Saturday, 7 January 2012

Diet #37, Macrobiotics

Diet #36, Rosemary Conley went surprisingly well. The meals were the tastiest of the prepackaged diets that I've tried so far, and I managed to shift a couple of pounds, meaning that I headed into Christmas party season and finished the year, 36 diets later, having lost the half stone I set out to do. Still want to lose another half stone, though. Doesn't everyone?

Diet #37 is macrobiotics,which has found fame recently due to some high profile celebrity followers - Gwyneth Paltrow and Madonna are probably the best-known. So by the end of the week, I'd like to look like this...

 Although knowing my luck, I will probably end up looking more like this...

I'm using two books this week - The Macrobiotic Way, by Michio Kushi, the Grandfather of Macrobiotics, and Modern Day Macrobiotics, by Simon G Brown. Michio Kushi's dry, stuffy book is my punishment for having a couple of weeks off. Once I've struggled through the preface, the foreword and the introduction, I'm finally ready to learn what macrobiotics is really about.

The word comes from the latin 'Macro' meaning Great and 'Bios' meaning life.The original diet plan was first published in 1796, making this the oldest diet I've tried so far. Michio Kushi says that we can learn from indiginous people who live in close contact with nature, such as the Hunzakuts (a himalyan people with Afghan and Gypsy origins). The foods they eat are locally grown, seasonal and organic. They live in close contact with nature, are very physically active and often live well beyond 120 years. However, a little google searching reveals that their isolation means that they have little need for calendars, instead measuring their age in wisdom. Genius. And makes me wonder what I could measure my age in? Busy-ness? In which case, I'v aged another 20 years! Or money? In which case I'm positively foetal...

Macrobiotics is all about the food that you put in your body - not just what you eat, but how it was grown, where and when. Where possible, you should try to eat whole, living foods. Foods are 'living' if they can still grow - whole grains, dried beans or seeds that will continue to sprout if left in a dark, damp environment (a quick check of my larder cupboard reveals this to be true). Root vegetables can be replanted and leafy greens can live with their stalks in water. Even meat and fish still retain a living energy. However, a kit kat does not have much life left in it, so that's off the menu for this week.

Macrobiotics says that different foods have different energies, stemming from the way that they grow, which in turn can change your own internal energy. Leeks or spring onions, which grow upwards, will help to move energy up your body, making you feel lighter and sending energy to your chest and head. Root vegetables encourage energy to settle, giving you strength in your lower abdomen, making it easier to relax, and be more down-to-earth and practical, whilst round vegetable spread your energy out, giving a warm satisfying feeling.

The medium in which foods grow also has an effect on your energy. Vegetables grown above the ground, in the air, will reflect these qualities, so brocolli (for example) can help free your spirits and make it easier to accept change, and to gain a broader perspective on the world - that's quite a lot of pressure on one wilting bag of brocolli in my fridge! Vegetables grown in the ground take in this engery and make you feel more settled - and sea vegetables, which experience the ebb and flow of the tides will help you to become more flexible, tenacious and adaptable. Wild salmon, which has to struggle to swim upstream will help you if you need to fight your corner - if you want to relax, you'd be better with squid, more used to languising in warmer waters.

On a macrobiotic diet, you can eat anything within reason, as long as you know what the likely influence of that food is and you are sure that it will lead to good health. The diet is predominantly meat-free, low-GI, alkaline and high in protein.

The diet is based on Japanese/oriental principles of healthful eating, which is where it gets difficult. Although the list of acceptable vegetables includes things like brocolli and leeks, there are also a lot of eastern vegetables which aren't exactly local to east London; chinese cabbage, kale, bok choy, spring onions, shiitake mushrooms, sea vegetables like wakame, Kombu, Nor, Dulse, Arame, Hiziki and Agar agar, Beans (Aduki, Black-eye, pinto) and a whole list of fermented foods that I can't even pronounce.

Tesco in Leytonstone was a bit short on the old shoyu and natto (no idea!!), but we did get some interesting whole foods to try this week. Barley, pinto beans, soya (all of which require a level of preplanning I'm usually incapable of, with 8-12 hours pre-soaking in water before use), soba and udon noodles, two types of trout, miso soup, pumpkin seeds, cous cous, almonds, soy sauce...

Breakfast is going to be difficult - the book recommends miso soup (homemade, natch), or soft brown rice (really?), plus two mochi recipes (fried savory, fried sweet). Given that I have no idea what mochi is, and I can't bear the thought of plain boiled rice for breakfast, this morning I had wholewheat bran flakes with Oatly, an oat-drink (milk is not recommended in macrobiotics). A note on Oatly - I've never thought of oats as particularly juicy, so I have no idea how you can make a drink out of them - and it looks like breastmilk - not very appetizing. It actually doesn't taste too bad, fortunately...

The book has some 'interesting' recipes. Natto: Ingredients. 4 containers Natto. 6tbsp grated daikon or jinengo. 1 tbsp shoyu. Method: place ingredients in bowl, mix, eat.  Chinese cabbage and sauerkraut rolls. Ingredients: chinese cabbage, sauerkraut. Method: roll together, eat.

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