Thursday, July 28, 2016

Food policy in Brazil emphasizes enjoyment of meals and criticizes overprocessed foods

The Food and Environment Reporting Network (FERN) and the Nation have an in-depth article by Bridget Huber this week on national food policy in Brazil, led by Carlos Monteiro and colleagues. Dietary guidelines in Brazil bluntly criticize highly processed foods while simultaneously communicating a healthy enjoyment of food more generally.
Monteiro came to believe that nutritionists’ traditional focus on food groups and nutrients like fat, sugar, and protein had become obsolete. The more meaningful distinction, he started to argue, is in how the food is made. Monteiro is most concerned with the “ultraprocessed products”—those that are manufactured largely from industrial ingredients like palm oil, corn syrup, and artificial flavorings and typically replace foods that are eaten fresh or cooked. Even by traditional nutritionists’ criteria, these sorts of products are considered unhealthy—they tend to be high in fat, sugar, and salt. But Monteiro argues that ultraprocessed foods have other things in common: They encourage overeating, both because they are engineered by food scientists to induce cravings and because manufacturers spend lavishly on marketing.
This blog has previously discussed the way Brazilian dietary guidelines combine nutrition and sustainability issues, in a manner that is not done in the United States. I helped colleagues at George Washington University organize a conference on sustainability issues in dietary guidance in 2014, at which Monteiro was a speaker, and the Brazilian experience has influenced my sense of what might be possible in the United States.

Regarding enjoyment of healthy meals, Huber writes:
Pleasure is an essential part of the new guide, which frames cooking as a time to enjoy with family and friends, not a burden. And instead of sterile prescriptions for the number of grams of fat and fiber to eat each day, the guide focuses on meals. Sample meals were created by looking at the food habits of Brazilians who eat the lowest amount of ultraprocessed foods. One dinner option is a vegetable soup followed by a bowl of acai pulp with cassava flour, as one might eat in the Amazon region. Another plate, more typical of São Paulo, is spaghetti, chicken, and salad. If these seem like ordinary meals, that would be the point, one of the researchers said: They wanted to counteract the idea that a “healthy” diet is one full of unfamiliar and even unpleasant foods.


Anonymous said...

As the world has watched our sponsored stereotype of Brazil wobble itself toward hosting the Olympic Games we all have become more familiar with the real Brazil. It has been eye opening. There exists, of course, the upper class of Brazilian...the one so widely depicted, the one possessing the luxury of wealth, status, land, rich homes with fine kitchens, maids and cooks. But we now see those fine Brazilians are in the minority. The majority of Brazilians are impoverished and systematically disadvantaged in every way, heavily policed out of necessity. More than a quarter of them are unemployed, the rest employed (or more correctly exploited) in menial jobs with no legitimate hope they or their children can ever do any better. Their raw sewage pollutes the bay where Olympic Games are to be played out.

When Brazil undertakes to officially fawn about the exquisite joy of eating, about the rich quality time won at luxurious leisurely family meals, about the convenience of making nutrition about simply worshiping the foods themselves and rejecting the stodgy science, well, when we hear Brazil going on like that we know it is all just so much staged narcissism.

In fact, the deception in this Brazilian nutrition fiction about how they will eat and how they will be healthy is beyond the pale. Just skip the nutrition science, instead make it about this wonderful food or that fine food or another magical food. Of course, the Brazilians can indulge themselves in such elitist fantasy because they really have nothing to lose by further disenfranchising the impoverished majority of their people. Common Brazilians have nothing and mean nothing to the elite oligarchs and autocrats, whose currency, the Real, is worth practically nothing and who, after coming so close to becoming a significant world economy now mean practically nothing on the global stage. Just another embellished southern hemisphere banana republic making a hard landing from a pricked economic bubble of their own making.

Who cares about Brazilians? Well, our own elitist foodies certainly find a lot to admire in Brazil's authoritarian circle-jerk of a society. Ah, the bravery and wisdom of simply kicking nutrition science to the curb in favor of pop-science super foods and fad diets! Ooohh, the supreme self-confidence so boldly displayed in ignoring the poor and food insecure in Brazilian society! Oh my, the orgasmic thrill of seeing an autocratic society bringing such effete goodness to bear with such regulatory aplomb, food policing as it should be! Good God, why can't America do the same thing, why do we insist upon science-based nutrition guidelines?

Green with envy, Parke, you and your elitist foodie faux-scientists should stop referring to yourselves as "nutritionists" in any sense because, really, you are not practicing relevant nutrition science, at all. No, you over-privileged fools are merely dumbing down nutrition science into some bizarre foodie infomercial. Just forget about the clunky science of nutrients and bring out onto the sustainability catwalk those strutting celebrity foods of the year, their stunning fashions hyped by the silky dreamy narration of poseur social scientists lurking in nutritionist's clothing. All just so much dissipative fluff. Your cult is unabashedly elitist, and that makes you tone deaf in a time when income inequality is so intensely felt.

usfoodpolicy said...

Thanks for your comment, Anonymous.

On Brazilian society, I can only imagine your disapproval recently when the democratically elected President Dilma Roussef was removed from power (I suppose it is fair to say, using your disparaging term, removed from power by the "oligarchs"). I trust you would have preferred she remain as President.

I appreciate your admiration for science based Dietary Guidelines. In the U.S., we have a process of systematic literature reviews in the Nutrition Evidence Library (with published protocol, so that anybody can check the work), followed by a report from the external Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (DGAC), and finally the actual guidelines written by USDA and DHHS staff. I trust you give most authority to the DGAC report.

Unknown said...

According to, 3/4 of the population have an eating pattern that is low in vegetables, fruits, and dairy; Americans are also exceeding in the amount of added sugars, saturated fats, and sodium consumed. With an obesity epidemic affecting our country I believe that we should be focusing more on educating the public rather than making policies geared to nutrition and health professionals.
Brazil's dietary guidelines are marketed to the people in that they have based their guidelines on what Brazilians actually eat. This more personal approach would be ideal, however in the United States we have a large variety of cultures therefore making it difficult to provide sample meals to the U.S. population.