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Thursday, August 2, 2012

In Conversation with Shonali Sabherwal: Exploring Similarities between the Macrobiotic and Vegan Diets

I. Foreword

by Amruta Ubalevegan and animal rights activist from India.

I have been on a quest to find experts from various fields to highlight the benefits of a vegan lifestyle. A nutritionist explaining the health benefits of a vegan diet was in order. During my research, I came across the Macrobiotic approach that entails the use of plant-based foods for healthy living. My research further led me to Shonali Sabherwal's work on the Macrobiotic approach. I was elated to note how successfully Shonali has delivered the message of a plant-based lifestyle in the mainstream. Be it a Bollywood diva who wants to lose weight or anybody ridden by lifestyle disease, she has helped restore their health to normal, all with a plant-based approach!

Hippocrates, an ancient Greek physician considered to be one of the most outstanding figures in the history of Medicine had said, “Let food be thy medicine and thy medicine be thy food. It’s heartening to witness the growing awareness in the therapeutic properties of plant-based foods and using it to reverse diseases, especially in current times when the disease rates are at an all time high.

The use of the right food and cooking styles in Shonali’s Soulfood approach was intriguing and I am certain it will interest readers as well. It's interesting to note that Shonali also emphasizes the importance of a holistic lifestyle with exercise and meditation as these play an important role in healthy living. I am delighted to introduce Shonali Sabherwal, India’s only practicing Macrobiotics counselor cum chef cum instructor and the author of The Beauty Diet. In this interview, we will try to understand her approach towards healing through food and a holistic lifestyle, and explore similarities between the Macrobiotic diet and the Vegan diet. You can click this link to learn more about Shonali’s skilled background.

II. Interview with Shonali Sabherwal: Exploring similarities between the Macrobiotic and Vegan Diets

Shonali with her ensemble of healthy plant-based ingredients

Vegan India!: Shonali, first of all many thanks for taking time off for this interview! We recently learned about your work, the Macrobiotic way of life you advocate, and the large number of people you have influenced by this dietary approach, many congrats! It was most interesting for us to note that the macrobiotic diet is similar to the vegan diet, the only significant point of difference being that the Macrobiotic diet recommends fish to people who find it difficult to get off the meats and to certain body types. Could you tell us the history and origins of the Macrobiotic approach to food? What are its basic tenets?

Shonali: The principles of a Macrobiotic diet (which was not termed Macrobioitic at the time) were first set forth by Sagen Ishizuka, a Japanese army doctor. Ishizuka established a theory of nutrition and medicine based on the traditional Oriental diet and combined it with the Western medical sciences of chemistry, biology, biochemistry, and physiology. He experimented this theory on himself as he was ailing from kidney and skin disease. Based on what he studied and applied, he wrote two books, Chemical Theory of Longevity published in 1896 and Diet for Health published in 1898. He cured many people with this approach, so much so that he had to limit his practice to 100 people a day.

Macrobiotics or the ‘big view of life’ (in Greek ‘macro’ means ‘great’ and ‘bios’ meaning life) was first used in literature by a German physicist, Christoph Wilhelm Hufeland. His book, Macrobiotics: The Art of Prolonging Human Life explores Macrobiotics as a science aimed at prolonging and perfecting life. According to Hufeland, Macrobiotics as a medical philosophy is at a level higher than the curative, preventative, or health aspects of medicine.

George Ohsawa, a student of Ishizuka and the founder of Macrobiotics, formulated his own philosophy on diet and health by familiarizing himself with Hufeland’s work. Ohsawa himself recovered from tuberculosis after consuming healing foods recommended by a military doctor. He came up with his own philosophy on Macrobiotics and travelled the world spreading his ideas. One of Ohsawa’s students, Michio Kushi, decided to propagate this approach in America in the 1960s. He first started with being a natural foods distributor and then established the Kushi Institute in 1978.

Vegan India!: The Macrobiotic diet plan has been known to cure cancers. Is that true? What is it that cancer grows on and what is it that the Macrobiotic diet constitutes that helps curb cancer? 

Shonali: Macrobiotic foods impacts the blood condition first, changes it within four months, and then changes the cellular structure within two years. Cancer is a disease of the cells and when the body’s fighter cells have lost their abilities, cancer cells start growing in abundance. So, with the foods recommended in the Macrobiotic approach, we help starve the cancer cells in the body. Such foods restore the body’s pH balance and strengthen immunity. It has worked and cured many cancers and is used to help people under emission from cancers.

The basics of Shonali’s Soulfood approach indicated by a pie chart.
 *Extras include: beverages, condiments, good quality fermented foods, and quick pickles.
To learn more, click this link:

Vegan India!: Does the Macrobiotic diet prescribe guidelines about the mind because in healthy plant-based eating cultures, it is believed what we intake has a positive impact on our minds? Does the Macrobiotic approach believe that plants have positive energies in comparison to animal-based food that do not? How is Macrobiotic approach a spiritual experience? 

