The health book publisher, Nutribooks, describes it as "one of the 10 most influential health books ever written". Publisher's Weekly calls it "one of the top 15 non-fiction bestsellers of 1998".
What is this theory, and how does it compare with Macrobiotic concepts?
There are 4 known blood types among all the people of our planet: A, B, AB and O. Type O is considered the oldest, Type AB the latest to appear in the world's history. Type A is considered to fare better on a grain-based diet than Type O. Type O is considered to fare better on a diet that includes more meat.
This theory is based on the idea that certain foods cause allergic reactions and even agglutination of blood cells, due to reactions to various foods, and specifically proteins in different foods that the body treats as foreign antigens, much like the an immune system response to antigens (proteins) present in bacteria and viruses. We are therefore advised to eat foods which are compatible with our blood type for optimal health.
Products from wheat, especially wheat gluten, are considered to cause problems for many people, especially celiac disease, irritable bowel syndrome, Multiple Sclerosis and even Chrone's disease.
Many people who adopt the recommendations of this theory report that health problems clear up.
I have investigated this theory and questioned people of different blood types about food allergies and which foods they feel are most suitable to their health and energy needs. I have formulated my own theories that may shed some light on these questions.
According to Yin/Yang theory, earlier forms of life are more Yin, while later forms are Yang. This is due to the helical (spirallic) nature of evolutionary development. Macrobiotic theory contends we are part of a spirallic path that is centripetal -- that is, tending toward consolidation rather than centrifugal, which evolves in a outward or expansive direction. The history of the universe is considered oscillatory, alternating between expansion and contraction.
If this is the case, people with type O blood would be more Yin by nature, while people with type A blood would be more Yang. According to Macrobiotic theory, people who are more Yin must eat a more Yang diet to balance. Meat, being taken from animals who have converted and consolidated Yin vegetative matter into red, hemoglobinic muscle tissue, is a more Yang food source than the vegetal foods from which it is derived.
Persons with type A blood, if their later appearance on the evolutionary scheme is correct, would be more Yang types. They would then need a less Yang diet to balance their body and blood type, generally speaking. Grains and vegetables, which make up the main part of the macrobiotic diet for people living in temperate areas of the world, would then constitute a better balance for people of this blood type.
In this regard, Macrobiotics and ER4YT (Eat Right for Your Type) would appear to be in agreement. However, I feel Macrobiotics goes beyond some limitations of the ER4YT theory.
Theories, by nature, are often one-sided and built around one idea. In this way, they are limited in scope. ER4YT does not consider the full variability of genetic type, as well as Yin or Yang type of condition. For this reason it can be considered an incomplete theory, that must be modified to suit each person's individuality. Our individual biological, physiological and constitutional characteristics are more than our blood type alone. All factors must be accounted for if we would arrive at a truly balanced program to meet daily nutritional needs.
However, to the degree that the theory does steer people toward questioning and inquiry, as well as modification of dietary habits toward healthier alternatives, I think it is a positive influence. At the same time, however, I feel people should consider the limitations of the theory, and adjust their own dietary programs to take into account individual differences in somatotype, seasonality, climate, and type of activity they are engaged in from day to day.
For example, if a person is weak or has been weakened by prolonged illness, etc., they might consider eating some animal food with grains and vegetables, according to Macrobiotic theory, regardless of their blood type. This is because such a diet is more Yang, and it would enable people who have become Yinnized (weakened) to move toward a more Yang state and restore balance. When they reach the balance point (usually indicated when they start craving Yin foods like sweets, milk and yoghurt, sweetened beverages, alcoholic beverages, etc.), they could first reduce or eliminate consumption of meats, then substitute/reduce/eliminate fish or fowl, as their individual physiological characteristics demand.
ER4YT theory does not take into account the universal constant of change. Everything changes, including our dietary needs. Macrobiotics is the only holistic theory that encourages us to encompass the whole picture of life, rather than just one aspect of it. Western thinking tends to be myopic; that is, to see only one idea or thing at a time. Traditional Oriental philosophy, on the other hand, encourages people to seek an all-encompassing view of life, and discover our place in the universal scheme.
Importance of Maintaining/Regaining Adaptability
Change, and the ability to adapt to change, is a vital capacity that we must develop to insure our own survivability and that of generations to come. People who used horses to pull carts and plows, etc. discovered long ago that if you put blinders on horses, they will not become distracted by what is going on to the side. Consequently, they were more likely to keep moving straight ahead. This was the intention of their masters.
