Crafting A Healthy Balanced Diet - Universal Principals

Crafting a Healthy Balanced Diet

Believe it or not, crafting a healthy balanced diet requires some thought and awareness which is actually missing in modern Western societies.  Why this seems unbelievable is because one would think that with all the advancement of science and research, people in Western cultures should be among the healthiest people on the planet.  Sadly, we are far from it.  There are many reasons for this.  One important reason which I will introduce in this article relates to our lack of any form of compass with which to guide our choices.  We don't even have a concept of 'principal foods' anymore.  

As I had explained in my earlier macrobiotic books (currently unpublished, however I am making them available as FREE E-Books, the first of which is now available, here), 'principal foods' should comprise the bulk of the diet, with other foods chosen that best complement the principal foods.  Complementary foods are considered secondary, as they enhance the flavor, variety and nutritional benefits of the principal foods.  

Crafting a Healthy Balanced Diet Centers Around Principal Foods

Principal foods are the primary component of the diet in part because they afford the greatest ability to feed growing populations, with the greatest efficiency, least waste, and most sound ecological practices.  They can most easily be stored and preserved, making staple, principal foods available year round.  They are also the most economical foods to produce.  

When crafting a healthy balanced diet, it is important to consider whole grains as the principal foods, as is done in traditional diets around the world, including the macrobiotic diet.

Whole Grains Fit the Bill!

Whole grains meet the criteria of principal foods better than any other type of food.  In addition to the above qualities, whole grains best meet human nutritional needs, with the appropriate proportions of macronutrients ~ around 10% protein, 10% unsaturated fat, and 70-80% carbohydrate ~ requiring a nominal amount of secondary foods ~ some greens or vegetables, beans or legumes, and a small amount of seeds ~  to enhance their total nutritional profile.  

Secondary foods, by contrast, are either seasonal, or more expensive to either produce or procure, and/or are naturally less shelf stable.

Common Dietary Patterns Among Traditional Cultures

Rather than choosing foods based on their resume of nutrients, a marketing label of 'super food', or according to fantasy notions about what Paleolithic man once consumed, a better approach is to consider patterns of eating among healthful populations and cultures which have successfully passed on their traditions through the generations.  

Food choices among traditional cultures crafting a healthy balanced diet vary widely based on the types of foods produced that best suited local environments and climatic conditions.  Therefore, the principal foods people consume in temperate climates will be much different than those living in tropical climates.  

Within temperate climates, there can be further diversity of choices, based on differing microclimates and topographical landscapes, along with cultural taste preferences.  For example, Weston A. Price, a dentist who traveled the world with the goal of observing links between diet and dental health, noted in his book Nutrition and Physical Degeneration, that oats were a principal staple grain consumed by the Scottish Heberdes, whereas rye was grown and cultivated by the Swiss living in the isolated Loetschental Valley.  

Both groups being of European stock, yet having different growing conditions, therefore consumed a different whole grain as their principal food, served at every, or nearly every meal.  The secondary food choices were based on what was available locally and seasonally of both plant and animal foods.  Unlike modern Western diets, animal foods were supplementary, rather than the center piece of the plate.

In Diet and Nutrition, A Holistic Approach, Rudolph Ballentine, M.D., outlines a 'universal diet' based on the patterns seen in traditional cultures.  Where the foods emphasized varied greatly, the pattern was shared by all.

Ballentine points out that food habits of rural populations consuming what many have rather demeaningly labeled 'peasant foods' had far greater variety, and included "some of the most healthful and delicious foods known to man."  Contrarily, urban dwellers relied more on industrialized agriculture which were more refined, and lacked the nutritional vitality and variety enjoyed among rural populations.  Peasant foods for the win!

"After generations of growing a certain food and making it an important part of their diet, people develop a sensitivity to the ways in which it enhances their well-being." 
~Rudolph Ballentine, M.D.

He further states that, "After generations of growing a certain food and making it an important part of their diet, people develop a sensitivity to the ways in which it enhances their well-being."  This is the heart of crafting a healthy balanced diet, and the fundamental teachings embedded in Macrobiotics. 

Macrobiotic Diet Centers Around Whole Grains as Principal Foods

George Ohsawa called the philosophy of macrobiotics 'The Unique  Principle' which is a rephrasing, or 're-branding' of traditional Taoist, or Chinese medicine teachings of Yin Yang Theory of Complementary Opposites.  This theory is the guiding compass used to choose the appropriate foods and preparation methods in order to restore or maintain balanced health, while elevating one's perceptions, intuition, and judgement in order to live a free, purposeful, productive, fruitful life.  

