I read a number of years ago that Academy Award Winning actress Gwyneth Paltrow followed a macrobiotic diet.
At the time, this news snippet aroused my curiosity as my own family followed a macrobiotic diet for a brief period of time when I was in middle school and it was the worst way of eating I have ever experienced.
I absolutely despised the macrobiotic diet because I never felt satisfied after eating this type of meal. I am very glad my parents quickly decided that it wasn’t so fantastic after all and stopped making meals this way!
Now, Ms. Paltrow has disclosed that she is suffering from osteopenia, a thinning of the bones. This is one of the most dangerous symptoms of vitamin D deficiency.
This condition was brought about by vitamin D blood levels so low, that Ms. Paltrow’s doctors said the level was “… the lowest thing they had ever seen ….”
Ms. Paltrow was prescribed high dose vitamin D drops and told to spend more time in the sun (without sunscreen, of course) to reverse the condition.
This is clearly excellent advice! Frequent, brief, nonburning doses of midday sun on the skin is a very healthy thing to do. Smart sunning does not cause skin cancer and is a great way to quickly raise vitamin D blood levels!
Let’s examine for a moment how Ms. Paltrow got such alarmingly low vitamin D blood levels in the first place.
A macrobiotic diet is based on grains, primarily brown rice. Here is the breakdown:
- Whole cereal grains, especially brown rice: 40—60%
- Vegetables: 25—30%
- Beans and legumes: 5—10%
- Miso soup: 5%
- Sea vegetables: 5%
- Traditionally or naturally processed foods: 5—10%
In addition to these basic recommendations, food, especially grains, must be very thoroughly chewed by macrobiotic diet followers.
Seafood, fruit, natural sweeteners, and seeds/nuts may be enjoyed 2-3 times per week if desired (but not required).
At first glance, a macrobiotic diet may seem an excellent way to eat as it is whole, unprocessed, and eschews junk food, sodas, and other industrialized foods that are responsible for so many modern ills, particularly in children.
However, following a macrobiotic diet can only bring ill health over the long term as it is focused primarily on grains and contains little animal fats which are the only foods that contain any vitamin D and other fat-soluble vitamins that are absolutely essential to health.
And no, kelp and mushrooms grown in the sun don’t contain the type of Vitamin D our bodies can use either, so don’t fall for that dietary myth.
Depression and Cancer?
Having experienced the lack of well-being, lethargy, dark moods, and hypoglycemia produced by a macrobiotic diet firsthand as a child, I knew that Ms. Paltrow was going to suffer serious health challenges as a result of this dangerous food philosophy. Her first clue should have been the birth weight of her first child (a girl) who was born at a whopping 9 lbs 11 oz.
It is known that girls born this large are at higher risk for breast cancer before age 50. It also is an indication that the mother herself is at elevated breast cancer risk. (1)
A diet heavy in grains, even if whole and unprocessed, will frequently result in huge babies predisposed to childhood obesity and other associated problems.
Her second clue should have been the postpartum depression she experienced after the birth of her second child, Moses, in 2006. (2)
Postpartum depression and low vitamin D levels have been strongly linked. (3)
With this more recent news of severe vitamin D deficiency and osteopenia at such a young age, hopefully, Ms. Paltrow will abandon the disastrous macrobiotic diet and reclaim her health by consuming animal foods high in Vitamin D on a more frequent basis and reduce her grain consumption to a moderate level as practiced by healthy, traditional societies.
Any diet that produces such a severe nutritional deficiency such as what Ms. Paltrow has experienced is clearly the wrong way to go and an unwise approach to eating.
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The Vitamin Deficiency that is Written All Over Your Face
Yikes Sarah! I really think you should have done more research for this article. This is a quote from Gwyneth that she gave back in 2008 :
“I was macrobiotic for about three or four years, but when I got pregnant with Apple I wanted french fries, grilled cheese, and yoghurt, so it kind of went out the window. I couldn’t look at brown rice. It made me throw up. But being macrobiotic is basically about eating local, organic, seasonal food that isn’t processed, and that’s how I eat now, so it’s not that different.”
