Tofu Cilantro and Veggie Dish
from Mirea Ellis
In this quick to prepare dish you get a great combination of protein, greens, and roots. Just add a whole grain and a little pickle for a complete meal.
It also includes cilantro, a food you don’t often see in macrobiotic recipes. In macrobiotics we categorize foods in different ways, one of which is recommendations for frequency of use. Some are recommended for daily use (like kale or carrots) while cilantro is considered an “occasional” food, to be eaten less often, perhaps one a week or less. But this does not mean to avoid it, and cilantro has an outstanding benefit: it draws heavy metals, including mercury, from body tissues, after which they are excreted in the urine. This is a great reason to incorporate it into your diet!
Makes 5 servings
Preparation time: 10 minutes
Cooking time: 7 minutes
Clean-up 5 minutes
Total time: 30 minutes
• Large skillet with cover, or large saucepan with cover
• Vegetable knife
- • 1 package extra firm tofu
- • 1 bunch cilantro
- • 3 heads baby bok choy or 1/2 medium head nappa cabbage
- • 1 large carrot
- • 1 bunch scallions
- • 2 Tablespoons ume vinegar
- • Wash cilantro well and cut into 1 inch size pieces.
- • Separate leaves of baby bok choy or Chinese cabbage, and wash well. If using baby bock choy cut stalks into one inch size pieces and set aside. Cut leaves into one inch size pieces and put with cut cilantro. If using Chinese cabbage cut into one inch size pieces and put with cut cilantro.
- • Cut scallion lower white, and more solid middle part, into 1/2 size pieces and put aside with baby bock choy stems. Cut upper hollow leaves of scallions into 2 inch pieces and put aside with cilantro and bok choy leaves.
- • Cut carrot into very fine matchsticks as follows: Cut 2 inch sections. Cut each section in half lengthwise. Put cut flat side of one section down on the cutting board. Cut lengthwise in very thin strips. Cut the thin strips lengthwise again into thin matchstick pieces.
- • Place pan on medium-high to high flame and crumble tofu into the pan by squeezing the block in your hand.
- • Sprinkle ume vinegar over tofu and slowly stir for 4 minutes. Water will come out of tofu and evaporate.
- • Place the cut baby bok choy stalks and lower parts of scallions on top of tofu, cover, and simmer covered for 1 minute.
- • Place the rest of the vegetables in the pot on top of those already there, cover, and cook for another 2 minutes.
- • Remove from heat, move ingredients from pot to a platter and serve immediately.
Kushi Institute http://www.kushiinstitute.org/
Savory Barley Mushroom Soup
This rich and hearty soup comes from one of the cooking classes in our Levels program. For more information about the Levels click here.
"Hulled" barley gives a more delicious, hearty taste and much greater nutrition than "pearled" barley.
In pearled barley, like white rice, the outer layers of the grain, which contain the most nutrients plus the fiber, are polished off. Like brown rice, hulled barley is a whole grain.
- • 1/2 cup hulled barley, rinsed, and soaked 7 hours or overnight
- • 1 medium onion, diced
- • 5 dried shiitake mushrooms, soaked for 10 to 15 minutes, stems removed, and sliced thin.
- • 1 stalk celery, diced
•1 small carrot, diced
- • 5 - 6 cups water (including soaking water)
- • 1/4 - 1/2 tsp sea salt
- • 1 - 1 1/2 Tbsp sweet white miso (or other type of miso for a different flavor)*
- • garnish (parsley, scallions, ginger, cilantro, etc.)
- 1. Place soaked barley and water in a pot. Bring to boil, reduce flame to low, and simmer covered for 25 minutes.
- 2. Add onion, shiitake mushrooms and carrots. Bring back to a boil, reduce flame, and simmer covered another 15 minutes.
- 3. Taste to see if barley is done. Simmer longer if necessary. Note: barley will remain more chewy in texture than rice.
- 4. When barley is done, add celery and diluted miso. Summer another 5 minutes.
- 5. Garnish and serve
- The links in the above ingredients list go to the Kushi Store online catalog, offering quality macrobiotic foods, cooking supplies, and inspiring and informative books.
- Kushi Store is a division of Kushi Institute Center for Natural Healing, a federally approved non-profit educational organization. All proceeds from Kushi Store sales go towards the support of Kushi Institute educational activities.
Kushi Institute http://www.kushiinstitute.org/
Appetizers and Hors d’oeuvres
Macro Deviled "Eggs"
Recipe from Mirea Ellis
Makes 16 or more, according to how much filling you use in each
To prepare “egg yolks”
•A pressure cooker or heavy pot with lid
- •1/2 lb Lotus seeds (about 65 seeds)
- •4 teaspoons Eden brand yellow mustard
- •2 tablespoons dill pickle juice (used organic un-pasteurized if you can find it.)
- •2 tablespoon rice syrup
- •2 tablespoons rice vinegar
- •2 tablespoons very finely minced raw onion (from excess pieces of onions in the “egg white” recipe below)
- •1 teaspoon paprika
- •Soak lotus seed for at least 6 hours.
- •Retaining soaking water, strain seeds and place in a bowl.
- •Check for and remove green sprouts inside the seeds. (The sprouts are extremely bitter and will interfere with the taste and color of the final product.) To check for sprouts, pull seeds a bit apart at the slit on the dark end of the seed and look inside. You will only have to pull a seed completely apart if you see a sprout, in order to remove it. This de-sprouting procedure takes about 8 minutes.
