Buddhism & Food: A Balanced Form of Eating

Originating from the principles of Zen Buddhism, the concept of a macrobiotic diet was first formalised by the Japanese Army Doctor Sagen Ishizuka who believed in benefits of following a traditional oriental diet and condemned the adaptation of western medicine and nutrition principles. The macrobiotic diet propagates a balanced form of eating with an emphasis on consuming nutrient rich food that have balanced ying / yang properties.*

The name macrobiotic is derived from “macro” meaning big and “bio” meaning life. It is indicative of the diet’s holistic approach where the focus is on bettering one’s health and not on weight or inch loss.  The macrobiotic diet divides food into the following two groups:

Main Foods: Grains, Vegetables and Beans make up the main food category. These are considered essential for good health and are to be consumed in the following proportions:

  •  Grains (50-60%): Brown Rice, Wild Rice, Barley, Rye, Millet, Spelt, etc.
  • Vegetables (30%): Sea vegetables like Kelp, Kombu, Arame, etc. and locally available vegetables that can be eaten raw, steamed or lightly sautéed in sesame or corn oil.
  • Beans (10%): Fermented beans like Tofu, Miso and Tempeh are particularly important as they contain probiotics that aid digestion.

Secondary Foods: This food group includes fruits, non-alcoholic beverages, nuts, seeds, oils, fish, condiments like pickles, chocolate, etc. These items are to be consumed in moderation, not more than 2 to 3 times a week.

A macrobiotic diet does not eliminate any food group entirely but does lay emphasis on reducing one’s intake of refined and highly processed foods. Therefore, a chocolate cake sweetened with natural extracts like Stevia, rice or maple syrup is accepted, as is bread and other wheat items made using traditional methods and whole grains. Any form of artificial sweeteners, chemicals, additives, flavours, etc. is to be completely avoided.

The macrobiotic diet, like many diets based on naturopathy, stresses on the consumption of mostly plant-based food items. It discourages the consumption of animal products like red meat, eggs, dairy (and dairy products like butter, ghee, yoghurt, cheese, etc.), poultry, etc. and highly processed and / or refined food items.

Sea Vegetables

Foot Notes:

*All food items have both Ying & Yang properties. As per traditional Chinese medicine foods with high Yang properties are considered to be heavy, high in protein and sodium, calorie dense and heating while foods with high Ying properties are light, cooling, expansive and soothing to the body.


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