In light of her Vitamin D issues and other health concerns, she wrote and published a cookbook this past year, 2013, that has all sorts of recipes which call for things like: goats milk yogurt, chicken, turkey, fish, etc.
I understand you wanting to write an article about the dangers of a macrobiotic diet, I agree with everything you wrote concerning that diet. However, why throw Gwyneth under the bus? It looks like she hasn’t eaten that way in a LONG time, and has moved on to eating differently. Clearly she has health issues that need to be addressed via her diet, but you seem to be tying to them to her macrobiotic diet RIGHT NOW, when she said over 6 years ago that she doesn’t eat that way anymore. Seems a bit uninformed on your end Sarah!
Just wanted to add for clarification: Her first daughter was born in 2004, and she says she gave up her macrobiotic diet with that pregnancy, so it’s actually been 10 years since she ate macrobiotic. I am not defending Gwyneth and her constant string of diets or macrobiotic eating, I am simply a defender of getting the facts straight!
Thanks for the additional info … however, severe Vitamin D deficiency can exist for years after coming off a nutrient poor diet like when one eats macrobiotic.
The Macrobiotic diet is based on mindful preparation and consumption of food. Developed in the East, where the staples are rice and vegetables, the mindfulness aspect – fundamental to macrobiotics – has tended to be discarded in the West.
Vegans have adopted it wholeheartedly because it *looks* vegan, but the truth is that without the mindfulness aspect, the diet is only half followed and is bound to result in some unexpected consequences. When preparing and consuming food mindfully, one is open to the messages of the body. When one listens to the wisdom of the body, one is more apt to add what is necessary for good health. In the East they are not above adding a little fish or insect protein occasionally, when it’s available and the body is asking for it.
When practicing mindfulness, there is a tendency to go outside more, for meditation, garden labour and trade of varying descriptions.
Paltrow is pale, which suggests she doesn’t go out in the sunshine much (or uses a sunscreen – or both!), so little to no Vit D. So much for mindfully growing one’s own food (part of the macrobiotic mindful preparation of food).
Plenty of green leafy vegetables and sunshine provides all the nutrients necessary for strong bones.
Really, the only nutrient that macrobiotic practitioners *might* be short of is B12, available from the odd fish or insect, when the body suggests it – which is not as often as you might think.
As to big babies – I and *all* my siblings were 9lbs and over at birth. None of us has suffered from obesity or breast cancer. I think that the studies on birth weight apply only when the mother is obese and living on the modern Western diet. 9lb-ers were not unusual post WW2 in a nation left healthy from rationing.
I’m a frequent reader of your blog. Though I’m a relatively new follower, so far I’ve appreciated the thought and research that goes in to all of your posts.
Except this one.
My issue is with your flippant comments about a 9 pound 11 oz baby described as “whopping”.
The article you linked to to support the claim of breast cancer before age 50 being more common in big babies was not a study nor did it mention the fact you claimed. You also claim that, “A diet heavy in grains, even if whole and unprocessed, will frequently result in huge babies predisposed for childhood obesity and other associated problems.” While I agree with the point you are making about the grain diet, your wording implies that 1. a 9 pound 11 oz baby is “huge” and 2. big babies are predisposed to obesity and health problems. Whether or not this was your intention, please take caution in choosing your words in relation to a newborn’s size. Big babies are not predisposed to obesity or health issues unless there is a medical situation in the mother, such as gestational diabetes (which is one reason a baby’s size can be unhealthy, but does not mean that a big baby is unhealthy when gestational diabetes is not present).
The United States is in the midst of an epidemic of cesarean sections (32% of births) and has the highest rate of death in infancy than any other developed nation. The number one cause of this is pre-term birth. Mothers are often induced for “big babies” only to find that the infant (induced too early) ends up in the NICU with breathing issues and other health problems from being pre-term.