- •Place lotus seeds and soaking water in a pressure cooker, adding water if necessary to make water level 1 inch higher than the seeds. Bring to pressure and cook for 1/2 hour. Or you can boil the seeds in a regular pot for about an hour, until very soft, adding water as necessary to keep the seeds covered. If you are using the boiling method, keep the lid a bit tilted off the pot so the liquid does not foam over.
- •While the seeds are cooking, prepare egg “whites” (see the section below)
- •When the seeds are done cooking, remove the seeds from cooking liquid with a strainer or colander and place in a bowl to cool, making sure you don’t have any of the cooking liquid with the seeds. Retain the cooking liquid for use in another dish, it makes a nice soup or gravy stock.
- •When seeds are cool enough, place in a food processor with all other above ingredients except the minced onions and paprika. Blend until smooth. Adjust seasonings to taste.
- •Remove from food processor and stir in minced raw onion from the “egg white” recipe below
- To prepare “Egg whites”
- •A steamer pot (or regular pot with lid that you can use a steamer basket in)
- •A small, sharp tipped knife, like a paring knife.
- •A broader tipped “butter” type knife
- •8 small to medium size onions. The size of each onion is ideally about 1/2 inch wider than an egg. If you can only find larger onions, you can always use them and make them smaller by removing some outer layers until they are the right size.
- •Bring water to a boil in the steamer pan
- •Remove onion skin, trying to keep ends as intact as possible, then cut in half lengthwise
- •Using the thin point knife, cut two lines on the flat side of an onion piece, each about 1 half inch or less an end, and not cutting through the outside few layers or going all the way through. (You want to have enough layers left to hold the round shape well after they have been steamed. Do the same cut on the other end.)
- •Using the wider tipped knife, carefully pry the inside section out. Once you get the feel of this it goes pretty fast.
- •Reserve the scooped out part and mince 1/4 cup for the “egg yolk” recipe. Additional left over onion can be used in any other recipe.
- •After you have prepared 3 onions, place the six onion halves flat side down on the steamer pan and steam for about 15 minutes. If you have a large steamer pan you can place more than 6 at one time, but only place one layer of onions at one time. Piling them up on top of each other will distort the shape of the lower ones. Remove onions as they are done steaming to a plate, still keeping them flat side down as they are cooling. Continue preparing and steaming the onions until they are all done. While the onions are finishing steaming, very finely mince some of the onion layers you pried out, until you have 2 tablespoons minced onions. Left over onion layers can be used in other dishes.
- To Put Together
- •Using a round tablespoon, scoop a rounded spoonful of the lotus seed mixture into one of the onion hollows, adding more if necessary to fill the hollow. Try and keep the filling in the hollow and not get on the edges of the onion layers. If some does get on the edge just wipe off. Put on a plate and repeat until all are filled.
- •For the traditional look with paprika, put about 1/2 teaspoon paprika in a very fine mesh sieve (like a small sieve style tea strainer), hold above one of the “eggs”, and tap the side of the sieve lightly so a light dusting falls on the filling. Repeat with the rest, adding more paprika to the sieve if necessary.
- •If you are not serving within a couple of hours, place the deviled “eggs” in a tightly covered dish and place in the refrigerator. You can take them out of the refrigerator about an hour prior to serving so they are not too cold. They will keep in the refrigerator for a couple of days.
Kushi Institute http://www.kushiinstitute.org/
The beautiful blooms of the lotus flower produces an edible seed, which, in traditional Chinese medicine is said to be beneficial for the heart, tone the spleen and kidneys, prevent insomnia, and calm the nerves. Lotus seeds have astringent properties, which makes them helpful in relieving the symptoms of diarrhea and improving appetite. In Buddhist traditions, the “Sacred Lotus” is a symbol of vitality and purity.
Research Indicates Lotus Seeds Have Remarkable Anti-Aging Compounds
In a UCLA study conducted by plant physiologist Jane Shen-Miller, an ancient Lotus (Nelumbo nucifera) seed germinated after lying dormant for 1,200 years; the oldest seed ever found. The seed was discovered in the 1920s in a deposit of Lotus fruits in a dry lake bed at Pulantien, China. It is “the oldest demonstrably viable and directly dated seed ever reported,” according to the report in the American Journal of Botany. The seedling has been growing since March 1994, and continues to demonstrate “robust” growth.
L-isoaspartyl methyltransferase (MT), an important enzyme that participates in the repair of age-damaged proteins, is present in all lotus seeds, and was found to be present in this ancient seed. The enzyme, the shape and physiological characteristics of lotus fruits, and the oxygen-free environment of the sedimentary strata in which the lotus fruits had been preserved, all contributed to the exceptional longevity of the seeds, the authors concluded.
Because of the potent anti-aging enzyme in lotus seeds, researchers have been finding ways to use lotus seeds in modern cosmetic anti-aging products.
We suggest you enjoy their benefits by using these tasty seeds in dishes like the macro “deviled egg” recipe above, or when you make brown rice, try substituting about a quarter of the amount of rice with lotus seeds and cook as you would for brown rice. Remember to always take out the bitter green sprout before cooking.
[Shen-Miller, J., Mary Beth Mudgett, J. William Schopf, Steven Clarke, and Rainer Berger. 1995. Exceptional Seed Longevity and Robust Growth: Ancient Sacred Lotus From China. American Journal of Botany, 82(11):1367-1380.
Chang, Kenneth. November 18, 1995. Ancient lotus seeds may hold anti-aging secrets. Austin American Statesman, A22.]
