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 Diets: Types of Diets 

The macrobiotic meal includes between 50 and 60 percent whole cereal grains, such as brown rice, whole oats, millet, barley, corn, wheat berries, rye, and buckwheat. Flour products and baked goodies are avoided, and pastas and breads are eaten only occasionally. Vegetables make up about 20–25 percent of the meal; members of the nightshade family, such as potatoes, peppers, tomatoes, and eggplant, as well as avocados, spinach, yams, and sweet potatoes, are all avoided. Beans and sea vegetables (seaweeds) are suggested to complement the meal, making up 5–10 percent of its quantity. The primary beans eaten are azukis, lentils, and garbanzos, along with fermented soybean products such as tofu, tempeh, and miso. Most other beans can be eaten occasionally in this diet. Some seeds, nuts, and vegetable oils may be used. Soups and salads can also be eaten, constituting about 5 percent of the meal. Such other exotic foods as umeboshi plums (and other pickled foods, such as daikon radish and ginger, usually eaten at the end of a meal to aid digestion), tamari soy sauce, sesame salt (gomasio), and bancha twig tea are also included.

Overall, these are very basic and wholesome foods, but the diet is somewhat controversial. On the positive side, this diet is considered to be very balanced. It provides a lot of vitamins and minerals and is very good in complex carbohydrates and fiber. The protein content is usually adequate, and the fat content is low. By balanced, I mean that a majority of the foods are from the center of the food spectrum, such as vegetables and whole grains, with a minimum of foods from the extremes, such as fruits and sugars, which are more cooling, and the meat and dairy foods, more stimulating. Also, herbs and spices, such as garlic, onions, and cayenne are considered too stimulating. From the viewpoint of Eastern philosophy, this diet is felt to be a good balance of yin and yang and to be stabilizing, nourishing, and healing. With the avoidances of chemicals, sugars, refined foods, and high-fat foods, it is a good step, I believe, toward a more balanced and healthful diet for many Americans. With a variety of foods eaten, there is not a great deal of concern over malnutrition, though many practicing macrobiotics appear very trim by American standards.

My first book, Staying Healthy With the Seasons, was felt by many to recommend a macrobiotic diet, but it was very liberal macrobiotics at most. Whole grains and vegetables, I feel, are the mainstay of a healthy diet. They provide wholesome fuel without being too rich and clogging for our finely tuned body machine. But I think that fruits, salads, and more raw foods can be tolerated well, especially in warmer climates or in late spring and summer, and these are often richer in many nutrients that might be lost during cooking and other preparations. Also, many of the special foods recommended are not available locally, and this, I think, is a weakness in suggesting that macrobiotic practitioners everywhere eat a similar diet. Furthermore, I am an advocate of juice fasting, a process that macrobiotics does not support; fasting may be an extreme practice, but I feel it is a useful therapeutic tool in many situations.

Another drawback to macrobiotics, especially for Americans, is that it is served with a whole philosophy—near religion, if you will—but at the least a way of life that goes along with the diet. I will not get into a discussion of this philosophy, but for many people it can, as can the often radical change suggested in the diet, become a psychological barrier against acceptance of the dietary principles. With some of its proponents and in much of its literature, there is almost a fanaticism that this system will solve many problems and difficulties in the world.

Though much has been written about the theory that a macrobiotic diet can help cure many diseases, including cancer, there is no good evidence for this, only some anecdotal experience. Maybe some further research will provide more useful information, especially in regard to the fatty acid effects on cells. The omnivorous diet generates more arachidonic acid, which cancer cells need to thrive, while a vegetarian and macrobiotic diet reduce production of arachidonic acid, a possible reason for the benefit it may provide.

Overall, I am much more supportive than otherwise of the macrobiotic-type diet. Except for my period as a raw-fooder, my own diet through the years has been closer to a macrobiotic one than to any other type, though I usually eat more raw vegetables and fruits than suggested. I feel that it has a lot to offer, including some sound, wholesome information, that may provide many Westerners with an improved sense of health, peace, and well-being.

Raw Foods
A raw food diet is a very interesting one and potentially very healthy or healing for those who have congestive maladies. It basically consists of uncooked whole foods. Foods are eaten in their uncooked, most potentially nutritious state, with the vital elements of nature still contained in them. The sun’s energy, water, and nutrients from the earth invigorate fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, and seeds. Sprouted beans and seeds are often a very nutritious component of the diet. Sprouted grains can be made into breads and wafers. Raw (unpasteurized) milk products may be used. Water, fresh juices, and sun teas are the main drinks in this diet. All stimulants, chemicals, and alcoholic beverages are avoided.

Though this diet can be a very healthy and adventurous one, I believe that unless it is very astutely balanced, it is not a good one for very long. It can provide good vitality and nutrient content, however, it is usually low in protein, calcium and iron, all of which could lead to problems in the long run. Also, with no heat added to the foods and an avoidance of the more concentrated and heat-producing foods, the body could become cold. People in warmer climates, those who are overweight, or those with good body heat are more likely to do well on this diet.

Many people lose weight on a raw foods diet. Proper chewing and good digestion help with this diet; some people experience more difficulty in their digestive tract than on a more cooked diet.

