12 Jan 2015

Brazil's diet guidelines & impact

On 5th October 2014, the Government of Brazil published the new Dietary Guidelines for the Brazilian Population replacing the previous Guidelines issued in 2006. The formulation of these guidelines included multiple meetings involving researchers, health professionals, educators, and representatives of civil society organisations from all regions of Brazil. Earlier the draft Guidelines were subjected to public consultation, which resulted in thousands of responses, including from universities, public bodies, professional representative organisations, the private sector, and from health professionals and individual citizens.

The recommendations issued in the Guidelines are based on evidence from different sources, including experimental, clinical and population studies, and also on natural experiments implied in the selection and adaptation of dietary patterns evolved over many generations.

The purpose of these guidelines is to protect and improve the health and well-being of people, families, communities and society as a whole, now and in future. Attention to the prevention of increasingly important public health problems in Brazil such as obesity, diabetes, and other chronic diet-related diseases is one of the considerations.

The Guidelines clearly distinguish between natural & minimally processed foods and food products, between products used to season & cook foods and prepare fresh meals and ready-to consume products, and also between processed and ultra-processed ready-to-consume products. The principles adopted in shaping these Guidelines are, that diet is more than intake of nutrients; diets derive from socially and environmentally sustainable systems and recommendations need to be in tune with their time; diet has complex relationship with population and reliable information must broaden autonomy in food choices.

The Guidelines explain the following four central recommendations:

1. Make natural or minimally processed foods the basis of your diet- Natural or minimally processed foods, in great variety, mainly of plant origin, are the basis for diets that are nutritious, delicious, appropriate, and supportive of socially and environmentally sustainable food systems.

2. Use oils, fats, salt, and sugar in small amounts for seasoning and cooking foods and to create culinary preparations- As long as they are used in moderation in culinary preparations based on natural or minimally processed foods, oils, fats, salt, and sugar contribute toward diverse and delicious diets without rendering them nutritionally unbalanced.

3. Limit the use of processed foods, consuming them in small amounts as ingredients in culinary preparations or as part of meals based on natural or minimally processed foods- The ingredients and techniques used in the manufacture of processed foods – such as vegetables in brine, fruits in syrup, cheeses and breads - unfavourably alter the nutritional composition of the foods from which they are derived.

4. Avoid ultra-processed products- Because of their ingredients, ultra-processed products - such as packaged snacks, soft drinks, and instant noodles – are nutritionally unbalanced. As a result of their formulation and presentation, they tend to be consumed in excess, and displace natural or minimally processed foods. Their means of production, distribution, marketing, and consumption damage culture, social life, and the environment.

One Golden Rule is stated in the Guidelines, to remember and follow:

Always prefer natural or minimally processed foods and freshly made dishes and meals to ultra-processed products. In other words, do not replace freshly prepared dishes (broth, soups, salads, sauces, rice and beans, pasta, steamed vegetables, pies) with products that do not require culinary preparation (packaged soups, instant noodles, pre-prepared frozen dishes, sandwiches, cold cuts and sausages, industrialised sauces, ready-mixes for pies), and stick to homemade desserts, avoiding industrialised ones.

The final chapter of the Guidelines identifies obstacles that may impede following their recommendations. These include the supply and cost of natural foods or minimally processed foods, lack of knowledge of cooking and other culinary skills, the time required to prepare and enjoy fresh meals, and the incessant marketing of ultra-processed food products.

Citizens are also asked to be critical of all forms of advertising and marketing of food products.
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Food - Fresh Whole Produce
Though these guidelines have been recently released by Brazil, the immediate effect of the stated recommendations is visible in various comments and observations posted on the web, by reviewers worldwide. Receiving a thumbs up from critics, the simplicity and sound logic is lauded by many.

The recommendations in these guidelines are not new to India, where traditional food items and snacks like tikkis and samosas generally score better than instant convenience products, even when of similar salt or sugar content. Family elders in India frequently profess the importance for whole fresh food and a culture for consuming freshly prepared foods has largely persisted. A reading of the Indian version, namely, Dietary Guidelines for Indians (DGI) developed in 2011, also articulates similar advice to prefer fresh foods.
The indication is, that there is clearly a growing global understanding that consumption and supply of fresh whole food items is core to healthy living.

The uninterrupted farm-to-fork cold-chain is the only known mode that can deliver a supply of natural food while reserving freshness; specially in our modern world where farms are increasingly remote from high density population centres. The majority of fresh farm harvest requires temperature controlled delivery systems to ensure market reach, both in quantity and quality. The most critical aspect for perishable whole (fresh) food is effective market linkage (a directed flow of produce to consumption centres). Food processing will still continue to play a key role, but by stepping in where the cold-chain fails to fulfill fresh sales.
Globally, the fresh food trade is a back bone of the cold-chain and these fresh food consumption can apply only with meaningful use of uninterrupted farm to fork logistics.

Our smart cities will need to develop food distribution systems to match such future needs, having a fresh food supply chain system with associated cold-logistics. The application of cold-chains not only fetches fresh food to consumers, ensuring constant demand for farm produce but in doing so also assures continued and sustainable livelihood for the farmers. 

-by Pawanexh Kohli (2014), NCCD Newsletter, Edn 10

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