Delectable, Nutrient-Rich Winter Squash
The deliciously sweet taste, comfortingly smooth texture, and lovely deep orange or yellow colors are reasons enough to enjoy winter squash, but this nutrient-dense food also provides a wealth of health benefits.
The lovely, deep orange color shows how rich winter squash is in carotenoid compounds. Carotenoids (also called provitamin A), are the types of Vitamin A compounds found in vegetables. Retinol (also called preformed vitamin A), is the form of vitamin A that is found in animals. When we eat carotenoids our body turns them into retinol.
Vitamin A is crucially important for healthy vision; cell division and differentiation; the immune, intestinal and respiratory systems; and the urinary tract. It has been shown to play a role in blood sugar regulation, and to have powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.
Recent research has linked vitamin A to reduced risk of colon and lung cancer, and reduced severity of asthma, osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. Vitamin A deficiency is linked to many illnesses.
The liver can store up to a year’s supply of vitamin A; but this store becomes depleted if a person is sick or has inflammation, or if they smoke. Vitamin A deficiency has been linked to emphysema.
One cup of baked winter squash gives you 145% of your RDA for Vitamin A. It is also high in vitamin C, Folate, Potassium, Manganese and dietary fiber.
Ancient Wisdom: A Good Food for the Season
In the 5,000 year old Asian system called The 5 Element Theory, or The 5 Transformations (the term we use at Kushi Institute), natural cyclical changes such as the seasons effect various aspects of human health. Understanding and using this system can bring greater health and vitality.
Here are some of the associations with the season we have just entered, which is called “early autumn” in The 5 Transformations:
•Energy Direction: Downward
•Organs: Stomach, spleen and pancreas
•Taste: Naturally Sweet, like winter squash
•Color: Yellow and Orange
•Vegetables: Winter Squash and other sweet orange and yellow vegetables which ripen in the Fall
This is only a small amount of information on a very deep study. As we move into each season the Kushi Institute Newsletter will include more information on the 5 Transformations for that time of year.
The 5 Transformations are one of the key subjects in the Kushi Institute’s Level 2 program.
Baybutt RC, Hu L, Molteni A. Vitamin A deficiency injures lung and liver parenchyma and impairs function of rat type II pneumocytes. J Nutr. 2000 May;130(5):1159-65. PMID:10801913.
Li T, Molteni A, Latkovich P, Castellani W, Baybutt RC. Vitamin A depletion induced by cigarette smoke is associated with the development of emphysema in rats. J Nutr. 2003 Aug;133(8):2629-34. PMID:12888649.
Suzuki K, Ito Y, Nakamura S et al. Relationship between serum carotenoids and hyperglycemia: a population- based cross-sectional study. J Epidemiol 2002 Sep;12(5):357-66 2002.
Wood, Rebecca. The Whole Foods Encyclopedia. New York, NY: Prentice-Hall Press; 1988. PMID:15220.
Ylonen K, Alfthan G, Groop, L et al. Dietary intakes and plasma concentrations of carotenoids and tocopherols in relation to glucose metabolism in subjects at high risk of type 2 diabetes: the Botnia Dietary Study. Am J Clin Nutr. 2003 Jun; 77(6):1434-41 2003.
Yuan JM, Stram DO, Arakawa K, Lee HP, Yu MC. Dietary cryptoxanthin and reduced risk of lung cancer: the Singapore Chinese Health Study. Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev. 2003 Sep;12(9):890-8.
In less industrial societies, modern food and agriculture have proved disruptive on an even larger scale than in industrial areas.
Cattle-grazing, use of marginal lands, and the export of cash crops have overturned patterns of farming and cultural life extending back thousands of years. In the wake of monocropping-growing one major crop or livestock for foreign export such as coffee, bananas, sugar, tomatoes, cattle, or sheep-tens of millions of families, uprooted from their ancestral lands, flocked to urban metropolitan centers such as San Paulo, Cairo, or Calcutta in quest of employment and opportunity. The vast urban slums created by this exodus from the land offer only poverty, hunger, and emergency relief consisting of infant formula, refined foods, and artificial birth control devices and artificial immunizations that further contribute to disease and destitution.
Growing grain directly for human consumption, meanwhile, would result in greater utilization of land and a more abundant food supply. At the present time it takes from five to ten times as much land to raise beef, pork, lamb, and dairy cattle as it does grains and vegetables. An international economy based on whole foods and organic agriculture would reverse the trend toward concentration of farmland in fewer hands. Hundreds of millions of families living in squalor would return to the lands from which they were driven off and find food, shelter, and meaningful employment. World hunger and poverty, largely the result of modern agricultural dislocations and changing patterns of food consumption, would end and tensions among states, aggravated by competing cash crops for foreign export, would diminish as local communities and regions became more self-sustaining. World population would also stabilize at much lower natural levels as high birth rates-largely a survival mechanism, common to other threatened species as well as humans-returned to normal.
Meanwhile, a few emergency relief agencies, including the United Nation’s Food and Agricultural Organization and the International Red Cross have begun to distribute brown rice and other whole grains rather than refined grains in selected refugee camps around the world. These and other positive interim measures should be encouraged until more basic solutions can be achieved.
Once I was visited by a young woman who was experiencing irregularities with her menstruation, along with a persistent, growing pain in her lower back, and facial blemishes. A medical examination revealed that she had an ovarian cyst, about the size of an orange, in one of her ovaries. Her doctor had advised exploratory surgery, with the likelihood that the tumor, and possibly the ovary itself, would be removed.