For one spring and summer, I ate a completely raw food diet—lots of fresh fruit and vegetable juices, blended fruit shakes, sprouts and vegetable salads, nuts and seeds, and a special treat I used to call “nice cream,” made solely from frozen fruit, such as bananas or berries, put through a Champion juicer. My neighbor kids used to come running to see me when they heard Dr. Elson was making “nice cream.” During that particular dietary experience, I felt great, very light and more open spiritually. I weighed the least I have in my adult life, though I definitely felt less grounded—more spacey—than when on a more cooked diet, and my intestines were very active and somewhat gassy. I guess they had a little less to hold onto and felt a bit insecure.

In lecturing about nutrition and fasting, I have talked to many people who eat a raw food diet, often for a period of from one to three years. They speak very highly of their experiences and especially how healthy and alive they feel. The raw foods diet is really the “living food” diet. It definitely goes against the flow of the Western dietary tradition, but it is something to try for those with an adventurous spirit who want to lighten up and cleanse themselves on deeper levels. Many of the same concerns must be watched for as on the vegan diet.

Natural Hygiene
The “natural hygiene” diet is not a New Age fad, but an ancient system of a raw foods diet supported by cleansing the colon and occasional fasting. This program and philosophy began with the Essenes, an ancient tribe of Jewish scholars. They believed in preparation for the “messiah” via detoxification of their bodies, minds, and spirits through clean living and keeping the body free of waste. This pure diet and evolved lifestyle is written about in the Essene Gospel of Peace by Edmond Bordeaux Szekely and in other texts.

The natural hygiene diet was repopularized in the 1930s in Germany, and has had its followers in Europe and America since that time. Aspects of it have been discussed as part of the Fit for Life book by Harvey and Marilyn Diamond. I will review more of the Essenes concepts and practices of natural hygiene in the last part of this book in the Detoxification, Fasting, and Immortality programs.

There are some people who attempt to subsist solely on nature’s true gift of nourishment—fruits. However, fruits do not contain all the nutrients that human beings need to live, at least not on a long-term basis. Protein content is very low, and many of the B vitamins, iron, calcium, magnesium, and other minerals are scarce in fruits. They are also deficient in fats, though if the seeds of the fruits are eaten, the essential fatty acids, the only fats that are truly needed, can be obtained.

Overall, a fruitarian diet is a limited one and it is generally considered poor nutrition. It can be invigorating and purifying on a short-term basis, a couple of weeks at the most; staying on such a diet any longer than that could be dangerous.

True fasting is consuming only water—and air, of course. This provides a strong inner experience; I believe that it should be done only under certain circumstances and ideally with the guidance and supervision of a physician or experienced nutritionist. However, a surprising number of people have done water fasting successfully for short periods of time on their own. It is undertaken basically as a detoxification-cleansing-purifying process. It is not really a diet, since it provides no nutrients.

Juice fasting is more common, provides more nutrients, and can be undertaken for a much longer period than water fasting, but it is still deficient in total nutrition. Drinking only fruit and vegetable juices can be done for several Day s, a week or two, or even longer; the longer fasting is done, the more problems (called “cleansing reactions” by those experiencing them) and deficiencies may be experienced. I have known people who have fasted for longer than two months and have personally monitored some patients through thirty-Day fasts, most often on the “Master Cleanser,” or lemonade, diet. This fast and others, as well as the how-to’s of fasting, are discussed in many books on the subject, including my first one, Staying Healthy With the Seasons. It will also be discussed in Chapter 18 of this book, entitled Detoxification and Healing Programs. The fasting process is best used as a means of transformation to enhance the potential for change in habits and lifestyle during the reevaluation, detoxification period. Weight is usually lost during the process, though I do not suggest fasting as a weight-loss diet. I do feel that it is one of the best natural therapeutic tools available to the healing arts, given the right situation. Resting from foods and letting the body process what is already stored is the perfect balance to our typical excessive and congesting way of eating. (Body-organ-cell congestion comes from eating more fat and protein foods than we need.) I have called fasting, or the cleansing process, the “missing link in the American diet.”

Weight Reduction
Weight-loss diets come and go by the hundreds. Every year at least half a dozen new diets become popular with Americans, who are always looking for the latest, greatest, shortest route to that trim figure. There is usually at least one diet book on the best-seller list, while publishers are always on the lookout for a hot new book that can take a few million dollars out of the American people’s wallets.

Thus, there is no one specific type of reducing diet but a whole collection of diets that either reduce calories, restructure eating habits, or add a special food that cuts fat. I will not discuss all of them here; several are described in some of the therapeutic diets in Part Four, and most specifically in the Weight Loss program in Chapter 17. Overall, we who are overweight or who easily put on extra pounds need to think of “diet” as our basic wholesome daily food intake, rather than a special project that we struggle through on occasion so we can return to the enjoyable habitual way of eating that creates the body that necessitated the original struggle.

(Excerpted from Staying Healthy with Nutrition ISBN: 1587611791)
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 About The Author
Elson Haas MDElson M. Haas, MD is founder & Director of the Preventive Medical Center of Marin (since 1984), an Integrated Health Care Facility in San Rafael, CA and author of many books on Health and Nutrition, including ...more
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