Last year the Brazilian Ministry of Health did something pretty radical: they created a food guide that actually reflects healthful eating habits.
The new guide offers a holistic, comprehensive, and ethical approach to diet, and the result is an incredibly refreshing (and quite radical – more on that later) manual for living a healthy life. Rather than dividing foods into subgroups in the typical Western reductionist manner — carbs, protein, fruits and veggies — and recommending what, in the Canadian context at least, feels like a simultaneously restrictive and unattainable number of servings to consume each day, Brazil’s guide breaks down foods in a much more natural way. Their four food categories are:
- naturally or minimally processed foods;
- oils, fats, salt and sugar;
- processed foods (these include bread, cheeses, cured meats and pickles); and
- ultra-processed foods.
Foods from the first group are to be consumed the most, foods in the last group the least or not at all. By basing the categories on type of processing rather than specific ingredients, the new guide promotes autonomy in the kitchen and leaves space for the needs of the individual. Everyone will be healthier if they eat natural, minimally processed foods. Not everyone (or even most people) will feel good if they eat 2-3 servings of dairy a day, or 6-11 servings of breads and other carbohydrates.
Given the public’s increasing awareness of healthy eating practices, it may seem that avoiding processed foods is a pretty commonsensical suggestion, but considering that the Canadian Food Guide was developed under the direct influence of the food industry, Brazil’s stance becomes significantly more subversive.
Even more surprising, however, is their position on advertising. The guide blatantly warns people against heeding food advertisements, noting that the purpose of these ads is to increase sales, not improve public health — a bold move indeed, and one which seems unimaginable in the current corporatocracy that is the North American political climate.
What I love most about this new guide, however, is its emphasis on the culture and climate of eating. Eating is intimately tied to social activities, family, and tradition, and for good reason. We are more likely to take our time with eating and consume freshly prepared, home cooked meals when we eat in the company of others. Moreover, meals prepared in this fashion are inherently healthier, having done away with the industrial middleman whose job it is to make foods palatable, not healthful. This in turn contributes to sustainable modes of food production, which is better for the environment and for the people whose hard work leads to that food appearing on our tables. When we prepare meals at home, we keep our cultural practices alive and pass on those traditions to our children, teaching them valuable lessons about family, nutrition, and general wellness in a memorable and enjoyable way.
Truly, the Brazilian Food Guide represents a return to a more natural way of eating and being. It is a return to our roots. And it’s beautiful to see.
Since the guide is quite long, they have broken down the essential elements into ten easy-to-follow steps. I think we could all benefit from following these simple rules. Enjoy!
Brazil’s 10 Steps to a Healthy Diet
1. Make natural or minimally processed foods the basis of your diet.
Natural or minimally processed foods, in great variety, and mainly of plant origin, are the basis for diets that are nutritionally balanced, delicious, culturally appropriate, and supportive of socially and environmentally sustainable food systems. Variety means foods of all types — cereals, legumes, roots, tubers, vegetables, fruits, nuts, milk, eggs, meat — and diversity within each type — such as beans and lentils, rice and corn, potato and cassava, tomatoes and squash, orange and banana, chicken and fish.
2. Use oils, fats, salt, and sugar in small amounts when seasoning and cooking natural or minimally processed foods and to create culinary preparations.
As long as they are used in moderation in dishes and meals based on natural or minimally processed foods, oils, fats, salt, and sugar contribute to diverse and delicious diets without making them nutritionally unbalanced.
3. Limit consumption of processed foods.
The ingredients and methods used in the manufacture of processed foods — such as vegetables in brine, fruits in syrup, cheeses and breads — unfavourably alter the nutritional composition of the foods from which they are derived. In small amounts, processed foods can be used as ingredients in dishes and meals based on natural or minimally processed foods.
4. Avoid consumption of ultra-processed foods.
Because of their ingredients, ultra-processed foods such as salty fatty packaged snacks, soft drinks, sweetened breakfast cereals, and instant noodles, are nutritionally unbalanced. As a result of their formulation and presentation, they tend to be consumed in excess, and displace natural or minimally processed foods. Their means of production, distribution, marketing, and consumption damage culture, social life, and the environment.
5. Eat regularly and carefully in appropriate environments and, whenever possible, in company.
Make your daily meals at regular times. Avoid snacking between meals. Eat slowly and enjoy what you are eating, without engaging in another activity. Eat in clean, comfortable and quiet places, where there is no pressure to consume unlimited amounts of food. Whenever possible, eat in company, with family, friends, or colleagues: this increases the enjoyment of food and encourages eating regularly, attentively, and in appropriate environments. Share household activities that precede or succeed the consumption of meals.
6. Shop in places that offer a variety of natural or minimally-processed foods.
Shop in supermarkets and municipal and farmers markets, or buy directly from producers or other places, that sell varieties of natural or minimally processed foods. Prefer vegetables and fruits that are locally grown in season. Whenever possible, buy organic and agro- ecological based foods, preferably directly from the producers.
7. Develop, exercise and share cooking skills.
If you have cooking skills, develop them and share them, especially with boys and girls. If you do not have these skills — men as well as women —acquire them. Learn from and talk with people who know how to cook. Ask family, friends, and colleagues for recipes, read books, check the internet, and eventually take courses. Start cooking!
8. Plan your time to make food and eating important in your life.
Plan the food shopping, organise your domestic stores, and decide on meals in advance. Share with family members the responsibility for all activities related to meals. Make the preparation and eating of meals privileged times of conviviality and pleasure. Assess how you live so as to give proper time for food and eating.
9. Out of home, prefer places that serve freshly made meals.
Eat in places that serve fresh meals at good prices. Self-service restaurants and canteens that serve food buffet-style charged by weight are good choices. Avoid fast food chains.
10. Be wary of food advertising and marketing.
The purpose of advertising is to increase product sales, and not to inform or educate people. Be critical and teach children to be critical of all forms of food advertising and marketing.
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