I had homebirths with my 9 pound daughter and 9 pound 3 oz son. Both were fast (less than 5 hours for my daughter, less than 8 for my son), uncomplicated, easy, natural births.
While in hospitals only 10% of all babies are over 9 pounds, homebirth statistics (usually a low-risk profile) show a rate closer to 30% when the mother is allowed to go past 40 weeks gestation.
The most recent report from the American Academy of Obestetrics and Gynecologists indicates that a suspected big baby is NOT an indication for induction or c-section unless another health problem is present in the mother of fetus.
Please don’t feed into the misinformation and misunderstanding that circulates around “big babies”.
I agree. When presenting information it is much better to say: “it appears as if” or “in my experience” or “research tells us” (then site research), or “could it be this or that?”. To come off as “cocksure” is to discredit yourself. Nothing and no one (except you perhaps) is set in stone, people are all different; how a person responds to food, drugs, environment, etc. is unique for each person. The trouble with western medicine is the same thing that is wrong with your blog: based on fuzzy science and too darned sure of itself. I am writing this because I follow traditional ways, much like you and have learned that the more one is militant and radical, the less one is believed and respected. By softening your words and siting more research (whether you agree with it or not) you can guide people to come to their own conclusions rather than have a “knee jerk” reaction of something being “shoved down their throat” which ultimately leads to people questioning not only your intelligence, but your sanity.
Totally agreed on the unnecessary flippant remark about big babies. Lots of factors go into the size of a baby, including the mom’s size. Gwyneth, like me, is 5’9″, so it’s not at all strange that she would have a big baby. It’s proportional to her height. My kids have been 9lb 6oz and 9lb 2oz. My husband and I (and our siblings) were over 8 pounds. We are all tall, slim people. Diets rich in protein (such as Brewer’s diet) also tend to be associated with big babies. The article linked also states that birth length, rather than birth weight, is the larger predictor for breast cancer.
Agreed. This article, much like the one about the poor woman with her fried chicken and too many garbage bags, could have been vastly improved had it been approached differently. I had a 9 pound 6 ounce baby at home and follow a hybrid of WAPF and Paleo – so I don’t think saying “her first clue should have been” was very fair. Or accurate.
Interesting about the large babies. Never heard that before about the breast cancer. However I can tell you I had 2 large babies, 9 and almost 10 pounders, now age 12 and 15, no obesity problem and always very healthy. Rarely been to see the pediatrician for illness since birth. We’ll see what happens when they’re 50.
Vitamin D deficiency is rampant as more and more people are applying sun screen for fear of contracting skin cancer. A macrobiotic diet will not contribute to a Vitamin D deficiency any more than a traditional Western diet. A macrobiotic lifestyle will thwart cancer, heart disease, gout and may other diseases associated with a Western diet. Most physicians don’t check Vitamin D levels; nor do they have any insight to the actual positive effects associated with maintaining a healthy Vitamin D reservoir within the body. Adding food sources to one’s diet that provide a rich source of Vitamin D could introduce other negative aspects. For example, cheese and milk contribute to acid reflux and high cholesterol, free range salmon is a good source; but scarce. The farm raised, franken-fish sold as salmon is harmful for a myriad of reasons. Egg yolks are a good source. Mackerel is good; but, you might fall victim to ingesting too much mercury. Vitamin D3 will enable most folks to maintain proper Vitamin D levels. Everyone should check their D levels (minimally annually). There are many who subscribe to the theory that low-level Vitamin D levels might be the result of something else going on in the body. Hence, it is a good idea to check your Vitamin D level.
What a load of misinformation this article is! Eat animal foods daily?!? There is nothing in this article that exhibits any form of intelligence whatsoever.
