Brazil’s Dietary Guidelines: Not Dictated by Agriculture Lobbies

feijoada - typical Brazilian meal

photo: etravelblog

The US Dietary Guidelines are a set nutrition suggestions published every 5 years by the USDA. If you are wondering why the Department of Agriculture is responsible for nutrition advice, you’re not the only one. It’s a historical mistake that has led to lukewarm recommendations over the years, due in part to an inherent conflict of interest: on the one hand the USDA want to help farmers sell more food, yet on the other it needs to recommend a reduction in consumption…

On top of this internal issue, the USDA has to bow to intense pressure from agriculture lobbies, the strongest in Washington DC, which translate firm advice such as “eat less red meat” to “balance your protein choices”.

It’s interesting to see how other countries operate in this important public health sphere. Civil Eats recently showcased Brazil’s Dietary Guidelines. Needless to say, they are issued by the Ministry of Health (Ministério da Saúde), not the Ministry of Agriculture. The advice includes:

  • Develop, practice, share and enjoy your skills in food preparation and cooking.
  • Limit consumption of ready-to-consume food and drink products
  • Eat in company whenever possible
  • Plan your time to give meals and eating proper time and space
  • Be critical of the commercial advertisement of food products

Notice the difference in emphasis compared to the US? We’re busy arguing over 1500mg of sodium, and they’re talking about the importance of food in our life. Respect food, give it the time it deserves, and enjoy it in good company. Lots of things many of us have forgotten in our crazy fast paced American lifestyle.

The last recommendation is awesome too. Can you imagine the day when the USDA will be telling us to beware of a Coke commercial?

One can dream…

  • Ann

    You’ve been reading too much Marion Nestle & Michael Pollan. Get your facts straight. The U.S. Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA) are produced by BOTH the USDA and the Department of Health and Human Services (responsible for the National Cholesterol Education Program). Go back and read the materials related to the 1977 Dietary Goals (which started all of this) and you will see that the reason the “eat less red meat” directive got deep-sixed has as much to do with the lack of science behind such a recommendation as it does with any lobbying. (If the meat lobby is so all-powerful, how come the word “meat” doesn’t even show up on the new MyPlate? Both vegetarian and vegan diets are endorsed by the DGA, a weird stance for a policy guideline that many consider to be pro-meat.) The DGA actually do explicitly say to drink water instead of sugary drinks and to use egg replacements instead of eggs. Why not have guidelines that focus on food and community rather than food components? It would not be the food industry that would tank, folks. It would be the diet/nutrition/research industry. We would all still have to eat, but what would Walter Willett and David Katz do if we were no longer interested in the dire warnings they have for us about food?

  • Mike Luque

    Yeah, good luck getting #5 to ever show up in American guidelines. Considering how much power food production companies have in American food choices, the last thing you’re going to see is a recommendation to look away from advertising.
    I especially like #2 and #4.

  • SuperMom101

    Dear Ann,

    When experiencing breast cancer at the age of 38 I had no idea about America’s highly processed, genetically engineered, factory farmed, hormone and steroid injected, chemically laden, arsenic feed, artificially flavored, food supply, and I thought I was eating healthy! Thankfully, at the time, I discovered the Walter Willett’s and MIchael Pollan’s of the world. (Also that the breast cancer rate in rural China is 11:100,000 and in the U.S. it’s 1:8. Yep! They call it’s the “rich” women’s disease. (BTW, have the complete support of my oncologist.)

    So, I have a frank question for you. Don’t you find it strange that America (and her children) have never been fatter or sicker and we can’t seem to figure out why? Meanwhile, you’re telling us that everything is fine with America’s food supply?

    Twelve years ago, I changed what’s on my plate, in my shopping cart, in my kitchen cabinets, and on my dinner table and thankfully have been healthy ever since.

    Wishing you good health,

    • Dale

      Well said SuperMom.

