Ask the Expert: Macrobiotic Diet

The Physicians Committee

Ask the Expert: Macrobiotic Diet

Q: What are macrobiotic diets and is it true that they are helpful in cancer prevention and survival?

A: Numerous epidemiological studies have shown that a low-fat, plant-based diet based on whole grains, legumes, vegetables, and fruit is the healthiest for cancer prevention and preventing cancer recurrence. Macrobiotics includes a number of healthful lifestyle, diet, and eating environment recommendations, which can be effective in cancer prevention and survival.

The macrobiotic diet in itself is nearly vegan. However, some people following macrobiotic diets occasionally consume fish. The Cancer Project discourages the consumption of fish and shellfish, because their flesh contains toxic chemicals at concentrations as high as 9 million times those found in the polluted water in which they swim. Mercury, something especially high in tuna and swordfish, can cause brain damage, of particular concern to growing children. Pesticides, such as DDT, PCBs, and dioxin, have been linked to cancers, nervous system disorders, fetal damage, and many other health problems. Avoiding fish eliminates half of all mercury exposure and reduces one's intake of other toxins as well, not to mention the fact that fish flesh provides excessive amounts of protein, fat, and cholesterol, with no cancer-fighting fiber, complex carbohydrates, or vitamin C. Many people say they eat fish rather than beef in hopes of limiting fat and cholesterol. But, many fish, such as catfish, swordfish, and sea trout, contain almost one-third fat. Salmon is 52 percent fat. And, ounce for ounce, shrimp have double the cholesterol of beef. If you choose to follow a macrobiotic diet, stick with a plant-based diet along with the other lifestyle guidelines.

Kushi LH, et al. The macrobiotic diet in cancer. J Nutr. 2001;131(11 Suppl):3056S-3064S.