pros, cons and our dietitian’s verdict

Ever look at Madonna and wonder how on earth she’s 62? She supposedly follows the macrobiotic diet, which is mostly vegetarian, based around whole foods and organics, with no alcohol or sugar allowed. But is it healthy? Our dietitian weighs in.  

At 62 years young, Madonna is still making headlines for her trim and taut figure. Aside from her six-days-a-week exercise regime, the singer apparently follows something called the ‘macrobiotic diet’ to help her stay in shape.

Google will tell you that the macrobiotic diet won’t only help to loosen your belt buckle a few notches, but also prevent heart disease and reduce your risk of diabetes. It’s even talked about as a treatment for cancer. And while that all sounds amazing, there are a few red flags I’d like to draw your attention to before you jump on the bandwagon.

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What does the macrobiotic diet involve?

The macrobiotic diet was developed by a Japanese philosopher in the early 1900s. With a focus on a holistic, balanced lifestyle, the macrobiotic diet doesn’t only focus on what you put in your mouth – it has elements of gentle exercise and meditation, too.

In terms of food, the macrobiotic diet is largely vegetarian, sometimes even vegan. Around half of the diet is made up of wholegrains (think: rolled oats, brown rice, wholemeal bread and pasta), up to a third fruit and veg and up to a quarter beans (and bean products). Some people incorporate nuts and seeds and the occasional piece of meat or fillet of fish – but that’s a rarity.

Coffee and mojito loves (read: me) aren’t going to be happy – caffeinated and alcoholic beverages are off the menu on the macrobiotic diet. Those with a sweet tooth (read: also me) are going to have a hard time because sugar is not allowed, either. Other items on the forbidden foods list include dairy, soft drinks and anything ‘processed’ (like white bread and pastries).

There are some pretty strict rules around how you cook and prepare your fodder, too. You can only use wooden, glass, stainless steel or ceramics for cooking and storing food, and cooking with a microwave and electricity should be completely avoided.

Pros and cons of the macrobiotic diet

On the plus side, the macrobiotic diet will probably see you eating a whole lot more veggies and wholegrains, both of which are incredibly good for you. Packed with gut-loving fibre and disease-fighting antioxidants, these foods should make up the majority of what you eat regardless of the label you put on your diet.

I’m also a fan of the focus on mindful eating. Essentially, this works to improve your relationship with food by helping you tune into your body’s hunger and satiety cues. It can also increase the enjoyment you get from food and minimise non-hungry eating.

Eliminating alcohol is another good thing, health-wise. Beer, wine and cocktails can be incredibly energy-dense, which means it can contribute to weight gain if over-consumed on the reg. Cutting back on booze will also cut your risk of many of the long-term effects of alcohol consumption, like mental ill-health, heart problems and several types of cancer.

On the downside, however, I’m not the biggest fan of vegan diets. They are quite restrictive and unless planned with the help of a qualified nutrition expert, it is very easy to fall short of several important micronutrients (like iron, zinc and calcium).

What’s more, the macrobiotic diet promotes the consumption of only organic produce, but I’m not on board with this recommendation. Non-organic fruit and veg are just as nutritious as the organic stuff and they cost a fraction of the price. Don’t waste your money, people.

The elimination of all processed foods is also overboard in my opinion. Obviously, eating white bread, biscuits and crisps day in and day out isn’t going to get my tick of approval, but a healthy diet is all about balance and these processed foods are totally okay in moderation. Completely restricting them can set up an unhealthy relationship with food.

Is the macrobiotic diet actually good for you?

Yes, it’s the diet that’s supposedly responsible for Madonna’s bangin’ bod – but that doesn’t mean the macrobiotic diet is the best diet you can try. Obviously, it has some nutritional merit, but it has quite a few downfalls, too. All in all, I’d say take Madonna’s lead in eating more fruit, veggies and wholegrains, but forget about the more restrictive practices this diet is promoting.

Melissa Meier is a Sydney-based accredited practising dietitian. You can connect with her on Instagram @honest_nutrition.