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Macrobiotics for Longevity

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Anshu Bahanda: Welcome to Wellness Curated. I’m your host, Anshu Bahanda, and as you know, the aim of our podcast is to make you lead a happier, healthier, more hopeful life. And we do so by getting you ideas, approaches, and tools from all over the world. So this season we’re going to talk about nutrition. Nutrition, as you know, is a very important pillar of wellness, and it affects everything in our lives. It affects the way we feel, it affects the way we look, our skin, our hair. Today we’re going to talk about macrobiotics. And it was introduced to the world by a Japanese educator in the 1930s. His name was George Ohsawa. And we have with us today Melanie Waxman, who’s based in Spain, but she’s one of the world’s leading experts on natural health and nutritional awareness. And she spent four decades studying macrobiotics. And she’s trained chefs and therapists globally in macrobiotics. And she’s associated with the Sha Wellness Clinic in Spain. And we’re going to discuss ‘Macrobiotics for Longevity’. Welcome to the chat, Melanie. 

Melanie Waxman: Thank you so much. I’m so excited to be here. Thank you. 

AB: Thank you for taking out the time to join us. Tell us how you came to be in this world of macrobiotics. 

MW: I’ll go way, way back when I was born in England in February, and, you know, it’s pretty cold and damp then. My mother believed in putting me outside every day in a pram. And later on when I said to her mom, it must have been freezing for me, she said, “You loved it, dear, and you slept so well.” And I think that early kind of connection to nature always got me interested. Because a little later on I had a pony and I used to gallop around in the fields. And I always used to say to my mother, why can’t I thank God in a field? Or why do we have to go to a church or somewhere special? Because for me, I used to feel so brilliant when I was outdoors. So I think there was a little spark way back. And then when I was about twelve years old, my mother went and had a macrobiotic meal with the son of some of her friends. And she came home and she said to me, oh, I just had seaweed. And I thought that sounded horrendous. I was like, oh no. And she said, actually, it was delicious. And I think because of that, maybe it sparked a little teeny fire in me; but not for much longer did I even try. And then I was actually in the fashion world training to be a buyer. And you know how it is with young women. We’re a bit overly obsessed with how we look and our weight. And the guy who had cooked for Mum became my boyfriend and said to me, oh, if you want to stay slim, you just have to eat this macrobiotic diet. And I thought that was sort of interesting. And he was a great chef, so he would cook all these foods and then I would enjoy them. And then I started to look at some of the books a bit more, on this philosophy, and I found it really interesting. And I guess the number one or one of the most interesting things for me was that we take responsibility for our health. And that was empowering for me as a young woman. 

AB: Okay, and tell us more about the macrobiotic diet. What is it that makes it unique? 

MW: Okay, so the word itself is sort of interesting because it means great life or great view of life, which sort of, very simplistically means living in harmony and having gratitude for all of our natural world. So I think I would also say it’s about the connections that we have with nature. We’re part of nature, and sometimes we forget that. And in order to really strengthen, say, our immune and our health, it’s to reconnect not only to the natural world, but to each other, to other sentient beings, and having an understanding that everything is important, and living with nature rather than against it, if that makes sense. So the diet is the part that many people connect macrobiotics with. And very simply, again, it’s using foods that come straight from the Earth rather than processed in a factory. That’s the number one aspect. When we eat more plant based foods, it helps to regulate the appetite. Now, the body never makes a mistake. It never does anything wrong. It’s simply responding. And the body works best when relaxed and when we have a more plant based diet, that helps the body to naturally kind of work at its best. 

AB: And all these articles that I’ve read have said that macrobiotics help with longevity. So tell us a little bit about the scientific research that has been done. 

MW: Well, the interesting thing is that now in the modern world, there’s a lot of comparison between…diffusion, I should say, of science and tradition, and both of them are important. So there’s lots of research now about the effect of eating, say, whole grains or having less animal food. However, with regards to longevity, I think it’s important to understand that we all have a journey here and that journey is unique. And for me, it’s not so much about, oh, we’re all going to live to be 90, but more about quality of life. And in that sense, looking at how we eat… but not just that. Our lifestyle, harmony and balance are words that come to mind. We don’t arrive at health, we seek health. The same with balance. We seek balance. So somebody may be having a great diet, but may need to work on another aspect of their life. It could be their energy, it could be how much work they do, it could be learning to relax, working on stress. So it’s a kind of whole package where I would say food is the foundation. 