Specialization of human beings in modern civilization is a fact of life for many people. It was institutionalized largely by the efforts of a few to amass wealth through utilizing the labor of others. Many people have adopted, and been conditioned to adopt, the same "blinder" mentality: only seeing what is right in front of them, not seeing the whole picture. As a result, with the narrowed field of focus, we attach ourselves to one theory or another, thinking we will find the answer to life's myriad problems, sooner or later by the process of trial and error. However, this process can also ingrain a fad mentality that no longer gives enough attention to the fact that biological change does not necessarily occur overnight. We need to allow our bodies time to experience the effects of different programs over months or even years to determine the validity of one program of health improvement over another.
Our destiny as human beings is much more than a fragmented view of life. We evolved as the only creature that did NOT specialize. It is this non-specialized aspect that has made us the ascendent species. If we content ourselves with specialization now, we may find ourselves becoming extinct, sooner or later, because specialization locks us, like many other species that become specialized, into an evolutionary niche. This can disastrous when/if conditions vital to survival change, as they do, sooner or later.
The all-embracing flexibility of the Macrobiotic diet is one of its unique characteristics. Its flexibility is due to the fact that it is based on the dynamic, ever-changing principle of universal change itself, Yin and Yang.
A basic tenet of Yin/Yang theory is that everything is in constant flux, and that nothing is stationary. The weather changes each day, for example. Warmer days are more Yang, colder days are more Yin. We should adjust what we eat from day to day to accommodate such changes in weather. People who follow a concept like ER4YT may not take such considerations into account.
Macrobiotics is based on the concept of basic food. That is, in the temperate climates, grains are considered the basic food most suitable (best balanced) for human consumption. If people desire to complement whole grains with more Yang foods like meat, fowl, fish or eggs, they are free to, and encouraged to, do so. This does not mean they are "going off" the Macrobiotic diet at all. Such a misconception is erroneous and harmful, and seems to be promoted mostly by people who have not yet abandoned, or grown out of, rigid ways of thinking that they brought to Macrobiotics.
Likewise, people who are already fairly Yang, can eat more Yin and remain balanced: grains, raw vegetables, salad and fruits, especially in warmer weather and in warmer climates. People who follow these suggestions will feel better if they are of a more Yang type. This will hold true, no matter what their blood type is.
Then some people will fare best on a diet that includes a wider variety of both more Yin and more Yang foods. That is, they will feel best if they consume meats, fowl eggs or fish, along with whole grains, vegetables, salads and fruits and even some dairy products.
These people, according to the ER4YT theory would more likely be persons of blood type B or AB. However, I have found that many people of all blood types like to eat in all of the various ways possible from time to time, without adverse effects. Macrobiotics allows and encourages people who are so inclined to seek variability and modification of the basic diet. Some Macrobiotic teachers do not understand the value of variability and advise their students incorrectly to adhere to one set way of eating. This can adversely affect the health of people, especially those whose systems cannot accommodate such inflexibility in eating patterns.
Above all, everyone should experiment to find what is best for them. This experimentation with diet is encouraged, and is considered to be a very important part of one's health education. I hope this point clarifies the position that Macrobiotics takes, as promoted by its founder, George Ohsawa. Mr. Ohsawa was continually experimenting (and therefore, learning) about food, diet and Yin and Yang, by such dietary experimentation. Yet many people, including macrobiotic teachers, do not understand this fact, or they, like horses, seem to have blinders on their minds. They can see only one or a few aspects of life, Macrobiotics and change at a time.
Allergies to different foods, according to the Macrobiotic way of thinking, indicate a loss of adaptability to various types of food. That is considered a sign of a Yin condition. That more and more people are becoming allergic to many different kinds of food indicates our civilization is producing people who are becoming more and more Yin; that is, less adaptable, more susceptible to health problems, systemic complications, and less likely to survive during difficult times.
The validity of Macrobiotics has been demonstrated many times by parents who have experienced dramatic improvement in children with asthmatic conditions or other allergies when they stopped giving their children Yin foods, like dairy, sweetened foods, juices, sweets and even cutting out or down on fresh fruit.
Instead of thinking there is some medical intervention required, they were able to clear up such conditions by simple modification of diet.
The widespread phenomenon of wheat products and gluten causing adverse effects may include an allergic reaction due to a Yinnized condition. Wheat and wheat products have sustained large numbers of people during ancient, as well as modern times. Indeed, wheat is responsible for the evolution and survival of many people inhabiting the Earth today. That the ancestral food can no longer be tolerated is a sign that our civilization of relative ease and more Yin diet has created a crippled people who can no longer tolerate the food their ancestors ate that brought them safely into the 20th century.
