Although the Brazilian Dietary Guidelines were released in 2014, I was interested to read them and see how they stack up to our Dietary Guidelines. Some points use descriptions of food which can be a little confusing, but on the whole, a lot of great points are made. I was most impressed with the wholistic approach to food and the inclusion of advertising and marketing which our Dietary Guidelines aren’t brazen to mention.
The word natural is used in the first guideline and is probably intended to describe a food in its original state. However, the word ‘natural’ also appears on packaging of many processed foods, to make consumers believe they are buying a healthy product. Perhaps the word ‘wholefoods’ or ‘fresh produce’ would better reflect the intended message in this guideline?
- ‘Minimally processed’, ‘processed’, ‘ultra-processed’ foods
The guidelines focus on ‘minimally processed’, ‘processed’ and ‘ultra-processed’ foods, however, these terms may be confusing to some, as there are lots of interpretations of what is ‘processed’. Some, for example, hold the view that processed foods are foods with additives.
Some examples of minimally processed / processed / ultra processed foods are given, however, it may be more helpful to give examples along a spectrum of the food from which they are derived (or seek to mimic). For example:
Unprocessed … minimally processed … processed … highly processed
Wheat … regular pasta … ravioli … 2 minute noodles
Fresh fruit & vegetables … canned fruit … fruit juice … fruit flavoured drinks
Dried legumes … canned legumes … soymilk … soy crisps
Fresh/frozen fish … canned tuna … frozen fish patties … prawn crackers
Unhomogenised milk … pasteurised milk … fruit flavoured yoghurts … chocolate flavoured yoghurt
The language used is straightforward, uncomplicated, with no scientific jargon and no mention of nutrients. These guidelines are much more practical and user friendly than guidelines focusing on particular nutrients.
The first guideline spells out variety of food groups and variety within each food group. Unfortunately, the current trend is to focus on ‘superfoods’ which has the effect of narrowing our choices of not only between food groups but also within food groups. For example, with the kale craze, many are eating kale (which is great), but may neglect other, also beneficial, vegetables.
- plant origin
Foods of plant origin are emphasized. Like variety, this is a pivotal recommendation.
- processed foods
The first four guidelines focus on what to eat, beginning with what to eat most (minimally processed foods), to what to limit (processed foods), to what to avoid (ultra-processed). The order is obviously important, so people prioritize healthier choices. The wider problems associated with ultra-processed foods (effect on culture, social life, environment) takes into account the true enormity of ultra processed foods on society and our planet, beyond nutrition.
- how to eat
In the past, our healthy eating guidelines have emphasised particular nutrients (salt, sugar, calcium, iron). If we eat a variety of foods, predominantly homemade meals from minimally processed ingredients, this in itself would go a long way to meeting our nutritional needs. Oils, fats, salt and sugar are mentioned without demonising them and in an inclusive way to preparing homemade, minimally processed foods.
- seed to sitting
The guidelines also emphasise that nutrition is more than the food we eat. They focus on appreciating and respecting each step involved in the process of eating well – from sourcing produce (from farmers, foraging, growing your own, shopping), meal planning, meal preparation as well as sitting and enjoying meals mindfully, in a relaxed atmosphere. It is refreshing to see a guideline that encompasses respect and enjoyment of food as well as nutrition.
- food advertising and marketing
The final guideline relates to the advertising and marketing of food.
Now this one, wins the brazen award! I feel the Australian dietary guidelines could also benefit from the addition of a guideline that focuses on advertising and marketing. As consumers, we need to become critical thinkers when we see/hear ads for foods so we make appropriate decisions.
As consumers we need to become more savvy about the effect that advertising and marketing has on our shopping choices and compromise the way we eat. Fast food commercials are known for exaggerating the difficulty and inconvenience of parents preparing home cooked meals. Depicting ‘good’ parents as those which reward their kids with fast food after a sporting event is a subtle but harmful message relating discretionary foods and activity.
We need to start questioning the language, packaging, claims, target audience, and more importantly the emotive messages portrayed in the ads for foods.
Brazil’s Dietary Guidelines takes the focus off food groups, calories and nutrients and instead focuses on minimally processed foods, home cooked meals and warns consumers to be wary of advertising and marketing claims.