AB: From what I hear, and this is something which we have in Ayurveda as well, which I’ve grown up being told  that chewing is a very important aspect of a macrobiotic diet. Is that right?  

MW: Well, yes, it is. And I would say the three things for health, to maintain weight, or for any other health challenges, there are three things. One is to eat slowly, which I’ll go into a bit more. The second one is regular meals, and the other one is quality of food. I think we’re hardwired, many of us, to eat fast. But eating fast or anything fast is a stressor. It adds stress to the body. When we can slow down and enjoy the meal, then the body is able to absorb more efficiently. It can function more efficiently. When we eat fast or when we eat at all, your brain is scanning. It’s scanning to make sure that you have the nutrients you need to stay on this Earth. Yes, when we eat fast, the brain is sort of going down, but it’s not picking up anything. So it just sends a message back— “Eat more, eat more”. The other thing is, if we eat fast, the food goes quickly into the belly, which then sometimes people suddenly feel more tired or relaxed. But it also can create more bloating and gas. When we eat slowly, it’s not just the chewing, it’s sort of the relaxing into the whole dining experience, looking at these shapes of the food, the smell, maybe the scenery, if you have a lovely view or flowers or talking with a friend, making that an experience. And I know, I’m sure, in India, and I saw it when I lived in Portugal, traditionally, people did that— they spent a long time over the meal, enjoying everything. Chewing helps to break it down. It helps to break down the food and sort of partially digest it. So, again, it’s more efficient. The body is smart. I mean, it’s doing things. You and I are chatting and our body is digesting, breathing, the heart is beating the blood…

AB: All the systems are functioning exactly. Brilliant. 

MW: Yes. Incredible. And that’s what I would say is unconscious. But the conscious part, we can contribute a little bit to that. You know, with certain exercises, slow breathing, we can work on the heart so that our heart can beat more steadily. We can also affect our digestion by how we eat, what we eat, who prepares it, wherever it’s come from. That’s like consciousness. When we slow down, we’re actually being part of the digesting experience. When we just eat fast, it’s like an unconscious thing. 

AB: So you’re talking about, sort of, being conscious or mindful is an important part of the macrobiotic diet. Tell me some other aspects to focus on. 

MW: So number one I would say is to spend time outdoors, outdoors in nature. Because that helps the immune system, it helps our energy, it helps stress, so many factors, because we’re part of nature. Just one quick thing about that. We do follow the rhythm of nature. We get our energy from the sun, we’re beings to the light, so that’s really important. And going hand in hand with that would be good sleep because that’s when the body is able to rest and kind of repair. So that would be important. And trying to get to bed before twelve and getting up early actually makes a big difference because when we get up and the sun’s coming up…

AB: We’re actually taking advantage of that energy— of the morning sun and we’re working in alignment, as you said, with our circadian rhythms. 

MW: Exactly. And then of course, like I say, eating a nutrient dense diet, managing energy… Now that sounds a bit strange, but we want to manage our energy a bit similar to how we would manage finances. So hopefully we’re not spending all our money and you don’t want to spend all your energy, giving it away to everybody else and not really having enough left for yourself. It’s almost like managing it and having a look— where do I get my energy from? Oh, I get energy when I do something that’s inspiring. Oh I get energy when I have a laugh with my friends or when I’m outdoors in the sun. What’s taking my energy? It could be too much caffeine, too much sugar, too much alcohol. Could be junk foods, they all take energy. Also overworking, too much stress, and a toxic environment. So nobody is perfect. We’re not meant to be perfect. We’re humans. We have challenges and lessons on this earth, but we can manage. That’s the key — managing energy. And along with that managing stress. Of course, having gratitude for all of life. Being thankful even and loving the self. I know that sounds a little kind of woo woo, but you can start by thanking the body. Because this body is your magic suit. And exercise. We’re built to move, humans are built upright, built to move. And the exercise should be moderate. Anything punishing is actually a stressor on the body. So moderate exercise, enjoyable things you love to do, not what you think you should do. It could be dancing to loud music in your living room. 

