As a first-grader, nothing made me feel like a foreign creature quite like lunchtime: I’d be nibbling rice balls with nori and umeboshi plum while everyone else was chowing down on angel-white bread with bright purple jelly. Let’s just say that my eating habits didn’t win me any new friends.
Yet 30 years later, there’s been a plot twist: My “weird” foods are suddenly showing up all over my Instagram feed, which is partly why Instagram and the internet is so great. It’s pioneering new ways of living in the world in ways that have yet to be adopted by the mainstream.
My mom, Rose Gilbride, was onto something when she packed my lunch all those years ago—and her culinary wisdom is ripe for sharing. She’s a macrobiotic nutritionist, chef, and cooking instructor based in Boulder, CO, and in between stints cooking for the likes of Buddhist teacher Pema Chodron, she taught me everything I know about well-being through macro eating.
My mother imparted upon me the idea that “food is medicine,” and that phrase never left me. As an adult I understand how powerfully true this is: 10 years ago I rebelled against my progressive upbringing and moved to New York City, where I picked up a sugar addiction and subsequent digestive disorder at a stressful magazine job. It was a wake-up call for me to remember that real food heals us and fake food hurts us.
Whether you grew up with PB&J sandwiches or grain bowls, these four macrobiotic ingredients deserve a spot in your lunch (and dinner!).
An umeboshi plum—a pickled Japanese plum—is my version of “an apple a day.” It’s truly one of the best preventive medicines available. You may find they’re an acquired taste, with their mouth-puckering flavor.
“Umeboshi plums are medicine for the entire digestive track—stomach and intestines,” explains Gilbride. “Their powerful acidity has a paradoxical alkalizing effect on the body, neutralizing fatigue, stimulating digestion, and promoting the elimination of toxins.”
How to use them:
Add them to rice balls for an easy on-the-go snack, or just nibble on small pieces of plum when you have an upset stomach or experience more serious digestive issues.
Or add it to your macro bowl for something heartier. This is my go-to dressing:
3 minced scallions
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup water
3 Tbsp lemon juice
2 umeboshi plums – pitted and minced
Nori, a type of seaweed, is best known for its (super nutritious) mineral content. “Seaweed is the most mineral-rich food on the planet,” explains Gilbride. “We focus so much on vitamins, but we’ve forgotten the importance of minerals—they calm the nervous system and feed the bones, teeth, and hair, and compensate for mineral-leaching foods like sugar and other acid-forming foods in an average diet.”
My mom swears by Maine Seaweed because “it’s high quality seaweed from clean, pure water. Pacific waters are now experiencing the radiation fallout, so it’s best to stay away from it.”
How to use it:
Nori is a delicious macro bowl topper, or use for rice balls and homemade nori rolls. Even though the sheets are already toasted, it’s nice to toast it freshly over a flame yourself before cutting it into squares or sprinkling it in little pieces. It’s also, according to Gilbride, a perfect and unique pairing with currants and lightly roasted pumpkin and sunflower seeds.
Tip for parents: If your kid ODs on sugar at a friend’s birthday party, have a sheet of nori at home to counterbalance the effects and avoid a crash (not to mention risk of a subsequent cold from the lowered immune system).
Miso is a fermented superfood that’s particularly high in antioxidants. “Like other fermented foods, miso increases the concentrations of beneficial bacteria in the digestive tract. These probiotic organisms don’t just aid in digestion, but also play an important role in maintaining and strengthening the immune system,” says Gilbride. According to some, miso even offers some protection against the effects of radiation.
How to use it:
Let the seasons help dictate which type of miso paste you use when. “I’ll use white miso in warmer days for dressings and sauces, because it’s lighter and aged for a shorter period of time. Red miso is a fabulous everyday miso in winter soups that has more concentrated amounts of healthful bacteria and minerals, aged for longer periods,” explains Gilbride.
When cooking it yourself, never boil miso because it destroys the beneficial bacteria and enzymes—dissolve it in a bit of warm water and add to the pot at the end. Enjoy a cup of it before digging into your macro bowl, because it “warms and relaxes the stomach and stimulates digestive enzymes,” according to Gilbride.
Or make a dressing to top your salads and bowls:
2/3 cup olive oil
1/3 lemon juice
1/3 cup mirin (rice wine)
1/3 cup dijon mustard
1/3 cup yellow miso
The root, in powdered starch form, is one of the top-ranked Chinese herbs and a highly effective digestive remedy (the research is limited on this one, but kuzu is my personal life-saver since I was a child and now into adulthood, miraculously curing my own issues including vertigo). Eastern healers have used kuzu for over 2,000 years and modern medicine is quickly catching onto this cure-all (including which studies show can even help in cutting down on alcohol). “Kuzu instantly strengthens the stomach and intestines, making it really useful for a temporary condition like the stomach flu,” says Gilbride. “It also combats the common cold and helps calm nerves, even in young children.”
How to use it:
Packaged, kuzu looks like white, chalky rocks, and is a great sauce thickener for desserts and stir-fry dishes. The simplest medicinal recipe (even healthy for babies) is to dissolve one tablespoon of kuzu in one cup of organic apple juice, then bring it to a boil (stirring consistently for a few minutes until the liquid thickens and goes clear).
In my family, we use what I like to call our “macro tincture” for a superdose of healing benefits. The recipe’s never been shared before—so consider this the equivalent of learning how to make Nonna’s secret sauce. Dissolve 1 tablespoon of kuzu in a few tablespoons of water in a small sauce pan. Add a cup of filtered water and an umeboshi plum. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly to prevent the kuzu from clumping. Simmer the flame until kuzu turns clear. Add a few drops of tamari or shoyu and fresh ginger juice (grated and squeezed). Expect magic!
Now that you’ve got all the ingredients, learn how to build the perfect macro bowl with our step-by-step guide.