I felt that the problem was caused by improper balance in her daily diet, especially the consumption of milk, cheese, yogurt, and other dairy foods. During her visit, I recommended that she begin the macrobiotic diet, together with several basic home remedies. She followed my instructions. To her surprise, the cyst was no longer detectable after six weeks of practicing a macrobiotic regime. Her physician, a well-known gynecologist, remarked that in all her years of practice, she had never seen a case like that.
During my years studying and practicing macrobiotics, I have witnessed hundreds of cases, involving a wide range of illnesess, with a similar outcome. My own experience with macrobiotic healing began in the late 1960s when I was a student at Temple University in Philadelphia. It was at that time that I started seeking a deeper understanding of life through the study of Oriental philosophy.
My search began with Vedanta, the traditional wisdom of India, proceeded through Taoism and Chinese philosophy, and then led to Buddhism and Shintoism. I discovered the macrobiotic teachings of George Ohsawa at that time, and realized that macrobiotics offered the means to transform humanity’s timeless spiritual wisdom into a living reality. Through macrobiotics, I came to understand that the spiritual knowledge I had been searching for was within myself and that my day to day eating played a pivotal role in the development of spiritual consciousness.
As I adopted the macrobiotic lifestyle, allergies and other minor health problems began to disappear, I lost excessive weight, and my outlook grew more active and positive.
In 1972, I moved from Philadelphia to Boston in order to study with Michio Kushi. In 1973, I began a five-year period of work at the East West Foundation, a non-profit educational and cultural organization started by the Kushis. During that period, I studied intensively with Mr. Kushi, and began to give basic lectures on various aspects of the macrobiotic way of life. I edited numerous publications dealing with macrobiotics and natural healing. I also gave personal advice on the macrobiotic way of life to hundreds of people.
Through these experiences, I came to realize that health, happiness, and freedom are actually the natural human condition. My observations and experiences with the effects of food on our physical and mental health have convinced me that the most fundamental way to achieve health and happiness is to begin selecting, preparing, and eating our daily food in accordance with the law of nature. This universal, common sense method is available to everyone. All that is required is a desire to enjoy a life free from sickness and unhappiness and the wish to claim the human birthright of a happy, free, and healthy life.
The age of dietary anarchy now prevails throughout modern society. Traditional patterns of eating–based around whole cereal grains and cooked vegetables as the staple foods–which were followed for thousands of years have been abandoned. The modern diet consists of large quantities of animal food, heavily refined and processed flour and grain, refined sugar, dairy products, fruits and spices imported from great distances, chemicalized, industrialized, and artificial foods, and powerful drugs and medications. Not only is the modern way of eating widespread in the industrial nations in both East and West, but it is being exported at an increasingly rapid rate throughout the world. As a result, in spite of great prosperity brought on by technological advances, we are in the midst of a biological Noah’s Flood which is reflected in the increasing worldwide incidence of degenerative disease and social breakdown.
Before the Second World War, Dr. Alexis Carrel, a Nobel Prize-winning physiologist at the Rockefeller Institute, foresaw our current situation and in his book, Man the Unknown, proposed a complete re-evaluation of our modern understanding of life, nature, and ourselves. In the preface to his book he stated:
•Before beginning this work the author realized its difficulty, its almost impossibility. He undertook it merely because somebody had to undertake it, because men cannot follow modern civilization along its present course, because they are degenerating. They have been fascinated by the beauty of the science of inert matter. They have not understood that their body and consciousness are subjected to natural laws, more obscure than, but as inexorable as, the laws of the sidereal world. Neither have they understood that they cannot transgress these laws without being punished. They must, therefore, learn the necessary relations of the cosmic universe, of their fellow men, and of their inner selves, also those of their tissues and their mind. Indeed, man stands above all things. Should he degenerate, the beauty of civilization, and even the grandeur of the physical universe, would vanish. For these reasons this book was written.
The natural laws of which Dr. Carrel wrote are expressed in macrobiotics as the principle of dualistic monism: yin changes into yang, and yang changes into yin, everywhere and forever. The most grandiose civilizations have all experienced eventual decline and decay. Nothing is exempt from this fundamental law. At the same time, however, within the decline of modern civilization, the seeds of the biological, psychological, and spiritual restoration of humanity are beginning to grow, just as the depth of winter produces spring, and the peak of night leads to dawn.
During the 20th century, the most fundamental way to achieve the restoration of humanity has been taught throughout the world as the understanding and practice of macrobiotics. When Michio Kushi graduated from Tokyo University after the Second World War, prior to coming to the United States for graduate studies at Columbia, his interest in world peace through world government led him to investigate the work of George Ohsawa. Mr. Ohsawa proposed that only with the biological reconstruction of humanity on an individual basis through the means of daily life and diet, could world peace be established. Observation of the human condition for over half a century had led Mr. Ohsawa to such a simple but profound insight. His conclusions are contain in three works available in English: Zen Macrobiotics, The Book of Judgment, and The Macrobiotic Guidebook to Living. (George Ohsawa’s basic writings have recently been compiled in the book, Essential Ohsawa, published by Avery Publishing Group, 1994.)
Inspired by the macrobiotic view of life, Michio Kushi has been teaching, writing, and lecturing throughout the world in order to further the understanding and practical application of the macrobiotic way of life. Many of his conclusions are presented in The Book of Macrobiotics: The Universal Way of Health, Happiness, and Peace, published by Japan Publications, Inc. He is the author of more than a dozen books on macrobiotic philosophy, health care, and way of life.