The author of this drivel does not realize that vitamin D deficiency happens to all kinds of people, including the meat and potatoes crowd. This article is backed by no scientific evidence whatsoever. A Macrobiotic diet does not need to be low in vitamin D if you are diligent on your supplementation and spend enough time outside.. and stop demonizing whole grains with pseudo-science and actually eat some for once, and the key to successful macrobiotic diet is VARIETY! It’s the people who are too strict and uniform with their diet planning that may run into these kinds of problems… that goes for ANY kind of diet. If you actually knew anything about macrobiotics you wouldn’t spread this misinformation.
Somebody needs a steak cooked in butter!
Thank you John Mooter.
I have just started Macrobiotics and after 9 months my doctor is very happy. She did tell me to take calcium supplements and D3. However, I just had a lovely weekend with my sister and brother-in-law who is an internist who eat the standard healthy American diet with plenty of exercise. He now has heart problems at age 57. I would much rather have a little osteopenia than veins full of cholesterol, etc.
It’s good that you’re doing well, but a truly healthful diet should not require supplements to keep you healthy. Especially when calcium is very easily obtained via food and Vitamin D with a combination of food and proper sun exposure.
Many of the comments about Macrobiotics by Sarah are totally false and misleading. SHe states in one post that Americans eat a lot of grains. Most Americans eat almost zero percent whole grains. MAcrobiotics does not consider white bread and white pasta, etc. healthy.
All primitive societies had a principle whole grain as the main food, with minimal animal products, except in colder climates. John McDoughall, MD, discovered that his healthiest patients still ate the traditional diet, emphasizing whole foods and starch-based. T. Colin Campbell (The China Study) came to the same conclusion., as did Dr Esselstyn, Dr. Ornish, and many others.These doctors were not partial to vegetarianism; in fact, T. Colin Campbell was trying to prove that animal foods were important for optimal health, and discovered just the opposite.
The teachers in Macrobiotics are not perfect. They have made mistakes. Macrobiotics is bigger than any one person’s teaching.
Vitamin D comes from the sun. However, due to lifestyles, many should supplement with Vitamin D, as well as B 12.I know many many people who eat this way and are in robust health, some in their 90s, one man a marathon runner in his mid 80s. Many fail because they do not follow the diet correctly, or have misinformation.
Whole grains, vegetables and beans have been the staple foods of societies for thousands of years. Recent studies on the “Paleo Diet” have shown that past information has been flawed.
Roman gladiators were called “barley men” because they thrived on whole grains.
If one studies Macrobiotics, one will see that it is not as rigid as many think.
Thank you, finally some people responding intelligently. I read the article and was like geez, she must have not been doing it right or something… I Grew up macro my whole life. I’ve never taken so much as even an Advil…. I play sports and live a very active lifestyle… I support the whole foods plant based diet (as dr cambell likes to say) which is basically what a macrobiotic diet is – not a necessarily a delineated percentage chart as shown above in the artical. Whole grains, beans, a varsity of vegetables and a little fish on occasion… And I also agree with the mo fullness part some said as well – Nuff said!
I have heard that you can get Vitamin D from tanning beds. Here in Michigan, especially around Februrary, finding the sun is hard enough, much less feeling brave enough to bear my bare skin to its icyness. I am sure that my Vitamin D levels have dropped dramatically since moving here (from sunny Virginia). Do you know of any information on getting Vitamin D levels up from tanning beds?
Utilizing tanning beds for vitamin d supplementation is likely your best choice. Even if you live in FL your not likely getting the wavelengths needed for supplementation due to geoengineering. The metals sprayed into the atmosphere shield much of the sun from hitting earth.
You may learn more at http://www.geoengineeringwatch.org or http://www.skyderalert.com
Let me mention one food that is brilliant in vit d supplementation. Your levels will be highest using this product over anything else you might do because of hi absorption: fermented cod liver oil.
also http://www.mercola.com has a lot about vit d3, the sun, and which tanning beds to use. all are not safe. make sure you find out which kind are and find them in your area. and parents should be able to decide if their kids can go in them not the government. government butt out of our rights!!!!!
I feel good at mocrobiotic.