AB: We’re talking about nature, we’re talking about balance, we’re talking about exercise, we’re talking about eating consciously. 

MW: I mean, I can give you a couple of ideas on the foods, because the foods that are important would be whole grains— not their distant cousins to the refined ones, lots of veggies— all kinds, cooked in different ways as much as possible locally. Because then you’re going to get more energy from them. Fermented foods. Most cultures throughout the world have fermented different things. It depends where you live. But there’s lots of different kinds of fermented foods which help the gut. 

AB: I was going to ask you about that. Please go into that a little more. 

MW: Okay. So, for example, within macrobiotics, the ones that we have used… one is Miso. Miso nutriently has protein, it has Omega3, it has the living enzymes, it has minerals and vitamins. So it’s very complete. And it’s been fermented. The standard one is probably up to three years. So it’s super great for the gut. But not only that, for your heart, for circulation, for energy. And fermentation is giving us or it’s helping our bacteria that’s in the gut. So there’s many different ones. Kimchi, I know, is very popular now. Sauerkraut is very popular, I think, in India. Did you do a rind of a melon? Melon rind pickles?

AB: Yes, we do rind of melons. In fact. I know we give that particular pickle— there’s a sour pickle we make with the rind of melon, which we give people for hangovers. It’s a great cure for a hangover. 

MW: You know why? Because it’s super alkaline. There’s another great one that’s called, Umeboshi. It’s a very sour plum that’s also pickled. And that, too, some people use for hangovers. It’s also great for the gut, headaches and many other things. 

AB: So you’re saying plant-based food, fermented foods, local foods in terms of what works with the macrobiotic diet. And what about the way of cooking it? 

MW: Yes, that’s a very good point. One other one, just before I forget, seaweed. Another amazing food. Very alkaline forming. Nourishing, for the bones. Help with specific things. They’re very nutrient dense. So great for things like iron, good for cleansing the system… 

AB: A lot of people in different cultures talk about lemon and putting lemon in their water. And this is something I’ve seen in the east and the west. Does that help alkalize the water? Because we’re trying to make everything alkaline, right? 

MW: Yes. Traditionally, people had a kind of understanding of how to add alkaline foods into cooking. Now the modern diet is much more acid forming and that adds to stress. It’s not about changing the blood. The blood doesn’t change. If it did, you’d be in trouble. But it’s the fluids. And often under stress, then that also makes the fluids more acidic. And when it’s more acidic, the body is scrambling to try to balance out the system. And you can’t have an only alkaline diet, obviously, but we want to include those foods. So like green vegetables, seaweeds, like I said, fermented foods, and the lemon is good. You can even squeeze lemon on lightly cooked broccoli, for example. That’s also good. Yes, you can do that. Or the apple cider vinegar, which we use at SHA because that’s also fermented. 

AB: So just for those who don’t know at SHA, they give you apple cider, a shot of apple cider vinegar and a bit of water before lunch and dinner. Just before your lunch and dinner, you have this shot, and then you have your food. So that’s supposed to alkalize the body, right? 

MW: It helps to kind of break down fat, helps your liver. 

AB: Okay, now, coming to the ways of cooking. 

MW: Okay, so the way we looked at it with cooking is that you have your own unique energy. Everything in our world, our universe, is created from energy. I’m sure people have heard of the terms yin and yang, which means that they’re complementary and competing energies, and they’re in need of each other. They can’t exist without each other, and they flow constantly from one to the other, like a wave coming in and going out. The energy of different ingredients, of course, is going to be different. So the energy of, say, broccoli is going to be different to the energy of a carrot. So then we have our own unique energy, the energy of the ingredients, and also the energy of fire. Fire is going to add energy, more energy. So if we cook something very quickly, it gives light, refreshing kind of energy, and brings your own energy out to the surface a little bit more. If you make a nice hearty stew or a dal that’s cooked for a while, it’s going to give you more strength and stamina. 

AB: I mean, in the macrobiotic diet, raw food is given quite a high status. While in certain diets in the world, they say, never eat raw, never eat raw after lunch. So there’s two conflicting opinions. 

