There was a lot of claps and cheers of excitement in the audience when the Brazilian Ministry of Health’s new food guide was presented. There were tickets stuck under each seat and those with the lucky tickets were thrilled to be given this guide for themselves. I was the recipient of one of the tickets and collected the book but unfortunately for me it was printed only in Portuguese. I made a present of it to a wonderful young lady who was kind enough to act as translator for us at the informal ILCA ‘getting to know our IBCLC colleagues’ meeting on one of the lunchtimes over the course of the conference. She was thrilled to get her hands on it!
Very similar to all healthy eating campaigns this one also drives the message and education to help families prevent childhood obesity by producing healthy, home cooked, non processed foods. Dissimilar to a lot of other healthy eating campaigns however is the lack of food pyramids or divided plates etc. The thinking here was that simple rules are easier to understand than gram measurements of protein and fat on graphs or tables.
Similar to many other middle-income countries, during the past few decades Brazil has whiplashed from an epidemic of malnutrition to one of obesity. The majority of Brazilians are overweight and around one in seven are obese.
Brazil has only had universal healthcare since the late 80s. This has enabled them to build a system that has learned from their observations of many of the mistakes other industrialized nations have made. Brazil has currently some of the most up to date state of the art electronic medical record coverage in the world. They have family health teams in many of the most remote areas of the country, and they reached their UN millennium development goals early, which has seen a dramatic reduction in infant mortality in the country by adopting a series of programs that helped mothers and their babies become healthier. This has led to a rise in continuance of using these healthy eating habits. 54.4% of mothers currently fully breastfeed their babies in Brazil. They are hoping this guide will encourage a rise in these rates.
The guide itself is a lovely colourful book of 143 pages and contains lots of colourful pictures as well as solid practical advice on how to make significant changes. It is described by the Brazilian health ministry as the most intelligent food guide in the world. In it there are suggestions for using natural or minimally processed whole foods and making these the basis of the family diet. It encourages the use of these foods in large variety and using foods that are mainly of plant origin. They state this is “the basis for diets that are nutritious, delicious, appropriate, and supportive of socially and environmentally sustainable food systems.”
It goes on to guide families to use oils, fats, salt, and sugars in small amounts for seasoning and during cooking. They tell us as long as these ingredients are used in moderation and on natural or minimally processed foods, oils, fats, salt, and sugar can contribute toward diverse and delicious diets without rendering them nutritionally unbalanced.
We are told that because of the unhealthy ingredients in ultra-processed foods like packaged snacks, soft drinks, instant noodles etc they are nutritionally very unbalanced. People have a tendency to consume these foods in excess and in favour of minimally processed foods because of time constraints and out of convenience. Along with processed foods being extremely bad for our health, how they are produced, distributed, marketed, and consumed adds to the damage of our culture, social life, and to the environment. Heavily processed foods are in the main ready to consume without any preparation. This has contributed to meal preparation becoming less frequent in family kitchens and families sitting having meals at the table fast becoming rarer and in some homes a thing of the past. Ultraprocessed foods can generally be consumed anytime and anywhere. Enjoying food as a social experience with family is happening less and less. We are social beings who benefit from the relationships and knowledge we build over family meal times. Eating together is ingrained in human history, as is the sharing and division of responsibility for finding, preparing, and cooking food. Eating together, with everything that is involved with eating, is part of the evolution and adaptation of humanity and the development of culture and civilisation. Eating together is a natural, simple, yet profound way to create and develop relationships between people. Eating is a natural part of social life. The excess packaging that comes with processed foods is also adding to the strain on our already struggling environment.
We are told in this guide that clean, quiet and comfortable places to eat encourage attention to the act of eating mindfully and slowly, which enables meals to be fully appreciated, and helps decrease overeating. We are also told we need to eat more vegetables, fruits, and whole food, and fewer added sugars and processed foods. Studies show that people typically consume about 20-40% more in restaurants than they would typically eat at home. We are more in control of what we eat when we prepare and portion control it ourselves. The guide goes on to tell us to limit our children’s screen time and time spent on video games and to encourage an increase in physical activity for both our children and ourselves.
The biggest message I heard during this presentation was PEEL MORE AND UNPACK LESS.
Added to this is to eat as much as possible in its natural form and to eat foods that are in season. They are educating parents to know processed foods cause cancer, diabetes etc. and that good food habits are formed in the first years of our lives. They have a started project called ‘growing up healthy’ which assesses a child’s nutritional state.
Included in the 12 steps they discussed they are actively promoting….
-Increased physical activity, encouraging children to play and move more, more skipping and jumping!
-Encourage less screen time on games and TV
-Eat food according to the level of processing
-Giving no sugar before a child is 2
-No highly processed foods at all.
-Encouraging the rethinking of food prep and eating habits
-exclusively breastfeed until 6 months and continue once solids have been introduced at 6 months to breastfeed until 2 years
-Avoid sweetened foods
-Avoid salted foods
-Prioritise water over sugary drinks
The Guide has a chapter on how to cook and it encourages sharing the art of cooking through the generations.
There is also a Chapter on rights to food in the Brazilian constitution which can be read here http://www.camara.gov.br/sileg/integras/130607.pdf
The main message of this guide is….
PEEL MORE! UNPACK LESS!
Fiona Rea February 2020.
Fiona received a bursary of €200 from ALCI to attend the IBFAN World Breastfeeding Conference.