Articles on macrobiotic
living - The Planetary Health Food Pyramid
By Edward Esko
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Not long ago I was invited
to speak at the offices of the Aetna Life Insurance Company outside Detroit.
The speech was part of a corporate wellness program held during the employee
lunch hour. My speech was scheduled to last about 30 minutes, after which
a natural food lunch would be served. The audience would be made up of Aetna
employees, including the resident physician. The topic would be the macrobiotic
In preparing the speech, I faced the challenge of how to give an overview
of macrobiotics in less than 30 minutes. The word "macrobiotics"
is from the Greek "macro," meaning "large" or "great,"
and "bios," meaning "life." As a topic for study, macrobiotics
is infinitely vast. Macrobiotic eating is as varied as life itself. To list,
define, and explain the foods my friends, family, and I cook and eat in
an average week could take hours, if not days. I have spoken often about
macrobiotics over the past twenty-five years. Most public presentations
took over an hour. To comply with the limited time allotted for the Aetna
presentation, I felt it necessary to present macrobiotics in a new more
Several days before the event, I sat down with a piece of paper and a pencil.
After reflecting on the presentation. I came to the conclusion that presenting
the macrobiotic diet in the form of a pyramid might be the best way to go.
With that in mind I sketched a pyramid. I inserted whole grains at the base,
followed by vegetables, then beans and soybean products. At the top I inserted
a category labeled "other foods." Condiments, seasonings, and
beverages were inserted along the three outer edges. I named the pyramid
the "Planetary Health Food Pyramid." In my thinking, the pyramid
depicts an approach to diet that benefits both personal and planetary health.
The guidelines represented by the pyramid are generally suited for adults
living in temperate climates.
Whole Grains: The Base of the Pyramid
Whole grains and their products are the foundation of a healthy
diet. From time immemorial, they have served as humanity's staple foods
and the basis for agriculture. They are ideal sources of essential nutrients,
including complex carbohydrates and vitamins, and are low in fat and high
in fiber. Whole grains for daily use include brown rice, whole wheat,
barley, millet, oats, rye, non-GM (genetically modified) corn, and buckwheat.
Ideally, one or more servings of whole grains can be eaten at every meal.
Hundreds of healthful and appetizing dishes can be prepared with whole
grains and whole grain products. Whole grains contain highly concentrated
life energy. They are fruit and seed rolled into one. Whole grains retain
life energy over centuries. They sprout even after hundreds of years.
Products made from whole grains, such as whole grain breads, noodles,
and pasta, are included in the whole grain category. Organically grown
grains are preferred over chemically produced varieties. Whole grains
and their products are the principal foods in the macrobiotic diet and
thus form the base of the Planetary Health Food Pyramid.
Vegetables: The Second Tier
Vegetables are an ideal complement to whole grains. Fresh or naturally
dried vegetables are preferable to canned or frozen varieties. Whenever
possible, select vegetables that are grown organically. Vegetables can
be steamed, boiled sautÈed, stir-fried, pickled, pressed, deep
fried, grilled, used in soups and stews, and eaten raw as salad or garnish.
Vegetables are excellent sources of vitamins, minerals, and complex carbohydrates.
Ideally, 3 to 5 servings of fresh vegetables are included daily. A small
daily serving of naturally fermented pickles, including sauerkraut, is
Vegetables for regular use include roots such as daikon, carrot, turnip,
burdock, radish, parsnip, and lotus; vegetables with a round shape such
as onion, cabbage, and squash; and green vegetables like broccoli, Brussels
sprouts, daikon, carrot, and turnip greens, mustard greens, kale, collard
greens, scallion, chive, parsley, and watercress. Shiitake and other mushrooms,
green beans, peas, sprouts, celery, and lettuce can also be eaten. Sea
vegetables, such as nori, wakame, arame, and others, can also be included.
Nightshade vegetables, such as potato, tomato, and peppers are not recommended
for regular use, due to their potential toxicity and equatorial origin.
Beans & Traditional Soy Products
Beans and traditional soy products make up the third tier of the Planetary
Health Food Pyramid. They are excellent sources of vegetable protein and
complement a diet of whole grains and vegetables. Beans and/or traditional
soy products like tofu and tempeh can be included regularly. In addition
to familiar native beans such as kidney, navy, lentil, chickpea, split
pea, and others, exotic Asian varieties such as azuki (small red beans)
and black soybeans are included in this category.