The aim of macrobiotic healing extends beyond the relief of individual symptoms to the eventual realization of a healthy and peaceful world. The goal of planetary health and peace, toward which so many of history’s greatest personalities have dedicated their lives, can at last be realized as increasing numbers of people begin to apply the order of nature to their daily lives. A healthy nation is composed of healthy communities, which are, in turn, the product of strong and healthy families. The basis of family health is the understanding and ability of each member to take responsibility for and successfully manage his or her own health.
Health is a natural result of maintaining dynamic balance between the two primary forces in the universe. Thus, with a simple scale used for measuring weight, balance is achieved by placing equal amounts of material on either side. If one side contains less weight, it will begin to rise, as the heavier side sinks. The side that falls does so as a result of the influence of downward, or centripetal force, while the other side rises because of the influence of centrifugal, or expanding force.
These two forces, known in the Orient as yin and yang, are universal tendencies that govern all things. For example, on the earth we are constantly receiving an incoming, downward force from the sun, stars, planets, and constellations that pushes everything onto the surface of the planet and causes the earth to turn and revolve around the sun. At the same time, the earth, because of its rotation, generates an opposite, expanding or outgoing force. The interplay between these two forces –centripetality, or yang, and centrifugality, or yin– creates all things on our planet and throughout the universe.
Each force creates respective physical tendencies. Centripetal or yang force creates contraction, density, heaviness, rapid motion, and high temperature. Centrifugal, or yin force creates expansion, diffusion, lightness, slower motion, and low temperature. At their extreme, each force changes into its opposite, as high temperature causes expansion and low temperature results in contraction. Yin and yang are not static conditions but rather tendencies that cycle continuously or change into each other as is obvious in the sequence of day changing into night and then night giving way to the day. The progression from winter to summer and then back to winter is another example of the interplay of opposites that governs life.
Health is the natural result of maintaining a dynamic balance of yin and yang in our daily eating and way of life. An understanding of the laws that govern these two antagonistic, yet complementary tendencies can unlock the secrets of life and health. It can lead to an understanding of our origin and destiny as human beings. My hope is that, through the practice of a macrobiotic way of life, all people can come to will discover the wonderful order of nature and realize health, happiness, and infinite freedom.
Source: This essay is from the Introduction to The Macrobiotic Way of Natural Healing, East West Foundation, Boston, Mass., 1978 ©, all rights reserved.
“Among the many diseases considered incurable by modern science are Crohn’s disease and Takayasu arteritis. In this moving case history, Virginia Harper, a wife and mother from Tennessee describes how she overcame these two, often fatal, afflictions with macrobiotics.” -Ed.
“You can turn this around. You can change this,” are the words I’ll never forget. After eight years of living with Takayasu arteritis and Crohn’s disease and seeing only a dim future ahead, these words filled me with hope.
At age 14 I started having strong symptoms of discomfort and pain on the right side of my abdomen. At 15 they removed my appendix but discovered it was normal. From 15 to 23, I was in and out of hospitals at least twice a year with the symptoms getting more severe. I had not only the increasing abdominal problems but I started to develop fainting spells, dizziness, weakness in my right should and arm down to my hand. At age 19 I discovered a lump on my neck. I was away at college in Tennessee and the school doctor decided it was a benign cyst and could be easily removed during the Thanksgiving holidays.
While undergoing an arteriogram at home in Connecticut, I suffered a stroke. When I awoke, I was temporarily paralyzed on my right side and had lost my ability to speak. The test showed a blockage on my rights carotid artery. In April of that next year, I was sent to Mass General Hospital in Boston to undergo bypass surgery and a biopsy and it was determined that I had a very rare blood condition. Takayasu arteritis is an autoimmune deficiency where the blood passing through the arteries causes them to act as if they are damaged so they start repairing themselves and this creates blockages. Takayasu has no known cause and no known cure. The main arteries were so dramatically affected that my blood flow was distressed. I was told to stop all my sports activities and “to take it easy.” But the real devastating news was that I should not plan on having children.
I was put on an anti-inflammatory drug called prednisone, a steroid, and an aspirin a day to help with my blood flow. The next few years I learned to live within the confines of Takayasu and I suffered from the side effects from the drug more than the disease itself. I would awaken ravished with headaches, swollen aching joints, ringing in my ears, upset stomach, low energy and feeling depressed. And, when I was on high doses, I would be so hyper I would work to exhaustion and still only need three or four hours of sleep before I was ready to go again.
On top of all this, my abdominal symptoms began to get worse as the years went by. The pain became paralyzing, along with constant headaches, bloody diarrhea, constipation and weight loss. At times I would lose so much blood that I would go to the emergency room completely debilitated. The X-rays showed nothing. Eight years of different doctors, specialists, tests, and drugs, yet the cause and cure were still a mystery.
Finally, when I was 22, I had a severe attack which landed me back in the emergency room. But this time, the technicians were finally able to detect something on the X-rays. The doctors diagnosed Crohn’s disease. I was so relieved to have a name for what I had gone through all those years. Crohn’s disease has no known cause and no known cure. It causes a slow deterioration of the intestinal wall, the lining become inflamed and irritated, and loses its elasticity resulting in impaired digestion and absorption. Crohn’s can manifest anywhere in the digestive tract.
