In response to rising obesity rates in Brazil, likely due in part to the recent explosion of fast food chains such as McDonald’s in the country, authorities have proposed a new set of eating guidelines.
These new guidelines have been called “radical,” and are winning the praise of many a nutritionist as a huge step in the right direction.
Instead of emphasis on serving sizes, calories, nutrient groups and recommended daily values, the more familiar fare, the guidelines focus on the importance of eating real, homemade food, avoiding processed foods, and being wary of advertising sponsored by the food industry.
Some of the proposed guidelines, which are currently under review, include learning to prepare meals using fresh ingredients, limiting sugar, salt and pre-packaged products, eating at regular times (preferably with others), cultivating cooking skills, sharing food preparation responsibilities as a family, avoiding fast food chains and viewing food industry ads with a critical eye.
According to Jean-Claude Moubarac, a postdoctoral public health and nutrition scholar who was part of the University of Sao Paulo team that developed the guidelines, Brazil’s warning not to trust advertising by the food industry is the first in the world as far as government nutrition guidelines. He says, “it’s a huge thing that a ministry of health is saying, ‘be critical of commercial advertising.'”
These guidelines are a far cry from food guide pyramids in the US and Canada, which, according to Yoni Freedhoff, the director of the Bariatric Medical Institute in Ottawa, Ontario, allow food manufacturers to market unhealthy products as fitting into a ‘healthy diet,’ due to added nutrients or protein content.
Marion Nestle, a food policy expert at New York University, agrees: “All of this, of course, is about food politics. Food companies get very upset if a federal agency suggests eating less of their products.”
While dietary guidelines in the US have a long way to go to reach the health standards being considered in Brazil, many people in the US, and worldwide, are starting to recognize the benefit of home cooking, taking time to enjoy real food, eating together with loved ones and avoiding cheap and toxic fast food chains. The Slow Food Movement that has been gaining momentum in many nations is based on principles such as these.
On Brazil’s revolutionary guidelines, Dr. David Katz, director of the Prevention Research Center at Yale University, says, “this is clearly a standard worth emulating here in the US. There is very explicit acknowledgement that some foods should be avoided.”
He adds, “there is consideration of the social context of eating. And most importantly, there is an emphasis on foods and types of foods rather than nutrients… By prioritizing fresh foods, mostly plants, it’s impossible to go far wrong. The Brazilians apparently get this. Here’s hoping we might as well.”
We hope that the new guidelines meet with approval in Brazil, and that the rest of the world starts to emulate its excellent example.
-The Alternative Daily