You may not even know that many countries have dietary guidelines. For some countries it is just a case of being able to feed their people. For the well-off democracies the guidelines are needed to combat over-eating and fashion food policy and education.
Earlier this year Brazil released their new dietary guidelines for public comment. When this happens, in English speaking countries, there is some outcry and lobbying for modifications, but the guidelines don’t change a great deal before they become official. Anyway, that to one side, lets take a look at the proposed guidelines.
Brazil’s proposed dietary 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.
Do you sense a soul, a sassiness, in these guidelines? To me, it sounds like a call to the days of past, when you ate more with family and friends, when you took pride in cooking a dish for others, when you took time out to eat, not to stuff something down in between meetings.
“Avoid fast food chains”? That wouldn’t get up in a country that relies on them for a few meals each week. “Be critical of food adverts”. Sure. Make that all ads. And best-selling diet books, weight loss programs and self-styled nutrition experts. You might have another view. Here is one US viewpoint.
Australian dietary guidelines
Compare them to the Australian Dietary Guidelines that came out last year.
1. To achieve and maintain a healthy weight, be physically active and choose amounts of nutritious foo and drinks to meet your energy needs.
2. Enjoy a wide variety of nutritious foods from the five groups every day: vegetables; fruit; grains; lean meats and poultry, fish, eggs, tofu, nuts, seeds, legumes; milk, yoghurt, cheese and/or alternatives.
3. Limit intake of foods containing saturated fat, added salt, added sugars and alcohol.
4. Encourage, support and promote breastfeeding.
5. Care for your food; prepare and store it safely.
There is a little more wording than I have given in the Australian guidelines, but the above captures the essence. They are pretty dry and emotionless don’t you think? Is that our national feeling about food? I doubt it, but taking the emotion away allows the focus on the food and nutrients, not the pleasure, the theatre, the cultural significance of food.
Breast milk is a critical food
Note guideline 4 above. I think Australia was the first country to mention breast feeding in their dietary guidelines over 20 years ago. Now Nigeria, Bangla Desh and India also recommend breast feeding for the first 6 months in their guidelines, but not China, Argentina, NZ, Canada or the US (as far as I can determine).
What does it all mean?
You will hear a lot about Brazil throughout the next three weeks. It will be all about the football world cup. In the meantime, add a bit of soul and sassiness to your personal dietary guidelines. Mine include:
A. Cook most meals from (almost) scratch using simple recipes (because I have a simple mind)
B. Leave loose change in the jar when you visit a café after a long bike ride because the coffee always tastes better that way
C. Always thank the cook (especially if it wasn’t you)
I’m sure you have you own dietary guidelines that should be considered by any government. Our big problem is that too many people have one dietary guideline: eat whatever is convenient, tastes nice without any discernable flavour beyond salty or greasy or sweet, and doesn’t require any washing up.