Kevin Wilbanks wrote:
Of course I can't let all these far-flung claims about nutrition go by unchallenged. While the dietary recommendations produced by the Macrobiotics system certainly end up as superior in many ways to the average American diet and many of the lifestyle recommendations seem sensible, it is only tenuously based on science, at best, and many of the claims made about the diet's effects are irresponsible and unsubstantiated.
In viewing the "Great Life Pyramid" from the perspective of contemporary nutrition and exercise science, several serious problems are apparent:
1) The recommendation does not include nearly enough high-quality protein foods, especially for athletic and otherwise vigorous individuals. In order to gain muscle mass, for instance, studies have shown that anything less than .8 grams per pound of bodyweight of high-quality (animal source) protein impedes progress, if lower quality protein is emphasized, that amount becomes more than 1 gram per pound of bw. From an athletic perspective, limiting all meat, fish, eggs, dairy, and even nuts to weekly or monthly consumption is just plain foolish... maybe on the order of about 1/10th or less of adequate intake.
2) Without the use of processed nutrition supplements, this diet will put one at risk for several macro and micronutrient deficiencies and lead to malnourishment problems. The most salient examples that come to mind are: iron, B12, omega-3 oils, cholesterol and saturated fats, and of course protein. I'm not that familiar with the sea vegetables, but I have read that some contain B12 and may take care of that issue - otherwise there is no significant non-animal source of B12.
3) Whole grains are over-represented, which may contribute to other malnutrition issues. First, when grains are such a large portion of the diet, many other foods and nutrients are crowded out (i.e., the ones crammed into the peak of the pyramid). Second, whole grains contain substances currently dubbed "antinutrients", as they tend to block the uptake of certain other nutrients, particularly biotin. I can't find the article, but I read an anthropological article which linked widespread malnutrition problems to populations which relied on whole grains for more than 50% of their diet.
As far as claims about the macrobiotic diet curing everything from cancer to depression to diabetes, to who knows what: these are merely wild, scientifically empty claims. A handful of zealous testimonials does not constitute proof. In order to prove, suggest a cause-effect relationship, or even strongly associate a dietary or other behavior with disease risk, one needs studies - preferably carefully monitored, placebo-controlled ones in which hypotheses are deliberately tested... at the very least one would like to see some epidemiological analysis. Impressive-sounding anecdotes are of little value in this regard.
However, if you want my anecdotal observations, every person I've ever known who followed a macrobiotic or vegan diet was abnormally skinny, apparently anemic, and seemed to have persistent frizzy-hair and bad skin... all of which are consitent with the deficiencies of these diets.