Brazil Says Olá to an Impressive Set of Food Guidelines


A recent blog post by Marion Nestle called our attention a new set of food and nutrition guidelines established for Brazil by the Ministry of Health of Brazil along with help from the University of Sao Paulo and the Pan American Health Organization. Like Nestle, we are extremely impressed and excited by these guidelines, and would LOVE to see our country move in this direction.

With trends in obesity and chronic disease to rival our own, Brazil is not necessarily ideal in terms of health and disease. A recent study estimated that nearly 57% of males and 42% of females are overweight or obese, projected to rise significantly in the next 35 years (don’t worry, we in the US still have them beat, but just barely). So, it makes sense that the Brazilian government would use this World Health Organization revision process to ask their citizens to make some drastic changes. In a move that we might rarely see from the U.S. government, these new guidelines may actually be pushing for a radical shift in the country’s food system.

In its first section the report lays out the five principles that are driving the guidelines:

  • Diet is more than intake of nutrients - addressing the importance that food preparation and consumption have on our health and well being.

  • Dietary recommendations need to be tuned to their times - addressing the seasonality of food.

  • Healthy diets derive from socially and environmentally sustainable food systems - addressing the impact that food has on the economy, the environment and social justice.

  • Different sources of knowledge inform sound dietary advice - addressing the plurality and validity of different healthful ways of eating.

  • Dietary guidelines broaden autonomy in food choices - addressing the positive impact that sound nutrition information has on advancing society.

The second section makes four central recommendations on eating to prevent disease and promote health:

  • Make natural or minimally processed foods the basis of your diet

  • Use oils, fats, salt, and sugar in small amounts for seasoning and cooking foods and to create culinary preparations

  • Limit the use of processed foods, consuming them in small amounts as ingredients in culinary preparations or as part of meals based on natural or minimally processed foods

  • Avoid ultra-processed products

The theme here is pretty obvious: the Brazilian government is not afraid to point a finger at processed (and “ultra-processed”) foods as a main contributor to disease and poor health. While this is something that we all know, when a whole government comes out and says it outright, it has an impact. (A quick search for some USDA guidelines on eating processed foods, by the way yields some wishy-washy advice about making “half of your grains whole” and “cutting back on your kid’s sweet treats.”)

Perhaps one of the most progressive parts of the report, and the part that got Nestle so excited about these guidelines back in February, is the fourth Chapter entitled “Modes of Eating” in which they address the context in which we eat. From the press release:

Emphasis is also given to how food is eaten. Healthy ways of eating are regular, mindful, in pleasant surroundings and always when possible, enjoyed in company. Benefits include better digestion, improved control of how much and what is consumed, more opportunities for convivial living with family, friends and colleagues, better social interaction, and in general, greater pleasure in food and in life.”

It is easy to to consider food and nutrition as just an aggregation of nutrients that affect our bodies, but as these guidelines so clearly depict, food and its consumption enter into nearly every aspect of our existence. Healing ourselves and our planet is contingent on individuals and governments alike better understanding these connections. We’re thrilled to see such a holistic approach to a country’s take on food. We are pushing for our country to move in this direction.


Read all articles by Damon Cory-Watson

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