Dave Shaw 's Opinion

NZ dietitian, performance nutritionist and health expert. Dave does his best to make sense of what we eat.

Dave Shaw: Brazil's winning health rules

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Brazilians should get excited about their new healthy eating guidelines.
Photo / Thinkstock
Brazilians should get excited about their new healthy eating guidelines. Photo / Thinkstock

The spotlight is on Brazil right now, host of the 2014 FIFA World Cup. But it's not just the exciting sport, colourful culture and beautiful beaches that have snared my attention while touring this South American country. There is talk of a new set of smart sounding food guidelines.

The proposed guidelines emphasise eating meals over nutrients, cooking from scratch using wholefoods and being critical of advertising from the food industry.

They are so simple, sensible and unambiguous that they may just work to turn the tide of the growing obesity epidemic. Now if only New Zealand would take note and do the same.

Unlike NZ's healthy food guidelines that recommend a set number of foods we should eat, or avoid, the Brazilian version focuses on 10 clear-cut rules. They also include three golden rules to follow: avoid ultra-processed foods, use sugar and salt in moderation, and make homemade meals the majority of your diet.

This is a refreshing approach free of industry bias, suggesting lifestyle is the main contributor to health. It also considers the cultural, economic and environmental implications of our food choices, and doesn't discriminate between social classes.

There is no information on calories or what food groups to eat from to ensure we meet our recommended daily intake (RDI) for specific nutrients - in contrast to the New Zealand food guidelines. This makes sense because our guidelines aren't as evidence based as they seem. RDI's are, in fact, only theoretical.

By stepping away from a nutrient-based approach to health, the food industry's exploitation of nutrition science is limited. For a long time, the focus on nutrients over whole food has fueled savvy marketers to promote food products based on single nutrients - like "99% fat free" or the "added value of vitamins and minerals". This has steered people towards choosing highly processed foods that are often also high in either sugar, salt and fat.

The final Brazillian recommendation, "be careful of the commercial advertisement of food products", is also particularly unusual for population guidelines. It suggests an awareness of the harmful effects of ads and hopes to fight the manipulation of nutrition policy statements.

The new guidelines make a move toward slow food. There's focus on the importance of taking time to prepare meals and eat in good company, opposing our current habits of meals being served in two minutes and eaten just as quickly.

This makes cooking one of the most important activities we can do for our health. It can be as simple as frying a steak to have with a fresh salad or making an omelette filled with your favourite vegetables. It levels the playing field between the high and low social classes, empowering everyone to eat better because, I hope, we can all cook at least one dish.

Dining together is also essential, not only for connecting with others, but for our health. When we eat on the run, we are less aware of our body's signals telling us we are full and satisfied, which often results leads to unnecessarily eat more. But when we sit down and take our time, focussing on our food, we tend to eat less.

These new Brazillian guidelines are a huge improvement, but they aren't perfect. What they do however, is promote new ways of eating well. Maybe one day New Zealand can have such simple, sensible and unambiguous food guidelines.

The ten Brazilian guidelines:

1. Prepare meals from staple and fresh foods.
2. Use oils, fats, sugar and salt in moderation.
3. Limit consumption of ready-to-consume food and drink products.
4. Eat regular meals, paying attention, and in appropriate environments.
5. Eat in company whenever possible.
6. Buy food at places that offer varieties of fresh foods. Avoid those that mainly sell products ready for consumption.
7. Develop, practice, share and enjoy your skills in food preparation and cooking.
8. Plan your time to give meals and eating proper time and space.
9. When you eat out, choose restaurants that serve freshly made dishes and meals. Avoid fast food chains.
10. Be critical of the commercial advertisement of food products.

- www.nzherald.co.nz

Dave Shaw

NZ dietitian, performance nutritionist and health expert. Dave does his best to make sense of what we eat.

Dave works in public health and alongside some of New Zealand’s top athletes. Whether it's for vitality, performance, identity or spirituality, Dave loves the way food brings people together. He believes that no one diet is the cure for our growing rates of chronic disease, but a diet based on wholefoods is the perfect start. Always keeping up-to-date with current evidence and food trends, Dave is a relentless researcher for how we should eat and likes to challenge what we may think about nutrition.

Read more by Dave Shaw

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