Anti-inflammatory drugs and/or surgery were the only recourse. Surgery can remove the affected area; however, Crohn’s usually spreads again in three years or less and you will face more surgery. It didn’t take me long to realize that if I lived to be 30, I would not have any intestines left.
The “good news” was that I was already taking the anti-inflammatory drug used to treat it. When I inquired how I could develop something so severe when I was already on the drug that supposedly helped it, I got no response. And so, I learned to live within the confines of Crohn’s and Prednisone.
To complicate matters, that same year I became pregnant while using the IUD. Instead of this being a happy time for my husband and me, it was quite traumatic. The doctors thought I would lose the baby when they removed the IUD. However, the pregnancy continued and went smoothly while the doctors watched me very closely and I stayed in bed most of the time. Being as determined as I am, our beautiful daughter was born.
Nine months later, the Takayasu and the Crohn’s both flared up again and so did my trips back to the hospital and doctors for more tests and different drugs, except this time nothing seemed to work for very long. My parents and I, being open to alternative methods, started searching for real cures. I tried megavitamin therapy, reflexology, herbs, and hospital-based nutritional approaches. It was during this search that my father heard about macrobiotics. He cried as he told me what would work this time and shared what little he knew. He flew me to Connecticut to see a macrobiotic teacher. I was ready to deal with this doctor, too. I took all my X-rays, filed, and paperwork to show him, but the experience was totally different.
He wanted to know specific details of my symptoms and my lifestyle. There was no prodding, poking, sticking, undressing, or cold intrusive instruments to deal with. He used Oriental diagnosis to evaluate my condition by observing my eyes, tongue, hands, and feet. Finally, he told me what I had longer to hear, “You can turn this around.”
The macrobiotic teacher proceeded to explain that there were certain foods that weakened my body and it was struggling to get rid of excess. All my body needed were the correct tools to naturally heal itself. The main foods that aggravated my condition were dairy food and sugars. For maximum health, he explained the importance of keeping the body alkaline by eating neutral or balanced foods. These include whole grains, beans, land and sea vegetables, and some fruit, seeds, and nuts.
I grew up with my grandmother and she strongly believed that God’s abundance provides everything one needs to naturally heal. All I heard finally was making sense. I did not recognize half of the foods he mentioned because after all, I was a fast-food, junk-food, pre-prepared, vegetable-come-in-a-can baby-boomer.
I had answers and most of all, for the first time, I had hope. My teacher told me that one day I would appreciate and be thankful for my illness. I thought, “This guy has been eating too much seaweed he just doesn’t realize all I’ve been through!”
Now, 15 years later, I continue to live a symptom-free, drug-free, pain-free, doctor-free life. Full of energy, I anticipate a health-filled future with my two children and family. I truly understand those prophetic words. I do appreciate my illness and all I went through. My experience led me to macrobiotics and that led me to the path of healing physically, emotionally, and spiritually. And that quality of healing you can never get from a pill.
This article originally appeared in the One Peaceful World Journal, Spring, 1995 © One Peaceful World, all rights reserved. To become a membership to One Peaceful World and receive a quarterly newsletter, please call 413-623-2322.
Daily food has the power to heal or make us sick; to keep us healthy or accelerate our decline. The importance of food in health and healing cannot be overemphasized. However, unlike modern nutrition, in which foods are analyzed according to their biochemical effects, the macrobiotic view is based on an understanding of food as energy. Rather than being analytical and partial, the macrobiotic approach is dynamic and whole.
In macrobiotics, we approach food on two levels. In the first, more fundamental level, we apply the principle of yin and yang to balance our daily diet as a whole. Yin and yang help us understand food in terms of energy. Balancing the expanding and contracting energies in our diet is the basis of health and healing. In the second, or symptomatic level, we use food to offset or balance a particular condition or symptom.
A key to health and healing lies in our ability to understand food in terms of yin and yang and energy, and to apply that understanding to the structure and function of the human body. For that purpose, we need to view the body in terms of yin and yang. The inner regions of the body, including the bones, blood, and internal organs, are more yang or contracted, while the peripheral regions, including the skin and hair, are more yin or expanded. The front of the body is generally softer and more expanded (yin), while the back is hard and compact (yang). The upper body is generally more yin, while the lower body has stronger yang energy.
On the whole, the right side of the body is strongly charged with yin, upward energy, while the left side is strongly charged by downward, yang energy. The movement of upward and downward energy in the body is reflected in the structure of the large intestine, and in the function of the brain. The large intestine moves upward on the right side of the body, and downward on the left. The right hemisphere of the brain generates more yin, aesthetic or artistic images, while the left is the source of more yang, analytical and rational abilities. Using these basic classifications, we can begin to make specific correlations between the energy of food and the energy of the body.
Day to day, the atmosphere cycles back and forth between upward and downward, or yin and yang energy. Morning is the time when upward energy prevails. Evening and night are the times when downward energy is strongest. In order to maintain optimal health and well-being, we need to orient our lives in harmony with the movement of energy. In other words, we need to wake up in the morning and be active during the day, and need to get adequate sleep at night. If we go against the movement of atmospheric energy, for example, by sleeping during the day and being active at night, we risk losing our health.
On the most fundamental level, health and healing operate on the same principle. The organs on the right side of the body, including the liver and gallbladder, are strongly charged by yin, upward energy. Those on the left, including the pancreas and spleen, receive a stronger charge of yang, downward energy. Do foods with more expansive energies benefit the pancreas and spleen, or those with more contractive energies? Similarly, what types of foods benefit the liver and gallbladder? As we can see from the daily cycle, we need to go with the movement of energy. Thus, foods that match the energy of a particular organ are the most appropriate.
