Macrobiotic and Whole Foods Cooking: What’s the Difference?

Tomatoes. Timothy Hill Photography
All macrobiotic cooking can be considered whole food, but not all whole food is macrobiotic. The biggest differences lie in the consumption of animal foods, and in certain types of fruits and vegetables. Macrobiotic cooking is anywhere from 85-100% plant based, and whole foods cooking can include ingredients as diverse as lamb, raw dairy products, a wide variety of seafood, and poultry. Macrobiotics includes very distinct parameters around fruits and vegetables; whole foods diets can incorporate nightshade vegetables like tomatoes, peppers, eggplant and potatoes, and all types of fruits, including tropical fruits like bananas and pineapple.

So what makes food “whole”?

The basic concept is that whole food is unprocessed and unadulterated. White flour, sugar, white rice, most cold cereals, crackers, and many packaged foods are processed. Whole foods include grains (such as whole grain flours, brown and wild rice, quinoa, millet); organic or minimally treated fruits and vegetables; wild caught or sustainably farmed seafood; organically raised meats; organic, unprocessed dairy products and free-range eggs. Whole foods do not contain preservatives, and consequently have a shorter shelf life.

Cooking with whole foods means that rather than open a box of mac and cheese mix, we prepare pasta and sauce by hand. Instead of soup mix, we prepare a homemade soup that has far greater nutritive value and is made with fresh veggies. And instead of cooking a commercial chicken such as Perdue or Tyson (which is loaded with antibiotics, chemical additives, hormones, and was raised in a chicken “factory”) we purchase a bird from a local farmer or a reputable organic purveyor.

Whole foods also mean that you can understand and pronounce every word on a list of ingredients. A loaf of bread should list flour; yeast or starter; salt; water; and sometimes nuts, seeds, whole grains and/or oil. If you see ingredients with long and complicated names, they are additives, synthetic foods, or fake coloring.

These are to be avoided if at all possible.

Finally, it is important to recognize that each of us has a unique genetic blueprint. It is not realistic for most people to subsist on the traditional Japanese macrobiotic diet and remain healthy, due to high amounts of salty and fermented foods. What we can do is recognize that a diet of moderate foods (whole grains, vegetables, nuts and seeds, legumes and sea vegetables) supplemented by small amounts of fruits and limited animal foods, (depending on climate, our constitution and ability to metabolize these foods) can create an excellent foundation for health and longevity.

In his book Healing with Whole Foods, Paul Pitchford writes: ‘One of the first macrobiotic teachers, George Osawa, considered anyone who was truly healthy and happy to be macrobiotic regardless of what he or she ate.” Coming to a deeper understanding of what works for our bodies, learning to listen to our inner guidance system, and developing and engaging in spiritual awareness all create a synergy that leads us towards greater health, compassion, and consciousness.