Traditional soy-based seasonings, such as miso (fermented soy paste) and
shoyu (soy sauce) add high quality protein, minerals, and beneficial enzymes
to the diet. They can be used regularly to season soup and other dishes.
Organic (non-GM) soybean products are preferred.
The Fourth Tier: Other Foods
A variety of other foods can be included. Their position at the top of
the pyramid suggests occasional or optional consumption. For example,
some people may choose to include fish, others may choose a vegetarian
diet. In theory, practically any food can be placed in this category.
The foods we include are entirely up to us. Our choices depend on such
factors as age, place of living, sex, activity, health condition, and
personal preferences. Below are suggestions for healthful additional foods:
Fish and Seafood Low fat white meat fish is recommended. Fresh, non-farm
raised varieties are preferable. For those who wish to avoid animal food,
a larger volume of beans and traditional soy products can be used to provide
Seasonal Fruit Varieties such as apple, pear, peach, apricot, cherry,
strawberry and other berries, cantaloupe, honeydew, watermelon, lemon,
and tangerine are excellent. Tropical fruits are best reserved for special
Seeds and Nuts Included are seeds such as pumpkin, sesame, and sunflower.
Almonds, peanuts, walnuts, pecans, and other nuts can also be eaten as
snacks or garnish. Tropical nuts, such as cashew, Brazil, and pistachio,
are best reserved for special occasions.
Natural Snacks Foods such as leftovers, whole grain noodles, vegetable
maki (brown rice and vegetables wrapped in nori sea vegetable), and mochi
(pounded rice taffy) are included in this category, as are foods such
as popcorn, puffed whole cereals, and rice cakes.
Natural Sweeteners Included in this category are rice syrup, barley malt,
amasake (sweet rice milk), dried chestnuts, organic apple butter, and
other naturally processed sweeteners. They can be used to sweeten dessert,
tea, breakfast cereal, and other dishes.
Condiments, Seasonings, Oil, and Beverages
Condiments A variety of traditional natural condiments can be kept on
the table and used to add flavor and nutrients to your dishes.
*Gomashio (sesame salt made by crushing 20 parts roasted sesame seeds
with 1 part roasted sea salt)
*Shiso (perilla) powder
*Umeboshi (pickled salt plum)
*Toasted sesame seeds
*Tekka (root vegetable and miso condiment)
*Green nori (dried sea vegetable) flakes
*Brown rice vinegar
*Organic shoyu (traditional soy sauce)
Seasonings and Plant
Oils Unrefined white sea salt is recommended for cooking. Traditionally
processed miso and shoyu can be used to season soup and other dishes.
Brown rice and umeboshi vinegar, mirin (sweet rice cooking wine), lemon,
and ginger can also be used. Unrefined organic sesame oil is perfect for
use in sautÈing and stir-frying. Other naturally processed oils,
such as organic (non-GM) corn, olive, and sunflower, are also fine.
Beverages A variety of traditional teas are recommended., including bancha,
kukicha, barley tea, and brown rice tea. Organic green tea, Mu tea, corn
silk tea, carrot, celery, or vegetable juice, naturally processed amasake
and soymilk, and organic apple and other fruit juices are also fine. Natural
spring or well water is preferred for cooking and drinking.
On the day of the Aetna presentation, I met with about 30 employees in
the staff conference room. The room was equipped with several large white
boards. I sketched the Planetary Health Food Pyramid on the board while
people were entering. I began the presentation by reviewing articles citing
the benefits of whole grains, beans, and fresh vegetables, and the disadvantages
of meat and dairy. I then outlined the Planetary Health Food Pyramid.
Afterward, people came up and thanked me. It seemed the new format had
I would like to hear what you, the visitors to amberwaves.org, think about
the Planetary Health Food Pyramid. I welcome your ideas and suggestions.
Also, feel free to use the pyramid whenever you present macrobiotics to
your family, friends, or the public. Planetary Health, Inc., the non profit
organization of which Amberwaves is a division, is planning to publish
the Planetary Health Food Pyramid. Please contact me at Planetary Health,
Inc. if you have suggestions or if you would like copies for your students
Edward Esko is a well-known macrobiotic author and teacher. Contemporary
Macrobiotics, a compilation of over fifty of his essays, can be ordered
online at www.1stbooks.com. He can
be reached at
Box 487, Becket, MA 01223. (413) 623-5645.
Used with the permission of the author
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