Symptomatic healing works in the opposite way. Symptoms can be caused by extremes of either yin or yang. In order to neutralize or offset a particular symptom, we use foods that have the a quality of energy that is opposite to that of the symptom. If the symptom is caused by too much yang, we supply the body with yin. When a symptom is caused by excess yin, we need to supply yang.
Constipation offers an example of this principle. Constipation can result from either an excess of yin or yang in the diet. Yang constipation is caused by the repeated intake of meat, cheese, eggs, chicken, and other forms of animal food, and an insufficient intake of grains, vegetables, and other plant foods containing fiber. It occurs when the intestines become overly tight and contracted. To relieve that symptom, we use foods with an opposite, or more yin energy, such as kanten, lightly steamed greens, grated raw daikon, or vegetables that have been lightly sauteed in oil.
Yin constipation occurs when the intestines become loose, weak, and stagnant because of too much sugar, chocolate, alcohol, spices, ice cream, or soft drinks. To restore the intestines to a more normal, contracted state, a slightly more yang preparation, such as ume-sho-kuzu, would be appropriate.
The Five Energies in Health and Healing
As we saw above, the liver and gallbladder are nourished by yin, expanding energy; the pancreas and spleen, by yang, contracting energy. Therefore, according to the principles stated above, if we wish to strengthen the liver and gallbladder, we choose foods that have a slightly more yin, or expansive quality of energy. If we wish to strengthen the pancreas and spleen, foods with slightly more yang energy would be appropriate.
Although whole grains are generally the most balanced among foods, each variety has a slightly different quality of energy. Corn, for example, grows in the summer, and is soft, sweet, and juicy. It has a more yin quality of energy. Buckwheat, on the other hand, grows in cold, northern regions and is very hard and dry. It rapidly absorbs water, and has strong yang energy. Rice has a different quality of energy than barley; millet is different than wheat. Short grain rice is very different than long grain rice. Among the whole grains, therefore, which one is best for the liver and gallbladder, and which one most benefits the pancreas and spleen?
Liver and Gallbladder
Traditional philosopher-healers referred to the upward energy that nourishes the liver and gallbladder as tree energy. The name tree energy implies growth in an upward direction, as well as movement that branches outward. Among the grains, barley has a light, expansive quality and is classified under the tree energy category. Adding it to brown rice produces a lighter, fluffier, and less glutinous dish. The energy of barley is compatible to that of the liver and gallbladder. Hato mugi, or pearl barley, a species of wild barley originally grown in China, is especially charged with upward energy. Both regular and pearl barley can be eaten several times per week, in soup or with brown rice. Barley tea supplies the body with light, upward energy and can be used as a regular beverage.
Pancreas, Spleen, and Stomach
The spleen and pancreas are charged by an opposite quality of energy that traditional philosopher-healers referred to as soil energy. The name soil conveys the image of more compact, downward energy. Millet, a compact grain with a hard outer shell, is a product of soil energy and can be eaten on a regular basis to strengthen the pancreas and spleen. It is helpful in aiding recovery from blood sugar disorders, including diabetes and hypoglycemia. Millet can be cooked with brown rice or used to make delicious millet soup. The stomach is located toward the left side of the body, and is energetically compatible with the pancreas and spleen. Millet is also useful in strengthening the stomach.
Let us now see how the principles of energy balance apply to the selection of whole grains for the other primary organs.
Heart and Small Intestine
Compared to the liver and spleen, the heart has a more dynamic, active quality of energy. The heart is located higher in the body (more yin), and is positioned at the heart chakra, a very highly charged region in the center of the chest. Traditional healers referred to such active movement as fire energy. The small intestine is compatible with the heart, and is charged with active energy. At the center of the small intestine is the highly charged region known as the hara chakra, the primary source of life energy for the entire lower body. Among the grains, corn, a more yin product of summer, is charged with fire energy. It is energetically compatible with the heart and small intestine. It can be eaten fresh in season or used in such traditional dishes as polenta. Whole corn meal or grits can be used as breakfast cereals.
Lungs and Large Intestine
Compared to the heart, the large intestine has more condensed, yang energy. It is located in the lower body, where downward energy is stronger, and although it is large, it is compressed into a small space. The lungs are energetically compatible with the large intestine, and contain many air sacs and blood vessels compressed into a tight space. Traditional healers named this condensed stage metal energy. They considered it to be more yang or condensed than the downward, soil energy that charges the pancreas and spleen. Brown rice, especially pressure-cooked short grain rice, has strong condensed energy that corresponds to the metal stage. It can be used as a main daily grain to strengthen and vitalize these organs.
Kidneys and Bladder
The kidneys lie in the middle of the body; with one on the right and the other on the left side of the body. Traditional healers felt that the energy that nourishes the kidneys is like water, floating between yin and yang, up and down, although on the whole, downward energy is slightly more predominant. Appropriately enough, they referred to this stage as water energy. Beans, which are more yang or contracted than most vegetables, and more yin or expanded than most grains, are a manifestation of floating, or water energy. They strengthen and nourish the kidneys, and their related organ, the bladder. Smaller beans such as azuki and black soybeans have more concentrated energy and are especially beneficial. Beans and bean products can be eaten as a regular part of the diet.
