Brazil’s new approach to dietary guidelines

Brazil, like most developing nations, is facing the blight of obesity thanks to changing eating habits and a rush to convenience foods. The country has published new dietary guidelines aimed at countering these trends, but they are based on foods, food patterns, and meals, not nutrients – an approach that is being hailed as ‘revolutionary’ by some industry commentators/critics including author Michael Pollan, food-industry watchdog Prof Marion Nestle and Canadian bariatric expert Yoni Freedhoff.

Unlike food guides in Canada and the United States, it does not include arranging food groups in pie or pyramid shapes, adding up recommended servings listed in grams, or colour-coding nutrient groups that correspond to sectors of the agricultural industry – dairy, meat and grain.

Instead, Brazil’s proposed guide emphasises meals, not nutrients. It urges people to be critical of food-industry advertising, and introduces healthy eating as a lifestyle choice that involves learning how to cook from scratch and taking the time to sit down and eat with others.

The concept is so simple, experts say, that it just might work.

As explained in the press release, the guidelines include ten steps to healthy diets:

  1. Make natural or minimally processed foods the basis of your diet.

  2. Use oils, fats, salt, and sugar in small amounts when seasoning and cooking natural or minimally processed foods and to create culinary preparations.

  3. Limit consumption of processed foods.

  4. Avoid consumption of ultra-processed products.

  5. Eat regularly and carefully in appropriate environments and, whenever possible, in company.

  6. Shop in places that offer a variety of natural or minimally processed foods.

  7. Develop, exercise and share culinary skills.

  8. Plan your time to make food and eating important in your life.

  9. Out of home, prefer places that serve freshly made meals.

  10. Be wary of food advertising and marketing.

Traditionally, families based their diets on natural and minimally processed foods.  The guidelines are based on the actual, traditional dietary patterns of a substantial proportion of the Brazilian population of all ages and classes throughout the country.

Carlos Monteiro, the Brazilian nutrition professor listed as the technical formulator of the guidelines, was recently in Washington DC to speak at a conference on the 2015 Dietary Guidelines. You can read his speech is here.

Additional reading:

Brazil takes an unambiguous new approach to fighting fat