MW: For some people, their digestion may be a bit more sensitive than others. And so what tends to happen is someone will say, oh, raw [food] you can only have at this time, or fruit only at that time, because for someone sensitive, that’s necessary. Somebody else may be fine. Having raw food at a certain time after dinner or say a fruit after lunch, it depends on who’s the person doing the eating. But with raw food, I think it’s just to understand that the gut is warm and moist. So the foods that are easiest to digest would be warm and moist. So that could be pureed soups or nice stews, whole grains— they’re easier on the digestion. Cold foods that are raw, it’s more cooling. And on the other side, more dry foods, things like crackers and toast and chips, they’re a bit more tough on the digestion. Doesn’t mean you don’t have them, but you just have to have them a bit more in moderation. 

AB: Okay, and tell me something, Melanie, if someone commits to a macrobiotic diet now, is there any room for something like a cheat day? Like, can you say, six days of the week I will stick to a macrobiotic diet, but on day seven, I will just eat whatever I feel like?

MW: Well, that’s a great question and it’s a good one because with macrobiotics it’s not really… The problem is that diet in the past determined the way of life. Now diet is a thing that people think they have to go on or off. With macrobiotics, there’s not really an on or off, it’s like what’s appropriate. And there’s food for daily use, there’s food to have on the weekend and there’s food to have on special occasions. So the thing today is that it’s going to be upside down and every day has become a party. People are not consciously noticing what they’re having. Whereas in the past, even, well, when I was a child, we had treats and we really looked forward to them and that’s the same. So there’s food that’s for daily use, that’s strengthening the system, strengthening the immune system. But there’s also food. If you and I went out and we wanted to have a sensorial relaxing time in a cafe and we wanted a piece of cheesecake, then that’s fine. And again, it’s being honest with the self. If you know that you come from a background of eating loads and loads of sugar for a little bit, you probably have to be a bit careful or make adjustments. Do you see what I mean? So it’s always looking at the person or being honest and learning from our own body wisdom. 

AB: Is dairy a no-no? 

MW: Well, there are certain foods that I would say overload the system more. So dairy is one of those. It’s very high in saturated fats. And if we’re going to be honest about dairy, milk from a cow is to grow a cow and it’s to grow a cow within a year. So it’s very high in fat and it’s full of growth hormones, in order for that cow to grow. It’s not really suited for humans. And so it is a high fat food. And what’s interesting, I think, is as we mature, many times people become intolerant to lactose. There’s actually four foods that I would say are the ones that affect the gut most, because these days people have a lot of gut issues. The four foods are any kind of lactose, which is dairy, eggs— eggs are a big one, and also gluten and wheat. 

AB: If you stick to a macrobiotic lifestyle, you get quite sensitive to what you’re eating, if it suits you or not. So certain foods, like you said, energize you, certain foods make you feel heavy, certain foods might make you hyper. So for people who stick to a macrobiotic diet, does their body start telling them? Because in today’s day and age, a lot of us are leading very less mindful lives, I would say. So as a result, we don’t know… we just eat, we don’t know what’s suiting us and what’s not suiting us. So do you think mindfulness— even your system starts understanding that? 

MW: Yes, the body is very smart and when you start to slow down and notice what you’re eating, the body does respond, but in a way [where] it’s sort of sensitive but more flexible. They go together. So it doesn’t mean that if you go somewhere you have to become super vigilant, but just more noticing. Wow, that was interesting when I had that, I felt kind of sleepy. Or, oh wow, I’m getting bloated because I’m eating peanut butter everyday. Maybe if I have less of that it will be better. So it’s more like looking and listening to the body. The body is very wise, it’s smart and it’s just giving you messages all the time and it’s just for all of us to listen and learn and to be in the body. When we’re stressed, our energy is actually up, it’s out of our body. So we’re sort of floating around and it’s an uncomfortable feeling. And often it’s a short breath and it’s actually the body getting a message that you need to run away from danger. That’s the message. And in order to do that, the body will slow your metabolism, slow the calorie burning, it’ll store more fat, and digestion can get compromised. But it’s being smart. It’s saying, listen, why waste energy on all these things when we need it to run away from this bear that’s behind us. 