These five stages of energy are actually part of a a continuous cycle. Energy constantly cycles back and forth from yin to yang, moving through the more yin stages tree and fire, and then through the more yang stages soil, metal, and water. The cycle repeats every day and from season to season. Our bodies are comprised of a complex mix of energies that reflect each of these stages, and to maintain optimal health, we need adequate variety in our daily diet.
The five energies can guide our selection of vegetables and other supplementary foods, as well as our choice of cooking methods. In general, leafy greens are charged with strong upward or actively expanding energy (tree and fire), while round vegetables, such as squash, onions, and cabbage are strongly charged with soil energy. Roots such as carrots, burdock, and daikon have even stronger yang energy (metal), while sea vegetables represent floating or water energy.
In cooking, we change the quality of our foods, by making their energies more yin or more yang. Methods such as quick steaming, blanching (quick boiling), and sauteing accelerate upward (tree) and active (fire) energy, while slow boiling, such as that used in making nishime, condenses the energy in food and corresponds to the soil stage. Pressure cooking is a more yang method of cooking that corresponds to metal energy, while soup corresponds to water energy. Once again, we need a wide variety of vegetables and cooking methods in order to provide the body with a wide range of energies.
Whole grains and other foods in the macrobiotic diet work on both the symptomatic and fundamental levels. On the fundamental level, a food such as hato mugi, or pearl barley, supplies the liver and gallbladder with the upward energy necessary for smooth functioning. At the same time, because of its expansive nature, pearl barley acts symptomatically in dissolving more yang, hardened deposits of animal fat and protein, including cysts and tumors caused by the repeated consumption of animal food. Pearl barley tea, for example, is used in Oriental medicine as a beverage to dissolve moles, warts, and other skin growths resulting from excess animal protein.
Food is our best medicine. Balancing the energy of food provides the foundation for achieving good health. Without the foundation of daily diet, our approach is symptomatic and limited. Understanding food as energy lies at the heart of macrobiotic healing.
Source: This essay appeared in Macrobiotics Today, Oroville, Ca, November/December, 1993, © Edward Esko, all rights reserved.
In modern societies, fat is consumed in much larger amounts than in countries where people are eating whole grains as their principal food.
For example, in the United States, about 42 percent of the ordinary diet is composed of fat, while in rural Mexico among the Tarahumara, a native people renowned for their health and longevity, the amount is only 12 percent. About 15 percent of the standard macrobiotic diet consists of fat.
Lipids are the family name for fats, oils, and fatlike substances including fatty acids, cholesterol, and lipoproteins. Fats are solid at room temperature, while oils are fluid. Solid lipids tend to contain more saturated fatty acids. Fatty acids are long chains of carbon and hydrogen atoms including an oxygen molecule at one end.
Saturated fatty acids are bonded or saturated to hydrogen atoms.
Unsaturated fatty acids lack at least one pair of hydrogen atoms.
Polyunsaturated fatty acids are those in which more than one pair is missing.
Fatty acids are the building blocks of fats, just as simple sugars are the fundamental units of carbohydrates. In order to help digest fats, which are insoluble in water and form large globules, the liver secretes bile, a yellowish liquid stored in the gallbladder. In the intestine, bile serves to emulsify fats and enables them to be broken down into fatty acids and glycerol by digestive enzymes.
Lipids are essential to digestion but can be harmful to the body, especially saturated acids like stearic acid, found in animal tissues, which coats the red blood cells, blocks the capillaries, and deprives the heart of oxygen. One of the main constituents of lipids is cholesterol, a naturally occurring substance in the body which contributes to the maintenance of cell walls, serves as a precursor of bile acids and vitamin D and also a precursor of some hormones. Cholesterol is not found in plants foods but is contained in all animal products, especially meat, egg yolks, and dairy products. Since cholesterol is insoluble in the blood, it attaches itself to a protein that is soluble in order to be transported through the body. This combination is called a lipoprotein. However, excess cholesterol in the bloodstream tends to be deposited in artery walls and as plaque eventually causes constriction of the arteries, reduces the flow of blood, and can lead to a heart attack, stroke, or peripheral artery disease. Normally, fat is absorbed by the lymph and enters the bloodstream near the heart. However, if excess lipids accumulate in the body, eventually some will become deposited in the liver. Such stored fat, primarily from meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy products, is usually the chief source of liver malfunctions. Excess fat, especially saturated fat, is also stored in and around vital organs, such as the kidneys, the spleen, the pancreas, and the reproductive organs and is a leading cause of cancer in these sites.
Because of the increased public awareness of the connection among cholesterol, saturated fat, and heart disease and cancer, many people have switched to unsaturated fats and oils, including vegetable cooking oils, mayonnaise, margarine, salad dressings, and artificial creamers and spreads. Today, these make up the large single source of fat in the American diet. However, unsaturated fats, especially those of a refined quality, serve to redistribute cholesterol from the blood to the tissues and combine with oxygen to form free radicals. These are unstable and highly reactive substances that can interact with proteins and cause the loss of elasticity in tissue and general weakening of cells.
Hydrogenated fats, moreover, such as margarine, are specially treated to remain solid at room temperature, a process that converts their unsaturated fatty acids into saturated fatty acids to a significant degree. Hydrogenated fats are also known as trans fatty acids.
Whole grains, beans, seeds and nuts contain polyunsaturated fats and oils, but these are naturally balanced by the right proportion of vitamin E and selenium, which are usually lost in the refining process. Similarly, unrefined polyunsaturated cooking oils (in which the vitamin E remains) such as dark sesame oil are a balanced product and, if used moderately, will contribute to proper metabolism, including more flexible motion and thinking.