Basics of the Macrobiotic Lifestyle

Root vegetables, soup and salad
Root Vegetables, Squash Soup and Salad. Ryan Berry For Getty Images

The word macrobiotic comes from the Greek macro, meaning large or long, and bios, or life. Macrobiotics is a lifestyle and dietary philosophy that promotes health, longevity and healing, through a largely plant-based diet. While at its most developed, it is a complex science involving diagnosis, lifestyle and nutrition, the average person can fairly easily adapt the basic principles into a busy 21st century lifestyle.

Traditional macrobiotics has its origins in a Japanese viewpoint using native ingredients, but we can apply the same concepts to a more modern, western approach.

This website is dedicated to a global perspective on macrobiotics. It is important to recognize that each culture in the world, whether rooted in Latin American, European, African or Asian traditons, has its own version of this philosophy.

Buy Local and In Season

Today “local” means grown within 500 miles of where you live; the idea being that you will be eating foods natural to your environment, and vital nutrients will not have aged out of your food by the time it reaches your table. In New York City we see food shipped in from New Zealand, Chile, Israel and elsewhere. Many of these foods were picked before ripening and kept in cold storage for weeks. A far better option is to frequent the local greenmarkets in your area, where regionally grown produce is sold.

During the active growing season, buy from your local farmer’s markets, and during colder or transitional months consume more of the hardier fruits and vegetables (also local), which have longer shelf lives (apples, winter squash, onions, root veggies, etc).

Buy Organic or Minimally Treated Foods and Produce

This practice drastically reduces the presence of pesticides, hormones, dyes and other toxins in your food.

Whole Grains

These should make up 40-60% of the diet, as is true of most traditional cultures in the world. Grains include brown rice, millet, corn, oats, barley, amaranth, teff, quinoa, buckwheat and more. Grains are eaten in an unrefined state.


Veggies make up 20-30% of the diet, or about ¼ to 1/3 of a plate of food. Vegetables for a temperate climate include leafy greens, root vegetables, sweet, round, and ground vegetables, crucifers, and others. Amongst them we see lettuces, kale, collards, arugula, chicory, parsnips, carrots, rutabagas, turnips, radish, onions, garlic, leeks, sweet potatoes, all manner of squashes, cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower and more. Nightshade vegetables (potatoes, eggplant, tomato and peppers) are not used because they are considered to have inflammatory compounds.

Beans and Sea Vegetables

These foods should be 5-10% of the diet, or a small portion. A serving of beans is about ½ cup, while a serving of sea vegetables is about 2 tablespoons. Beans and bean products, as well as pulses, such as adzuki, black, kidney, great northern, chickpeas, edamame, tofu, tempeh, split peas and lentils all provide high-quality plant protein. Sea vegetables (arame, kombu, hijiki, dulse, nori) provide exceptional, high-quality minerals.


Soups are consumed daily in traditional macrobiotic diets and are a wonderful, flexible way to incorporate any or all of the above-mentioned foods. They can be as simple as Traditional Miso broth with Tofu and Scallions or as full bodied as White Fish Soup with Lotus Root Soba, Ginger and Lemongrass.

Condiments and Seasonings

These are varied and include fresh herbs as well as pickles, and dry or bottled seasoning, covered in Stocking Your Pantry.

Other Foods

Fruits in season, fish and seafood (especially smaller white fish), nuts, seeds, and unrefined sweets are consumed in moderation and not necessarily on a daily basis.

Chew, Chew, and Chew Some More

Carefully chewing our food serves dual purposes: the enzymes released by our saliva help digest the food, and prevent heartburn; and thorough chewing makes us less likely to overeat.

Bless Your Food

Take the time to set your table, and make eating a ritual. Sit down, slow down, and be present to the act of nourishing your body.