What Does Brazil Know About Healthy Eating That the U.S. Doesn’t?

Think about the U.S. dietary guidelines for a second. What comes to mind? A pyramid? Grains on the bottom, fats on top? While the pyramid no longer exists – it’s a plate now – those government supported guidelines are forever etched into our brains.

But there are a lot of critics of the U.S. dietary guidelines and whether or not they actually lead to healthy eating. As an article on the Harvard School of Public Health website states, “Distilling nutrition advice into a pyramid has its merits: The shape immediately suggests that some foods are good and should be eaten often, and that others aren’t so good and should be eaten only occasionally. The layers represent major food groups that contribute to the total diet. MyPyramid tried to do this in an abstract way, without any text or food images on it, and failed.”

What if a set of national dietary guidelines took the focus off of specific nutrients and focused on a holistic approach to eating instead? One that focuses on real foods over processed and emphasizes the social importance of shared meals? That’s exactly what Brazil has done with its new guidelines.

As reported by Dr. Marion Nestle on Food Politics, here is the rundown on the 10 new rules for Brazilian eating:

  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, paying attention, and in appropriate environments.
  5. Eat in company whenever possible.
  6. Buy food at places that offer varieties of fresh foods. Avoid those that mainly sell products ready for consumption.
  7. Develop, practice, share and enjoy your skills in food preparation and cooking.
  8. Plan your time to give meals and eating proper time and space.
  9. When you eat out, choose restaurants that serve freshly made dishes and meals. Avoid fast food chains.
  10. Be critical of the commercial advertisement of food products.

Eat meals with other people? Cook at home? Avoid ads? A little different than the U.S. guidelines aren’t they?

What’s impressive about the new Brazilian guidelines is that they are essentially advocating for slow food. These are anti-industry guidelines that are getting back to food as food should be.

“Buy food at places that offer varieties of fresh foods. Avoid those that mainly sell products ready for consumption,” is a call to action, encouraging people to buy whole foods and avoid processed ones, something that many health advocates have been behind for quite some time. Even the World Health Organization wants people to eat less processed food in order to deal with the escalating problem of global obesity.

The government of Brazil has good reason to be thinking about what citizens are eating. Almost half of the population is now overweight or obese. But instead of promoting certain food products over others, or worse – certain nutrients – Brazil has taken the simple approach, one that will make sense to anyone.

As Civil Eats reported, “critics have also pointed out that the U.S. guidelines implicitly protect the food industry by leaving out a recommendation to eat less of specific food products. They also complicate individual decision-making. For example the guidelines state, “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.” For those well-versed in nutrition, this statement might mean, “replace red meat with plant proteins.” But for many others, it’s hard to know for sure what you’re being encouraged to do (or not do).”

If we are going to encourage healthy eating then we have to empower people to do so, and the first step is to make it easy an approachable.

Will we see U.S. guidelines for healthy eating changing anytime soon? New ones will come out in 2015, and the government is currently accepting comments from the public.

Resource: http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/pyramid-full-story/

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Image: Thomas Seiki Ueda