Macrobiotic Diet Food List

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Dr. Jennifer Hughes, MD

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Although this style of eating has been around for thousands of years, beginning in ancient Greece and then adopted by followers of the ancient Asian philosophy of Zen Buddhism, the macrobiotic diet wasn’t popularized in Western cultures until the 1970s. 

The term “macrobiotic” is rooted in the Greek words for “long” and “life,” with the goal of eating to promote health and longevity.

The macrobiotic diet emphasizes natural, organic, and plant-based foods, with the elimination of “toxic” or inflammatory foods. 

But if you’re wondering what exactly that entails, you’ll find a complete macrobiotic diet food list in this article, along with details about what the macrobiotic diet is, how it works, and the pros and cons of this lifestyle. 

What is the Macrobiotic Diet?

The macrobiotic diet is based on the Buddhist or Taoist principles of balancing yin and yang. 

In the context of eating, yin foods cool us down and are refreshing, while yang foods are warming or spicy and give the body energy

However, the philosophy of yin and yang is that neither element should be higher than the other—they need balance for the body to stay in equilibrium. 

The primary foods recommended for this diet are whole grains, certain vegetables, seaweed, certain beans and legumes, and fermented soy products.   

The macrobiotic lifestyle also places a strong emphasis on local, natural, and organic foods, with an elimination of all synthetic chemicals and artificial ingredients.

Macrobiotic purists will also never use microwaves or electric cooking to heat their food, as they believe these forms of cooking destroy the “life force” in food. 

How The Macrobiotic Diet Works

Although many people try the macrobiotic diet to cure diseases like cancer, there is no scientific evidence or medical advice suggesting that this is true. 

However, the macrobiotic diet does include many elements that may benefit health, including reducing sugar intake and inflammation while increasing micronutrient consumption. 

Some studies have looked at the effects of eating a macrobiotic-style diet. 

As this diet eliminates sugary foods and is high in fiber, it may be helpful for people with type 2 diabetes

In a study of the nutrient composition of the macrobiotic diet, researchers found that this style of eating comprised half of the amount of sugar typically seen in an American diet (21g per day compared to 52-57g per day) with 4-5 times the amount of dietary fiber. 

One 2014 study found that people with type 2 diabetes who followed a macrobiotic diet for 21 days had significantly reduced fasting and post-meal blood glucose levels compared to those on the control diet. 

The macrobiotic dieters also had more significant reductions in total and LDL cholesterol, body weight, waist circumference, insulin resistance, and hemoglobin A1C—a 3-month average of blood sugar levels—compared to the control group. 

Although this research indicates that the macrobiotic diet has certain health benefits, we do not have any solid evidence suggesting that it can cure cancer or other diseases. 

Macrobiotic Diet Food List: What Can You Eat?

Macrobiotic Diet food groups
Whole grains, beans and soy, seaweed, and vegetables are the primary food groups of the macrobiotic diet.

The macrobiotic diet food list is quite restrictive, comprising a mostly vegan and grain-based eating plan. 

The macrobiotic diet revolves around four main food groups: 

  • Whole grains: Whole, organic grains are preferred over grain products (i.e., whole organic wheat berries versus whole wheat bread) and should make up about 50% of the macrobiotic diet.
  • Seaweed: Sea vegetables like agar-agar, arame, dulse, Irish moss, kelp, kombu, nori, and wakame are highly encouraged to eat daily.
  • Beans: Although not all beans are allowed (see below), adzuki beans, chickpeas, lentils, soybeans, and fermented soy products are encouraged to be eaten daily. 
  • Certain organic vegetables: The macrobiotic diet emphasizes about one-quarter of foods coming from locally grown vegetables, with most of the vegetables ideally being lightly steamed, blanched, or sauteed with unrefined, cold-pressed oil (rather than raw, baked, or roasted). 

Some vegetables—including those in the nightshade family—are not allowed on the macrobiotic diet. Nightshades include tomatoes, eggplant, potatoes, and peppers; some believe that they are inflammatory due to their high content of compounds called alkaloids. However, research has not indicated that this is true for the general population.