  • Ann

    I’m not endorsing the wholesomeness of the U.S. food supply, but why make this about eating “less red meat”? One of the biggest difference between rural China and the U.S. food supply is how much soybean oil is consumed. Soybean oil (usually referred to as “vegetable oil” by nutrition researchers–like Walter Willett, who is one of Michael Pollan’s “go to” experts) is what we used to replace all that “dangerous” saturated fat and cholesterol from the meat, eggs, and butter that the 1977 Dietary Goals told us not to eat. The 1977 Dietary Goals said that in order to prevent obesity and chronic disease, we should replace meat, eggs, and butter with grains, cereals, and vegetable oils. A generation of scientists since then have worked to support this claim, including Walter Willett and Marion Nestle. Since then, rates of obesity, diabetes, stroke, heart failure, and combined all-cause cancers have gone up. You could say it is because Americans never tried to follow the recommendations, but during that time consumption of meat, eggs, and butter all went down, while grain & cereal products and vegetable oil consumption both went up. All I’m saying is that it isn’t just the food industry that has a vested interest in the Guidelines not being “food based.” Michael Pollan says “eat real food” but then condemns saturated fat and cholesterol–found in real food like meat, eggs, and butter. There’s some lack of consistency there.

    I got breast cancer after spending 20 years following a low-fat, low-cholesterol, low-calorie plant-based vegetarian diet that I cooked at home, just like the one Michael Pollan and Marion Nestle endorse, but it makes little sense to me to pin cancer on one factor in my life. There are many differences between rural China and the “rich woman” world of America–not just food. I’m not sure why you are so certain that it was your own diet–and not genetic or epigenetic factors, or environmental factors apart from diet, or something else we don’t know about yet–that caused your cancer. The truth is that we have no idea what causes most cancers. Over the course of a person’s life the exposures to “possible” causes are numerous and varied, and may interact in ways that are exceedingly complex, the outcome of which is impossible to predict.

    Notice that the Brazilian guidelines make no claims for relationships between diet and chronic disease. Carlos Montiero, who was a prime mover behind the new Brazilian guidelines that we are cheering here, identifies meat and milk as “whole or minimally processed foods” and bread as an “ultra-processed product.” Are we to assume he is in the pocket of the meat and dairy industry? See his discussion of meat vs. bread in terms of processing (p. 257). I think the Brazilian guidelines are terrific. But the reason we don’t have these in the U.S. has as much to do with the political economy of the nutrition industry as the political economy of the food industry.

    • SuperMom101

      There’s no dairy in the typical Chinese (and Japanese) diets. Zero! Feel free to visit my web page where I’ve linked to resources, studies, etc….etc…

      So, my question still remains, don’t you find it strange that America (and her children) have never been fatter or sicker? As you say, “the rates of obesity, diabetes, stroke, heart failure, and combined all-cause cancers have gone up.”

      • Aria Gonzalez

        I would say that has a LOT to do with processed food. Dairy, not so much.

    • Aria Gonzalez

      Ann, you seem to be focusing on the author’s throw-away comment about red meat and ignoring the actual content of the post. Everything the Brazil government is recommending is pretty much awesome. They don’t mention meat at all, they mention eating real food and preparing it yourself. These are great recommendations.

  • H2O

    Keeping America fat an sick is big business..

    • Tzipi

      I believe food has become political as well as economic. In the 70′s when gubmint started the egg & butter HYSTERIA, I refused to change, to stop eating them & taught my children, that just as with the pharmaceutical industryquietly coming clean about the addictiveness of their psychotropic drugs, as well as the harmful side effects of same, to watch & wait because gubmint would do likewise. Did you hear about the NYT article stating there is NO EVIDENCE that saturated fats cause heart disease or strokes? I’ve also educated my now grown children the whatever gubmint tells us, the truth will be the opposite. Further, studies show the nutrients found in butter & eggs are essential. Packaged, processed, fast foods are harmful because ppl tend not to eat nutritional foods along with the fast, easy foods & they’re loaded with chemicals & hormones. My body is my food expert, not a doctor, not nutritionists & not the Gov’t. Nutrition has become a small god & a fad. I don’t do either.