The macrobiotic diet is a strict diet that claims to reduce toxins. It involves eating whole grains and vegetables and avoiding foods high in fat, salt, sugar, and artificial ingredients. A macrobiotic diet food list can help a person follow this diet.

Although the diet is touted as a complementary therapy for some cancers, there is no scientific evidence proving its anticancer benefits. Preliminary research indicates it may promote blood sugar control in type 2 diabetes and can reduce inflammation.

Despite the lack of proven benefits, the diet is full of nutrition-dense foods, so it may be healthy for some individuals if followed properly. Like any restrictive diet, it can be difficult to stick to and may lead to nutritional deficiencies or disordered eating.

Read more to learn about how the diet works, what foods it includes, its risks and benefits, and more.

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In the 1920s, Japanese philosopher George Ohsawa developed the macrobiotic diet. It is a high fiber, high complex carbohydrate, low fat eating plan that focuses on whole grains and vegetables.

The diet encourages eating foods that are unprocessed, organic, and locally grown. It discourages eating high fat, processed, salty, and sugary foods.

It is part of Ohsawa’s macrobiotic philosophy that includes:

  • avoiding the consumption of food additives
  • avoiding exposure to pesticides and electromagnetic radiation
  • getting regular exercise
  • avoiding the use of nutritional supplements
  • preparing food using utensils and pans made of glass, wood, enamel, or steel

Foods in the macrobiotic diet include:

  • Whole grains. Approximately 50% of the diet involves whole grains, such as:
    • brown rice
    • oats
    • barley
    • wheat
    • millet
  • Vegetables and seaweed. About 25–33% of the diet consists of vegetables, such as:
    • brocolli
    • carrots
    • cauliflower
    • kale
    • radishes
  • Pulses. This category makes up 5–10% of the diet and includes foods such as:
    • lentils
    • azuki beans
    • chickpeas
    • tofu
    • tempeh
  • Miscellaneous foods. Approximately 5–20% of the diet may include:
    • fruit
    • white fish
    • seeds
    • nuts
    • miso soup

The diet advises against eating processed foods and animal products. Foods to avoid include:

  • meat
  • dairy products
  • eggs
  • refined sugar
  • animal fats
  • artificial sweeteners or chemical additives
  • genetically modified foods

Individuals who follow low fat diets that are low in animal products, such as the macrobiotic diet, may have lower cholesterol levels. This could help reduce the risk of heart disease and other medical conditions.

However, people can get these benefits from eating a nutritious, balanced diet. They do not need to follow highly restrictive eating plans, such as the macrobiotic diet, to reduce disease risk.

Some studies have investigated the effects of the macrobiotic diet on cancer and diabetes.


According to a 2015 study, many elements of the macrobiotic diet have been linked to reduced inflammation when compared to a standard American diet. This may reduce cancer risk. However, it has not been proven.

The only evidence that the macrobiotic diet may offer an effective alternative cancer therapy comes from anecdotal reports, notes the NCI. It should not be used as a replacement for cancer treatment.

Because of limited research, the NCI says it cannot draw conclusions on how effective the diet is as a complementary therapy.

Type 2 diabetes

A 2015 study reviewed research comparing the effects of various diets on people with diabetes.

The results suggested that the Mediterranean, vegetarian, and low-calorie diets may help manage type 2 diabetes. However, short and medium-term clinical trials indicated that the macrobiotic diet produced faster blood sugar control.

The benefits included:

  • lower cholesterol
  • improved blood sugar
  • increased insulin sensitivity, which helps cells take in blood sugar
  • decreased blood pressure
  • reduced body weight

It is important to note that the research only showed these improvements in short and medium-term time periods. Researchers do not know if it is effective for the long-term management of type 2 diabetes.

A person who strictly follows the macrobiotic diet does not eat animal products, which may lead to nutritional deficiencies. The American Institute for Cancer Research warns that the eating plan may result in a low intake of:

  • protein
  • calcium
  • iron
  • vitamin D
  • vitamin B12

To prevent deficiencies, people who are interested in following the diet may wish to consult a registered dietitian.

Additionally, Cancer Research UK (CRUK) notes that many of the foods included in the diet are relatively low in calories. Over time, a person eating this way may lose weight, which may not align with their health goals.

The diet can also be difficult to follow and socially restrictive, so people may find it hard to eat meals with family and friends while adhering to their eating plan.

The macrobiotic diet is rich in nutrient-dense foods, such as vegetables and whole grains, which are important for health.

It is also plentiful in natural compounds found in plant foods called phytonutrients. These may offer a variety of health benefits, such as reduced inflammation and improved immune function.

According to CRUK, the eating plan is healthy if people follow it in moderation.

A macrobiotic diet focuses on high fiber, complex carbohydrate foods such as whole grains and vegetables.

Although anecdotal reports suggest that it may reduce cancer, there is no evidence proving this. Because it is a restrictive eating plan, following the macrobiotic diet may cause nutritional deficiencies.

If a person wishes to follow the diet, they may benefit from consulting a registered dietitian.