The texture of the palm (and other parts of the body) is soft like jelly or tofu. And redness indicates that the blood vessels beneath the skin have expanded, making them clearly visible.

This brings us to the concept of yin and yang...

A 'balanced' food

The macrobiotic understanding of food is not in terms of nutrition but in terms of its energy. Broadly, all food - and everything else in this universe - can be viewed as having either yin "expanding" energy or yang "contracting" energy.

For example, plants grow upwards and outwards. They "expand" and are said to be more yin. Animals are compact compared to plants, and are said to be more "contracted" or yang.

Comparing plant foods with meats, we find that plant foods are more soft, loosely structured, watery, spongy etc. Some vegetables, like chilli or bell peppers, are even hollow. These are all yin or expanded qualities. Animal products like meat and eggs, in comparison, are more dense, compact, concentrated... that is, more yang.

Whole grains are plant foods. But among all plant foods, grains are the most contracted. They are small and compact. And if left in their husks, they do not rot or fall apart (expand) for hundreds or even thousands of years. So grains are more contracted compared to other plant foods, but still more expanded compared to animal foods. Looking at the entire spectrum of all foods, they would be in the middle and considered "balanced".

A civilised, peaceful food

whle grains peaceIn Chinese culture, the word for peace is made up of two other words, grains + mouth, suggesting that peace comes from eating grains.

This is is borne out by historical observation. In One Peaceful World, macrobiotic teacher Michio Kushi points out that wars are fought mostly among meat-eating societies, or by meat-eating societies conquering grain / vegetable-based societies. For example, the Mongols conquered China, the Persians conquered India and the majority of wars fought in recent centuries were fought among Europeans.

Modern nutritional research supports this idea. Today, it is known that carbohydrates increase the level of the brain chemical, serotonin. Serotonin, in turn, regulates many of our feelings, including pain, sleep, mood and hunger. It makes people feel calmer and less irritable... in other words, more peaceful!

Click here to learn more about the benefits of whole grains.

New! Comments

Have your say about what you just read! Kindly leave a comment in the box below.


(5 articles)
Cooking oils
(23 articles)
Diet plans (13 articles)
Fiber (3 articles)
Fish (3 articles)
Grains (17 articles)
Pasta (10 articles)
Pasta recipes
(>40 recipes)
Salt (11 articles)
(11 articles)
Soy products
(14 articles)
Vegetables (1 article)
Water (6 articles)
More sections to come
Natural Cancer Cures
Flu treatments
Stop Trans fats

Benefits of whole grains
'Foods of the gods'
Macrobiotic view of grains
Benefits of barley
Barley water
Chinese barley / hato mugi / Job's tears
Pearl barley
What is millet?
Millet recipes
Benefits of oats
Nutritional value of oats
Steel cut oats
Steel cut oats cooking
Benefits of brown rice
How to cook brown rice
What is sticky rice?
Types of rice