The discovery and isolation of vitamins early this century led to the advent of the field of nutrition. As that discipline came into being, the impact of minerals on health was studied and finally the importance of fats, carbohydrates and protein. Scientists have found that not only is there an interdependence among these nutrients that makes their individual study less meaningful, but there are other materials in foods that have less understood health benefits. In other words, foods are more beneficial than the vitamins and minerals they contain. This is perhaps why scientific studies on macrobiotics, which emphasizes the use of whole unprocessed foods, have shown it to extend the life of people with heart disease, prostate and pancreatic cancer, and AIDS.

Functional Foods

Foods that have a retardant or preventive effect on disease are now being called "functional foods" by the Institute of Medicine and are being studied at the University of Illinois. Professor Elizabeth Jeffery of Toxicology at the Urbana, Illinois campus says that plant chemicals that promote detoxication are more essential to our health today than traditional nutrients. There are pharmacologically active compounds in plants that, along with minerals, help our bodies to detoxify by upregulating specialized detox enzymes. These chemicals, like vitamins and minerals, are lost when foods are processed, or simply missing when we think we are nourishing ourselves by taking supplements.

Toxicity the Culprit

Since toxicity is emerging as the culprit in many disease scenarios, the importance of other macrobiotic principles becomes more evident from a Western perspective. George Ohsawa, turn-of-the-century teacher of macrobiotics defined the term as "living and eating in harmony with nature." This certainly involves minimizing stress and toxic exposures in one's life. It turns out that stress hormones have to be detoxified through the same biochemical pathways as dry-cleaning fluid, diet sodas, and sugar. So the stress of everyday urban life along with the physical strain of a dry-cleaned suit and a pesticided office can be as harmful as microwaved macaroni. Conversely, eating whole foods, with all of their known nutrients and yet undiscovered phytochemicals, avoiding meat, sweets, dairy and other refined foods, all promote detoxification and enhance health.

Our greatest stress is to ignore our destiny by making the pursuit of sensory pleasure our sole purpose to the point of constant compulsion. This, I feel, underlies Ohsawa's scorn for materialism in the West. It can distracts us from our ultimate spiritual reality and prompts us to think of the healing elements of nature as having solely material mechanisms of action in our bodies. The energetic effect of whole foods cannot be understood through the isolation of glucocinoates, lignane, bioflavenoids or isoflavones. However, people locked into a mechanistic level of judgement can be convinced of the virtue of whole foods by learning of the new scientific research that shows the value of what comes in the leaf and not the capsule.

Infinitely Grateful

I am infinitely grateful for science (in spite of my intuitive resistance to technology), as it has enabled many to study the virtue of what is taught in macrobiotics while allowing them to understand it in their own terms. For some, the isoflavone content of soy products may seem more tangible than the ki of miso, and the fact that soy isoflavones have been shown more powerful than chemotheraputic drugs may get them to a cooking class. So science may provide a powerful springboard for the spiritual awakening that comes from a macrobiotic practice.

George Ohsawa Macrobiotic Foundation.
By Bob Walker

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