9 Simple ideas from macrobiotics that can help make a plant-rich diet more inspiring

Bowl of healthy salads, beans and seeds

How do we create a future in which both people and nature can thrive? This is the biggest question of our times. In the next few decades we need to do something unprecedented – achieve a sustainable existence on earth. But how do we do it?

David Attenborough, Our Planet

George Monbiot, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, David Attenborough, scientists and health professionals have all been saying it: we need to eat fewer animal foods and more plants. Now, in the face of the sixth extinction event, it’s even more essential to make meaningful changes, fast. I believe that those meaningful changes could be good news for small, organic farms, too. By not eating the cheap stuff, we can save money and spend it where it counts: with local families who truly care about the countryside and the welfare of their animals.

Choosing what you feed yourself and your family is very personal. Nobody likes to be told what to eat, but the evidence is mounting.

Aoife Behan, the Scotsman

I might as well say it: I love meat. And fish. And eggs. In fact, it might be more accurate just to say that I love food – pretty much everything except Jerusalem artichokes which, let’s face it, only maniacs enjoy.

I was raised in a meat-eating family and I know how to cook with animal foods. I know how to get lots of taste into stews and curries by cooking meat on the bone, and how to lightly flavour fish. I’ve learned that you can fix pretty much any bland creation with butter, and I also find that when I pile my plate high with lean animal protein, I don’t gain weight or lose stamina as easily.

But there’s a problem: I love animals, and I love this beautiful, messed-up world. And it’s becoming clear that, when it comes to animal foods and climate change, less is definitely more. In fact, there’s evidence to suggest that the meat and dairy industries impact the climate more than fossil fuels.

Flexitarian – is the the way forward?

We need to start talking about values for money – not just value for money. Cutting the amount of meat we buy means we can invest in better quality when we do. Switching to free range, organic, sustainable… produce wherever possible is a win-win for the environment and for our farmers.

Aoife Behan, the Scotsman

It’s getting harder and harder for me to make excuses for an abundance of meat in my shopping basket, and I’ve been steadily cutting down over the last few months. That being said, I also know that I’m not cut out for veganism. So what’s the answer?

For me, it’s going plant-rich, or flexitarian.

This is exciting for me because I love vegetables! Eating more of them is not a hardship. And, after watching Our Planet (which I thoroughly recommend, by the way – yes, you’ll cry a little, but it’ll be worth it), even my husband – the thawed out caveman – is on board.

In this post, I want to dive into a few things I learned from macrobiotics that enhance plant-based eating. Because, like any way of life that restricts or limits certain foods, a plant-rich diet can get a little boring if you don’t do it right (just ask anyone on a diet).

Here’s what I learned from macrobiotics: 9 great principles to keep your plant-based diet interesting

A few years ago, I was lucky enough to get some personalised recommendations from a friend and macrobiotic chef.

What I learned was tailored to me, and may not be applicable to macrobiotics in general. But all of these principles come to mind when I’m cooking plant-based dishes and seeking balance – which for me means not relying on the same foods all the time.

Here’s what I learned, and it’s so applicable to a plant-based diet:

1. Texture is more important than you think

Many diets fail us because they’re simply a bit boring. If you’re eating virtuously but feeling uninspired, you may think you’re bored of tastes but it’s actually easy to become bored of the same old textures: tender steamed veg or the smooshiness of soups and curries, for example. Mix up your textures. Add crunch with toasted seeds and crisp salads, or make a creamy dressing with a base of cashews or tahini. Then eat them all as part of one dish.

2. Use a range of cooking styles

Variety is the pungent condiment of life (sorry – bad macrobiotic joke). There are lots of ways to get bored of an eating style. Save your sanity and vary not only what you eat but how you eat it, every day. Steaming, sauteing, roasting, mashing, toasting, baking, frying and pickling all have their role.

3. Elevate your fried food

Beige food – pastry, chips, crisps and breaded nosh – probably isn’t a great basis for anyone’s diet. When I was getting to grips with macrobiotic principles I got around my cravings by dipping vegetables in homemade tempura batter, then deep-frying in hot coconut oil with a dash of sesame oil for flavour. I would blot away excess oil, drizzle with tamari and continue to crisp in the oven while I fried the next batch. After that, my only challenge was not to eat it all; excess oil makes humans grumpy, apparently (it’s a chi thing).

4. Eat three decent meals a day for satiety

Macrobiotics taught me that it’s OK to feel hungry sometimes. Without constant snacking, my body gets a much-needed break from digestion. That said, I don’t believe in starving myself. Three proper meals a day keep me more satisfied than small meals eaten often.

5. Avoid extremes to stay off the food roller coaster

You know that feeling of eating something salty, then craving dessert? Do you usually crave salted nuts or crisps with your glass of wine? Macrobiotics teaches that these cravings are down to the energies of foods being excessively yin (sweet, watery, spicy) and yang (salty, meaty and rich). Eating more balanced and neutral foods, such as brown rice paired with roasted squash and steamed greens, helped me reduce food cravings.

6. Eat dessert daily

Remember I said that my knowledge of macrobiotics stems largely from some personalised consultations I had a few years ago? Well, maybe my friend realised at the time that I’m just someone who needs a daily treat. She clearly knew it was a good idea to build healthier homemade desserts into my life – rather than letting me react to cravings on the fly. She created a few low-sugar options for me, including fruit jellies made from agar. Yum!

7. Eat a little raw food with every meal

I like to incorporate raw veggies into my diet so that I can benefit from the nutrients that might otherwise get lost in cooking. Macrobiotics relies on lots of cooked food (which is more balanced), but there’s an emphasis on green salads and home pickled veggies, too.

8. Incorporate the five flavours

What does ‘flavour’ mean to you? You may be thinking – sweet, sour, and salty. But what about pungent and bitter? I’ve found that getting lots of different flavours into my meals – preferably all on the same plate – is a good way to boost variety and keep boredom at bay.

Meals that include the five tastes will prove more satisfying, in terms of limiting cravings, and more fortifying.

Marlene Watson-Tara, Centre for Nutrition Studies

9. Enjoy natural sweetness

If (like me) you’re a bit of a sugar-junkie, make the most of the natural sweetness in foods like pumpkin, beetroot, onions and carrots. Think root veggies and fruits such as apples and berries,.

I’m still figuring out the best things to eat for people and planet and I’m always keen to hear what you think (let me know below).

My plan is to cut down on meat, dairy and fish so that I’ll be able to afford better quality, local and organic meat and dairy when I do eat it (which is great for me, for animals, for farmers and for the planet).

For a little macrobiotic recipe inspiration, check out these recipes from Clearspring.

The beautiful food pictured in this post was created by Nook.

What do you think? Let me know!