Others, like avocados and spinach, are not permitted because they are considered too high in “yin” and may create an imbalance in the body, according to macrobiotic enthusiasts. 

Typically, a macrobiotic diet includes: 

  • 50-60% whole grains
  • 25-30% steamed, blanched, or lightly sauteed vegetables 
  • 5-10% soups (made with approved vegetables, beans, and grains)
  • 5-10% beans and seaweed    
Foods to Include DailyFoods to Eat Occasionally (2-3 times per week or less)Foods to Avoid 
VegetablesSeaweed of all kinds, bok choy, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, butternut squash, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, chives, dandelion greens, kale, leeks, parsley, parsnips, pumpkin, pickles, radishes, scallions, turnips, watercressBeets, celery, iceberg lettuce, mushrooms, romaine lettuce, shiitake mushrooms, snow peas, string beans, summer squash, Swiss chardAsparagus, avocado, bell peppers, eggplant, potatoes, spinach, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, zucchini
FruitN/AFruit just a few times a week—ideally seasonal and local. Approved occasional fruits are tree fruit or berries, including  blackberries, raspberries, apples, pears, peaches, plums, apricots, blueberries, strawberries, grapes, and cherriesTropical fruit and citrus fruit (coconut, banana, dates, figs, papaya, pineapple, mango, lemons, limes, and oranges)
GrainsBarley, brown rice, buckwheat, corn, millet, oats, quinoa, rye, wild riceBuckwheat noodles (soba), bulgur, corn grits, cornmeal, puffed wheat, rice cakes, whole wheat crackers, whole wheat pastaBaked goods that have yeast or dairy products, refined cereals, white flour products
Beans and bean products Adzuki (aduki) beans, chickpeas, lentils, soy beans and soy products (miso, natto, tofu, tempeh)    Bean sprouts, black beans, great northern beans, kidney beans, lima beans, navy beans, pinto beans, red lentils, soybeans, split peasN/A
Nuts and seedsN/AAlmonds, chestnuts, homemade popcorn, peanuts, pecans, pumpkin seeds, rice cakes, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, walnuts
Brazil nuts, cashew nuts, hazelnuts, macadamia nuts, pistachios
SeafoodFlounder, haddock, halibut, herring, sole, troutClams, cod, red snapper, shrimp, oystersBluefish, mackerel, salmon, swordfish, tuna
BeveragesBarley tea, rice tea, spring or well waterApple juice or cider, green tea, freshly squeezed juice with approved fruits and vegetables, naturally fermented beer, sake, unsweetened seed or nut milk, dandelion tea, kombu teaAlcohol, black tea, coffee, commercial beers, decaffeinated coffee, distilled water, herb teas, juice drinks, municipal or tap water, soft drinks, wine
Scroll to the side to see more

Foods to Avoid on the Macrobiotic Diet 

There are many foods that the macrobiotic diet doesn’t permit at all, including:

  • All dairy products
  • All meat and poultry products
  • Eggs
  • High-mercury seafood 
  • Highly processed foods
  • Tropical fruits
  • Nightshade vegetables, including tomatoes, eggplant, potatoes, and bell peppers
  • Refined sugar 
  • Strong alcohol (“light” alcohol like natural sake is allowed) 
  • Food with artificial preservatives, sweeteners, colors, or ingredients 
  • Coffee 
  • Caffeinated beverages (except occasional green tea)
  • Soda 
  • Chocolate 
  • Spicy food 

Additionally, certain types of food are only recommended to eat occasionally, as seen in the chart above.