Whole grains and whole grain products, plus a variety of land and sea vegetables are principal foods in macrobiotic diets, complemented by secondary foods, such as beans and bean products, seeds, and small amounts of seasonal fruit, nuts, and condiments which contribute to the nutritional balance sheet.  The amounts and types of both principal and secondary foods are chosen according to seasonality, and one's health and energetic needs.

Leaving aside the discussion of Yin and Yang in this particular post, we can still understand how to craft a healthy balanced diet without having ever heard of Yin and Yang.  As Ballentine discusses, "When we look at what is considered healthful, wholesome, everyday fare by the traditional cooks in various cultures around the world, many similarities emerge.  A comparison of these diets will guide us in developing nutritional norms for food selection."

We can craft a healthy balanced diet that harmonizes with our needs, and location, based on these patterns. 

Following is Ballentine's summary of five food groups consumed by traditional populations:  

  1. Whole grains are the principal foods, consumed in the largest quantities.
  2. Vegetables were consumed in sizable quantities ~ second to whole grains as available.  Green vegetables were most prized for their greater proportions of protein, vitamins and minerals.
  3. Legumes complemented the whole grains, and were consumed in roughly half the quantity of whole grains.
  4. Animal foods such as meat, eggs, fish, fowl or fermented bean products such as tofu, tempeh, and miso, or other fermented foods were consumed in varying quantities, considered the primary source of B12 which, according to Ballentine, is only needed only in "tiny amounts" every few days.
  5. A small portion of raw foods, typically chosen to enhance digestion, which may include foods like grated radish, mint leaves, sprouts, etc., or fruit.

A few points to note about the above five main food categories consumed by traditional cultures:

  • Fruits were considered a luxury, and eaten as a light breakfast or supper as opposed to being a regular part of the meal. 
  • The grain / legume combination is the "core of the meal, but the vegetables give it flavor and vitality."
  • Green vegetables (the most nutritious) were combined with other vegetables, such as carrots, summer squash, green peas, okra, string beans, etc.; whereas potatoes, eggplant and cauliflower were often considered inferior.  Spinach and mustard greens were gathered when young and tender.

Sample Cultural Menus Based on These Five Principles

How might traditional menus have looked, and how might you craft a health balanced diet based on the above five criteria?

India - One or two main meals consisting of bread (such as naan) and rice (grain), dahl (beans or peas), cooked vegetables, yogurt, and something raw such as radish, salad greens, sprouted beans, or fruit chutney.

Asian diets center around rice, wheat noodles, and/or millet, depending upon the region, along with vegetables, and small amounts of soybean products, or possibly a little meat or fish.  Grated daikon radish, or some raw salad or greens, and possibly fermented products, such as kimchi, miso or tamari.

European diets vary by region.  

French diets included bread, soups which may have legumes, such as lentil, vegetables, salad, and some meat or cheese, however in much smaller quantities than the typical American diet.  Wine or beer (fermented) are often served with at least one main meal.  An Eastern European diet may typically include sourdough rye breads, fermented cabbage, lentils or other legumes, a variety of root and other vegetables, and some meats and sausages.  Nordic diets may also include rye or wheat breads, and other whole grains, including barley and oats, root vegetables, seasonal berries, some fish and/or cultured dairy.

Several North American Indian tribes depended upon the classic trio of corn (grain), beans, and squash.  In the Southeast, Europeans absorbed some of their traditional diet, consuming corn bread, cooked beans or peas, and leafy greens.  In the Southwest and Mexico, tortillas (grain), beans, vegetables, and small quantities of meat or dairy products.  Salsas, pickled onions, and other condiments complemented the primary and secondary staple foods.

Middle Eastern diets included pita bread, garbanzo beans, vegetables, yogurt, and larger quantities of meat than the other cultures mentioned above.

Be sure to grab your FREE copy of How To Feel Great and Improve Your Health with a Macrobiotic Diet, with more information about crafting a healthy balanced diet centered around principal and secondary foods, along with sample menus and recipes.  

Ready to outline your principa and secondary food lists?  Need help crafting a health balanced diet?  Let me know in the comments!  Or contact me with any questions, or if you would like more one-on-one help!

For more information, you may also be interested in checking out these books, referenced in this post.  I highly recommend this and other books written by Ballentine.


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