Brazil has made a very smart move with the development of its new food guidelines, which were recently released by its Ministry of Health. These guidelines are completely different than anything you’d find in the U.S. or Canada. Rather than focusing on specific nutrients and getting weighed down with confusing details, Brazil’s guidelines emphasize the broader picture of dietary wellbeing and suggest very sensible, positive, and easy-to-follow ways in which Brazilians can eat better.
Here is a summary of the guidelines. (The original document is available here in Portuguese.)
1. Prepare meals from staple and fresh foods.
2. Use oils, fats, sugar and salt in moderation.
3. Limit consumption of ready-to-consume food and drink products.
4. Eat regular meals and pay attention to what you’re eating. Don’t snack and don’t multitask while eating.
5. Eat in appropriate environments. Avoid all-you-can-eat settings.
6. Eat in company whenever possible.
7. Buy food at places that offer varieties of fresh foods. Avoid those that mainly sell products ready for consumption.
8. Always give preference to locally produced and seasonal produce.
9. Develop, practice, share and enjoy your skills in food preparation and cooking.
10. Plan ahead to give meal prep and eating their proper time and space.
11. Be critical of the commercial advertisement of food products.
12. When you eat out, choose restaurants that serve freshly made dishes and meals. Avoid fast food chains.
The most refreshing thing about these guidelines is that they emphasize a “slow food” culture and eating meals prepared at home in good company. This is crucial, especially considering that the U.S. Department of Agriculture has done research that links eating outside the home to increased obesity.
Brazil’s new guidelines are also refreshingly clear and straightforward. Their priority is to make healthy eating as easy as possible for Brazilians, unlike the U.S. food guidelines, which are notoriously confusing. According to an article on Civil Eats, the U.S. guidelines are designed to protect the food industry, even if it costs Americans their health. Otherwise, they wouldn’t need to be so cryptic.
Take, for example, the U.S. recommendation to “replace protein foods that are higher in solid fats with choices that are lower in solid fats and calories and/or are sources of oil.” Huh? A dietitian would know that this means replacing animal protein with vegetable protein, but the U.S. government obviously doesn’t want to come out and say that bluntly.
The full document of the Brazilian food guidelines explains exactly which foods to eat more of and which to eat less of, i.e. more whole grains, root vegetables, vegetables, fruits, milk, eggs, fish, meat, and water, vs. fewer canned foods, jams and candied fruits, salted meats, sugary breads, dehydrated or frozen instant foods, energy drinks, and sweetened beverages. By contrast, the U.S. guidelines mostly contain references to precise nutrients: “Reduce daily sodium intake” and “consume less than 300 mg of dietary cholesterol per day.” Once again, this is unnecessarily confusing and complicated.
Marion Nestle, professor of nutrition at New York University, is pleased with Brazil’s new guidelines: “I think it’s terrific that [they] promote real food, cooking, and family meals, rather than worrying about the nutritional quality of processed foods or dealing with single nutrients.”
It will be interesting to see if the U.S. Dietary Guidelines Committee gets the hint and is courageous enough to follow in Brazil’s footsteps while redesigning the U.S. food guidelines for 2015.