Pros and Cons of the Macrobiotic Diet

Pros of the Macrobiotic Diet

The macrobiotic diet plan incorporates many healthy elements, including: 

  • High amounts of vegetables 
  • High amounts of fiber—the average macrobiotic eater consumes 35g of daily fiber, compared to 7-15g in the standard American diet. 
  • High in micronutrients, including iodine, magnesium, folate, vitamin E, and vitamin K
  • Health benefits may include reducing inflammation and the risk of inflammatory-related conditions
  • Focuses on local, seasonal, and organic foods 
  • Low in sugar
  • A lower calorie intake may help with weight loss 

Cons of the Macrobiotic Diet

Although the macrobiotic is considered highly nutritious by many, there are some downsides to this eating style, such as: 

  • May be too low in protein 
  • May be low in healthy fat, including omega-3 fats 
  • May be high in sodium due to the greater consumption of sea vegetables and fermented and pickled foods 
  • May be too low in calories for some peopleone study found that people on the macrobiotic diet consume an average of 1,444 calories per day, compared to the average American consuming up to 2,733 calories. 
  • Low in certain nutrients, including vitamin B12, vitamin D, calcium, and heme iron—the more bioavailable type of iron found in animal products 
  • Highly restrictive diet and may be difficult to follow long-term 
  • Doesn’t allow some healthy foods, including salmon, avocados, pistachios, spinach, tomatoes, and more 

FAQs About the Macrobiotic Diet

What Are the Principles of a Macrobiotic Diet?

Many of the principles of a macrobiotic diet were created by George Ohsawa, a Japanese philosopher and educator who is known for bringing the macrobiotic diet to Western cultures.

The principles of the macrobiotic diet generally include: 
– Eat seasonal and locally grown food
– Reduce animal products 
– Eat in a balance of yin and yang 
– Live in harmony with nature 
– Consume food in moderation
– Eliminate toxins and chemicals

Can You Drink Coffee on the Macrobiotic Diet?

No, coffee and other caffeinated beverages (except occasional green tea) are not allowed on the macrobiotic diet.

Are Potatoes Macrobiotic?

No, potatoes are not allowed on the macrobiotic diet because they are in the nightshade family, which is deemed inflammatory on this diet.

What Foods Can You Not Eat on a Macrobiotic Diet?

Many foods are not permitted on the macrobiotic diet, including all animal products—except some low-mercury fish and seafood—and refined sugar, tropical fruit, most alcoholic and caffeinated beverages, foods with artificial ingredients, chocolate, spicy foods, and all ultra-processed foods.

What Is the Difference Between the Vegan Diet and Macrobiotic Diet?

The vegan diet and macrobiotic diet have several overlapping ideals, but the macrobiotic diet does include some animal products, including some fish and shellfish. 

However, many other principles of these two diets are the same, as they focus on vegetables, grains, and beans.

Are Macrobiotic Diets High in Carbs?

Yes, macrobiotic diets are high in carbohydrates, as most people on this eating plan consume 50-60% of their calories from whole grains, with additional carbs coming from beans, vegetables, soy, and fruit. 

However, macrobiotic diets are also very high in fiber, which means that this style of eating likely wouldn’t have a large impact on blood sugar or weight gain.

Key Takeaways

  • The macrobiotic diet revolves around consuming primarily plant-based foods that are locally grown, seasonal, organic, and do not contain synthetic chemicals or artificial ingredients. 
  • The four main food groups are unprocessed whole grains, seaweed, beans and fermented soy products, and certain vegetables. 
  • Proponents of the macrobiotic diet believe that these foods promote a balance of yin and yang, which benefits health. 
  • Some research indicates that the macrobiotic diet may be beneficial for reducing blood sugar and cholesterol and helping you lose weight, although more studies are needed. 

Harmon BE, Carter M, Hurley TG, Shivappa N, Teas J, Hébert JR. Nutrient Composition and Anti-inflammatory Potential of a Prescribed Macrobiotic Diet. Nutr Cancer. 2015;67(6):933-940. doi:10.1080/01635581.2015.1055369

Soare A, Khazrai YM, Del Toro R, et al. The effect of the macrobiotic Ma-Pi 2 diet vs. the recommended diet in the management of type 2 diabetes: the randomized controlled MADIAB trial. Nutr Metab (Lond). 2014;11:39. Published 2014 Aug 25. doi:10.1186/1743-7075-11-39

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