AB: And what would you see are the biggest challenges when it comes for someone new trying to adopt a macrobiotic way of living? 

MW: I think people get overwhelmed with the idea of home cooked food because today everything’s fast and I think we’re all a bit similar as humans. When you think you’ve got to change, there’s always a little bit of resistance. It’s almost like being a little open to change because when we do change things, you know, new things happen, great things can happen. 

AB: I know that the macrobiotic lifestyle helps with things like low energy. I’ve seen that at Sha. Do you think it also helps or do you know that it also helps with genetic diseases like heart disease or cancer, where there’s cancer in someone’s family? 

MW: I think there are many factors with health and I think eating a plant based diet is a great prevention and support for the immune system. I think it’s the whole package together. And I have known many people who recovered from serious illnesses by changing their diet and lifestyle and emotions and a whole lot together. 

AB: So for someone who’s totally new to this, I’m totally sold out on the macrobiotic diet. That’s why we’re having this conversation. But for someone who’s completely new, it can be quite overwhelming. So can you give us five baby steps that you think are the most important that people can start with? 

MW: Change the refined carbohydrates for whole grains and have it at least once a day. That could be even white bread for whole grain bread, as a start. Include vegetables in about half your diet, all kinds. Sit down to eat all foods, including a snack. Eat slowly, even if it’s a snack, that’s really important. So how many do we have now? 

AB: We got four. 

MW: Okay. And the other one that’s really important is the regular meals. Try to start looking at your meal timing, because the regular meals make a difference. Breakfast, lunch, dinner, even a small snack in between. Enjoy, have fun. It’s so important to have fun. 

AB: Exactly. 

MW: Don’t get too serious about it. And do it with a friend together. It’s easier. 

AB: But also, I think what you said is so important about enjoyment, because I’ve seen with a lot of people the joy of food is gone. I think we talked about it when I was in Spain because people don’t seem to be… A lot of us are getting scared of food because it’s been made to be such a bad guy. 

MW: Yes, I think that’s a great point. And the thing that I think we all need to learn is that the relationship between food and humans is a very powerful one. When we’re born, when a baby cries, when a baby’s hungry, what does it have? It’s food. When the baby’s happy— food. When the baby is sad— food. We learned from day one that food is soothing. Feel bad— eat food— feel better. And I think it’s important to understand that we all do eat emotionally. If you and I went out for a lovely dinner, it would be an emotional experience with beautiful food, lighting, and everything. You go out for a romantic dinner, you eat with your family and friends. I think this is important to understand. That’s natural, that’s being human. But the things that help are, like I mentioned: slowing down to eat, noticing things, noticing why you’re going for what you’re going for, because food is not really the issue, it’s the solution. Because many times if someone’s stressed, they’re using food to soothe. 

AB: So, Melanie, we do a rapid fire round at the end of every session. That’s to do a quick summary. So what are the common myths or misconceptions with macrobiotic lifestyles? 

MW: I think that it’s very strict and rigid. 

AB: Okay. And the best part of adopting a macrobiotic lifestyle and the hardest part? 

MW: The best part is just to have great fun and enjoyment and great energy. That was the key thing for me— my energy really changed. The toughest part… I don’t have a tough part because really, I was an enthusiast, so everything was exciting for me. 

AB: And how quickly do you see results? 

MW: Actually, it’s a good question because some people see results immediately. The first three days can be a little challenging because sometimes you feel more tired, you feel more achy, headachy, because that’s your body re-adjusting. So don’t feel despaired if after a few days, your energy is lower than before. It’s just the body saying, wow, we’re doing something different here. 

AB: Okay. Thank you, Melanie. Thank you so much for sharing these valuable insights with us.  

MW: Thank you so much for inviting me. I loved it. Thank you. 

AB: You’re welcome. And thank you for the listeners. We hope you learned something new. We hope we’ve got you a little closer to leading your best life. And I would love to hear from you. I’d love to hear your feedback about this show. My email is And please, like this episode, please share it and subscribe, if you haven’t done so already. Thank you. Thank you for being here. See you next week.