Shonali: The Macrobiotic approach is as sattvic as an ayurvedic approach. Since the foods clean up our energy pathways (nadis) connected to the chakras, we can channelize the energy of the Universe better. Therefore on a larger canvas, foods impact the chakra system. Yes, the Macrobiotic approach does believe that plant-based foods have a positive impact on the mind and body than animal foods. It is an approach that focuses on the energy of each food and what it will add to your life. Plus foods recommended in the Macrobiotic approach release neurotransmitters in a timely manner that helps the mind.

Vegan India!: What effects do animal products such as meat, dairy, honey, and so on have on the human body?

Shonali: Animal products will make you more aggressive in nature, and frustrated and angry; dairy will make you dense and foggy in the head; honey is a simple sugar that will cause mood swings and also throw off your other sugars. Animal foods sit in the body and do not digest thereby causing toxicity. Dairy is pasteurized and homogenized, stripping it of all its nutrients. Further, dairy has casein which does not digest and causes problems in the long run.

Vegan India!: Macrobiotic diet is also known for its cooking styles. Could you please comment on the basic tenets of this style?

Shonali: Macrobiotics as an approach is known for using the yin and yang elements of energy to bring balance. Therefore if we apply it to cooking styles, one is advised to use styles accordingly to balance their conditions. For example, if you had a pressured lifestyle, would I recommend pressure cooking all the time? The answer is no; I would instead say use lighter styles like boiling, blanching, steaming to release some energy. This is a simple example.

Shonali's Macrobiotic creation

Vegan India!: Could you please share how you got motivated to explore the Macrobiotic approach and how it has helped you personally? Do you combine any other technique of well being along with?

Shonali: My father got diagnosed with prostate cancer in 1998 and while looking for an alternative cure to help him, I chanced upon the Macrobiotic diet. I first met a lady, Mona Schwartz, who was a proponent of this diet and was based in the North of India. I studied with her for a week. I then decided that I would pursue it as a career and studied at the Kushi Institute in the US. I have changed my life and have experienced positive benefits in eradicating some of my own personal health issues like, candida. I am far more calmer than I was and have been able to achieve all my goals since a Macrobiotic diet clears up your energy, as mentioned earlier. I do recommend some yogapilates (yogalates) if I feel a client needs it, as I am a certified trainer from Australia in this method as well. Sometimes I complement some difficult cases with craniosacral therapy – done by a practitioner, Zia Nath, in Mumbai. We work closely together on diet and bodywork via craniosacral therapy.

Vegan India!: There is a notion in our culture that animal-based food are “tasty” while plant-based food are not tasty. People consume plant-based food for “health” reasons and animal-based foods to look cool, to move with the times, to “indulge”… What would you say to demystify this notion? Is there any material basis for this notion… don’t plant-based food allow us plenty to indulge? How would you suggest that plant foods are integrated into our daily lives without one feeling deprived of the “fun”?  

Shonali: I have led the most fascinating life on plant-based foods; I am a chef and a Macrobiotic Nutritionist and can come up with the most amazing meals combining flavors. So it is a myth that only animal foods can be exciting or tasty. There is no basis for this notion. Plant-based foods in your diet and as a way of life, is the only way for sound health for both the body and mind. However, if my clients still want animal foods, I make them increase the intake of plant-based foods in their diet. It is amazing what you can do with vegan foods and I run a daily meal service to prove it. 

Vegan India!: What are the usual health issues that your clients come to you with? Do share how they respond to the Macrobiotic diet plan and once healed, do they continue with it?

Shonali: Many issues like irritable bowel disorder (colitis, constipation, ulcers, crohns disease), fibromyalgia, migraine, urticaria, candida, psoriasis, weight loss, weight gain, diabetes, thyroid, polycystic ovary disorder and the list is endless. All my clients respond very well if they stick to the Macrobiotic Plan. Once they achieve their goal and since I teach them that it is a lifestyle not just a diet, some of them make it a way of life while others work with parts of it. They all continue with some form of it in their lives.

Shonali's Macrobiotic creation

Vegan India!: What are the special requirements of your Bollywood clients? How does the Macrobiotic diet help fulfill them?

Shonali: They all want to maintain weight and have increased energy levels; so apart from my meals which are Macrobiotic and keeps them away from the build-up of toxicity in the body, I also incorporate cooking styles to help them. Sometimes we do a quick de-tox if they have come back from their travels and then start the meals.

Vegan India!: Apart from consultations, how else do you help interested people transition to a plant-based Macrobiotic diet?

Shonali: I write a lot for the press. These articles are educational, so that is one way of teaching them. My meal clients get a tip for the day with their menu, which is also another way of educating them on the diet. Cooking classes help people understand how to work with the ingredients and still keep meals tasty without the use of dairy, sugar, and refine flours. My products are 100% Vegan and definitely better than options available in the market. My website is, it contains lot of information.

III. Acknowledgments

Thank you once again Shonali for taking time off to share your views on the Macrobiotic approach to food on this blog. This is a wonderfully broad-based approach, which inherently acknowledges the cause-effect relationship that the foods we choose to put into our physical systems have on our personal health and on a larger canvas, on the well-being of our Planet. Thank you Amruta once again for your initiative and verve in helping document similar ideas from different streams to create the synergy much required at this point of time on Earth.

For more interviews featured in this blog, you can click this link.


  1. Thank you, Vegan India for yet another brilliant article!

  2. Lovely article and a very interesting concept.


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