Long before the disasters at Chernobyl or Three Mile Island, nutritional scientists, environmental groups and public health educators including proponents of the macrobiotic approach to diet and way of life sat down to discuss what actions one should take in the event of a nuclear attack or accident. It has long been known that certain foods and dietary approaches can actually be radio-protective, meaning that regular consumption and specific uses act to prevent radioactive pollutants and related contaminants from entering the body.
The Earthquake and Tsunami
On the afternoon of March 11, 2011, the 9.0 magnitude earthquake and subsequent tsunami it generated resulted in numerous environmental catastrophes. While the release of radiation from the meltdown of core rods in nuclear plants on Japan's east coast captures the public's attention, many other issues equally as devastating and harmful to human health are occurring. Radioactive pollutants are a grave concern but other issues are present as well.
Many of the earliest macrobiotic educators came to the U.S. from Japan in the late 1960's, encouraging environmental awareness and ecological practices. Japanese communities are notoriously cautious about environmental waste, taking great care to separate contaminants into appropriate waste containers for storage and proper disposal; however, when the tsunami struck, virtually all such efforts proved to be futile, as massive waves of water churned every square inch of homes, plants, factories and businesses into an horrific toxic soup.
Battery acid from thousands of automobiles, gasoline, kerosene, mercury, arsenic, selenium, cadmium, hydrocarbons, lead, anionic detergents, fluorides, nitrates, sulphur, ammonia, diesel oil and other petroliferous agents have now been widely distributed through hundreds of square miles of farmland and urban areas. Even without the release of even more damaging radioactive isotopes, anyone in the area would be wise to learn about these protective measures people can take.
Sea vegetables are a principal food recommended as part of a macrobiotic diet due in part because there is compelling evidence of the nutritional value and protective nature of these remarkable foods.
Following the atomic bombing of Nagasaki in 1945, a group of medical doctors led by Tatsuichiro Akizuki, M.D. used a traditional diet consisting of roasted brown rice, miso soup, Hokkaido pumpkin, sea salt and wakame and other sea vegetables to help save many lives. Since that time, much research has confirmed that sea vegetables contain a polysaccharide substance that selectively binds radioactive strontium and other elements that eliminate them naturally from the body.
Many types of marine algae present a significant protection from the absorption of radioactive particles that may be released because of the naturally occurring iodine. Kombu (common kelp) can be used when cooking beans or vegetables and more familiar seaweeds like nori (commonly used to make sushi rolls) can also be eaten.
Macrobiotic nutritionists often recommend a few tablespoons daily of a sea vegetable like kombu, hiziki, wakame, arame or mekabu is all that is needed; however, "more" is not better -- these foods are concentrated minerals and there is a point of diminishing returns. Nearly all natural foods stores carry these products and most are also available mail order from U.S. sea vegetable grower Larch Hanson through his site. Sea vegetables should be a part of everyone's daily diet no matter what the circumstances.
Dr. Akizuki and others have also verified the remarkable healing quality of traditionally aged miso paste used as a bouillon in soup broth. Again, part of a macrobiotic approach includes preparing these soups using root vegetables -- carrots, onions, turnips and radishes -- helps not only to stimulate good digestive enzymes but also eliminates harmful pollutants from the bloodstream. Miso soup is typically made with wakame, a leafy sea vegetable that is widely available.
Drs. Lidia Yamchuk and Hanif Sharimardanov in the Russian city of Chelyabinsk (which I visited immediately after the fall of communism) demonstrated their use of miso soup broth when served to patients suffering from various forms of leukemia. The patients' improvement was markedly better than in patients who followed more modern diets.
Short term, quick miso pastes have little efficacy in this regard, so it is best to use long time, fermented miso pastes. Like seaweeds, they are commonly available at many natural food stores. Some of exceptional quality are available through traditional miso-maker Christian Elwell through his site.
Beware of lesser quality misos that use chemicals, sugar or genetically modified soybeans. The ideal types are misos made from all soybeans (called Hatcho) or with barley added (called Mugi). Note: Barley miso contains gluten, so for those who are sensitive, please use Hatcho which is gluten-free.
In a standard macrobiotic approach in temperate climates, perhaps no single food is considered to be more important in cleansing the body and maintaining a proper acid/alkaline balance than short grain, organically grown brown rice. Now widely available and accepted as a principal food, brown rice should be lightly roasted when used in this radio-protective application, allowing the rice to be eaten "raw" if necessary (when one cannot find cooking facilities). Doing so also adds a slightly nutty flavor. All whole grains like brown rice must be chewed extremely well to be effective, releasing the protective elements and making good digestion and absorption possible.
According to traditional Chinese medicine, small red beans called aduki (grown in midwestern U.S.) are also powerful foods that stimulate and improve kidney function -- necessary to remove toxins. Aduki beans can be cooked with pumpkins, squash and carrots to make a delicious dish and can also be used as a part of soups and stews; however, they take a long time to cook and may be soaked first.
Other Foods and Staples
A good quality sea salt is an important component of the macrobiotic approach, using it regularly in the cooking process rather than at the table. The Japanese plum called umeboshi also helps to maintain the blood's alkalinity as well as adding flavor to many dishes. Additional grains like buckwheat, millet, quinoa and medium grain brown rice as well as various root vegetables and wild edible plants can be consumed to further strengthen the blood and create lasting vitality.
Foods to Avoid
Macrobiotic teachers often caution people to reduce or avoid certain foods, particularly under specific circumstances like this current environmental crisis. For protection against the release of radioactive isotopes into the environment, it may also be helpful to avoid all simple sugars, fruits and their juices, and most acidic, tropical vegetables like tomatoes, potatoes and eggplant.
Not only do these vegetables contain high amounts of oxalic acid, they also add to the acidic burden of the bloodstream during stressful periods.
Coffee, sodas and dairy products are also best avoided when trying to eliminate pollutants from the body -- they add more of a burden and provide little benefit when compared to many other rich sources of nutrients. For example, sea vegetables provide more than the daily recommended amounts of calcium -- and soybeans, aduki beans and other legumes provide superior proteins without the saturated fats found in animal products.
Finally, it is worth noting that Charles Darwin did not say "only the strong survive." What he suggested, and made very clear, was that we must find ways to adapt in order to survive. Modifying our diet in times of crisis is among the most important action we can take. Now is clearly such a time to learn more about local, seasonal foods and to consider dietary changes that are preventative as well as potentially curative.
Fortunate Blessings, together with macrobiotic friends throughout the world who are familiar with these dietary and way of life recommendations, will continue to offer our experience and expertise as our heartfelt concern goes out to all those in Japan and elsewhere who suffer. One of them, Meg Wolff, has also posted a piece that includes more information and a simple recipe for miso soup that can be found here. In the coming weeks, we will consider organizing a team of mental health care experts in the same manner we did following tsunami and earthquake disasters in Indonesia, Samoa and elsewhere in order to support children and families who are facing massive traumas. For those interested in learning more, other articles I've posted here remain available as well as accessing our global outreach page through the foundation's website.
Your comments and contributions are most welcome.
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