A truly healthy, free and happy person does not need to restrict him/herself, or live within dietary confines or limits. There is nothing intolerable to him or her. Does it not seem desirable to try to restore this capability, before we Yinnize (weaken) ourselves and our offspring to a point where we/they cannot tolerate life outside the thermostatically-controlled, highly-controlled confines of our modern "bubble" existence? What kind of life is that?
We must recognize the warning signs. We are going the wrong way. We must begin trying to restore our naturally Yang (strong), disease-resistant, rugged and self-reliant state, the only really free and happy condition, before it is too late.
Macrobiotics offers a simple way this goal can be achieved. The Macrobiotic diet is more Yang than other diets: simpler, more basic, carbohydrate-based instead of protein-based. Protein, being a larger, more complex molecule than carbohydrate, is more Yin than the carbohydrate found in whole-grain. Therefore, carbohydrate from whole grains must be the basis of our daily diet if we would recover our vitality and freedom from allergic sensitivities or chronic illnesses.
Reply to a Letter
The following is a reply I wrote to someone who had heard some people have not fared well, or have even become sick, after practicing what they thought was Macrobiotics for many years. This person was concerned about this news, and questioned the validity of the Macrobiotic system:
We must not be rigid in our thinking. If we are, we will inevitably suffer, and life will pass us by.
Life is constant change. Rigidity breaks under the strain of change. Change is more powerful than our attempts to resist it. If we change appropriately as our lives and conditions change, we will adapt and survive.
There is nothing fixed in this universe; everything is constantly changing. We must learn to change with the requirements of the seasons, climate, etc. This process requires intuition, not knowledge.
Those who rely on knowledge, not intuition are at a disadvantage because knowledge does not necessarily allow us to adapt to the ever-changing scenario we call life.
Intuition apprehends the present in its fullness. Knowledge is built upon past observation.
Using common sense, we must learn to listen to our bodies, as they change from moment to moment, and adjust accordingly.
No one can tell you what will be appropriate for you from day to day but your own intuition.
So try to tune into your needs, wants and desires, and try to balance them with your knowledge. Knowledge should not rule -- it can be a tyrant, and one-sided.
We must take into account all aspects of our lives when we make dietary choices. This challenges our judgment, and it is our judgment that life is always challenging. We must develop our thinking ability (judgment), not just our knowledge.
Life is an evolution of thinking ability, from mechanical to supreme. Don't depend on others for your thinking ability -- then it is not yours, so you become their slave.
We must strive to become free. To do this we must make our own decisions about everything in our lives -- from what we wear to what we eat, to what we do with our lives. No one should make these, or any other, decisions for us, if we would be free. For it is by making our own decisions that we learn and evolve our judgment.
Freedom = happiness = health = peace. These cannot be separated from each other.
We are whole beings, not fragmented associations. Too many people are fragmented beings who do not think or function in a holistic way.
Above all, Macrobiotics is a teaching of how to achieve wellness through re-integration of all faculties.
A little knowledge is a dangerous thing. A lot of knowledge can obscure the truth. Therefore, keep yourself simple, open and empty. Then you can be filled with the universal wisdom.
Such wisdom cannot be taught. It is given only to those who, like little children, remain open, trusting and receptive to what the universe offers, day by day, to guide them in all their ways. Such a person is entitled to be teacher.
"A child shall lead them." Let us all become like such a child, so we can, along with each other, go together, into the inner realm of health and peace, happiness and freedom.
I hope you find that New World of erehwon (nowhere). It is nowhere and everywhere, and requires only one thing to possess it: the mind of a child -- open and perceptive.
Let us all take possession of this Paradise, that was given to us by the Creator of the universe. Let us give up foolish ways, cast aside doubts and learn to recover faith in the process of eternal life that created us, that maintains us, that brings us back when we stray from what is right, and ultimately heals us.
My advice to you is to trust your intuition, rather than wonder whether Macrobiotics works or not. If you do not think it is good for you, then don't follow it. If you think it is good, then follow it, but remember, the advice of George Ohsawa was, and still is, just meant to be a guideline. You must discover what is best for you.
I hope this advice sets you on the true path of self-discovery. This is the Macrobiotic Way.
-- Fred Pulver
April 24, 1999