Do we need an ‘Eatwell’ Guide at all?
Maybe some simple and easy advice would benefit us all much better.
We have recently been writing about the UK’s ‘Eatwell’ Guide in all its misguided glory. In our previous blog we mentioned the Brazilian guidelines that were published in 2014, created to tackle their ever increasing obesity problems.
According to Kantar Health’s National Health and Wellness Survey (NHWS), 34% of Brazilian adults (18+ years) are overweight, and another 18% are obese. (It is interesting to note that their statistics are lower than the UK).
We have included the long version of their new guidelines in this post to show what sensible advice they offer in stark contrast to the UK.
It is noted on these guidelines that the intended audience for the longer version is aimed at professionals working on health promotion and disease and that a more succinct, easy to follow version can be given straight to the public. Good idea right?
For the public they have one main ‘Golden Rule’:
1. Make natural or minimally processed foods the basis of your diet
- Natural or minimally processed foods, in great variety, and mainly of plant origin, are the basis for diets that are nutritionally balanced, delicious, culturally appropriate, and supportive of socially and environmentally sustainable food systems.
- Variety means foods of all types – cereals, legumes, roots, tubers, vegetables, fruits, nuts, milk, eggs, meat – and diversity within each type – such as beans and lentils, rice and corn, potato and cassava, tomatoes and squash, orange and banana, chicken and fish.
Here are what some meals might look like according to the Brazilian guidelines:
Their first piece of advice is make natural foods the basis of your diet. The word natural is not even used in the UK’s Eatwell guide. Why is that? Maybe it’s because there is nothing natural about it.
In the introduction to ‘The Ten Steps to Healthy Diets’ it states that the guidelines apply to all Brazilians however they have not used a specific food guide image or ‘plate’. This is because it is unnecessary to have one. When your advice to the public is, “eat and make natural foods the basis of your diet”, there is no need to present a rather confusing image which is divided into 37% starchy foods, 39% fruit and vegetables, 12% beans, pulses etc.
You can eat natural foods in abundance without restriction because they are actually “nutritionally balanced” and good for the body. Why does the UK Guideline say we must eat vegetables and fruit in amounts of ‘5 a day?’ As if 5 is some magic number and eating more is unattainable or unnecessary.
The NHS Change 4 Life campaign “5 A Day” imagery is another issue – suggesting we should be getting only one portion of fresh fruit or veg per day and the others can be juiced, dried, frozen or canned!
Having no specific imagery allows for no conflicting interests to creep into the Brazilian guidelines. The images of packaged bagels, wheat biscuits, tinned baked beans etc on the UK ‘Eatwell’ Guide serve a specific purpose; to increase product sales of those items. Whereas when the advice is to eat a diet rich in a variety of natural and minimally processed food there is no need for this.
2. Use oils, fats, salt and sugar in small amounts when seasoning and cooking natural or minimally processed foods and to create culinary preparations
- As long as they are used in moderation in dishes and meals based on natural or minimally processed foods, oils, fats, salts and sugar contribute to diverse and delicious diets without making them nutritionally unbalanced.
We agree here too, there is absolutely nothing wrong with roasting your potatoes in some duck fat or dripping, or adding a little salt to a home cooked meal made from fresh natural ingredients.
And notice again how there is no mention of specific types of oil etc and no ‘educational’ images that advertise a certain product or brand – unlike the UK guideline which suggest unsaturated oils and spreads only, even though there is no evidence to suggest that these are better for us (see our previous ‘Eatwell’ guide review for further info and studies).
3. Limit consumption of processed foods
- The ingredients and methods used in the manufacture of processed foods – such as vegetables in brine, fruits in syrup, cheese and breads – unfavourably alter the nutritional composition of the foods from which they are derived.
- In small amounts, processed foods can be used as ingredients in dishes and meals based on natural or minimally processed foods.
This is such a sensible and responsible message and is so different to what the UK guidelines advise such as:
- “Aim to eat five portions of fruit and veg each day…choose from fresh, frozen, canned, dried or juiced”.
Surely it would be better to follow suit with the Brazilian guidelines, we should be eating primarily fresh and minimally processed fruit and veg and tinned as a definite last resort which they acknowledge is a “processed food”
The UK guidelines do not even mention the fact that “the ingredients and methods used in the manufacture of processed foods unfavourably alter the nutritional composition of the foods from which they are derived” but instead quite favourably advocate them as one of our ‘5 a day!’
And don’t even get us started on the fact that a glass of orange or other juice classes as a one of our daily portions of fruit or veg. See a link here to how orange juice is made and decide for yourself if this processed alternative should be classed as a healthy option in the UK diet.
- UK advice: “Many of the things we eat, such as pizzas, casseroles, pastas dishes and sandwiches, are a combination of the food groups. For these sorts of food, you just need to work out the main ingredients and think about how these fit with the sections on the guide.”
Why is this even on the UK guideline? It is as if these options are ideal, as they combine the ‘food groups’. Why hasn’t a plate of veggies with some meat or fish been suggested? A plate of natural unprocessed food wouldn’t need to be evaluated to work out what the food combination is. Much simpler!
- UK advice: “Starchy food is a really important part of a healthy diet and should make up just over a third of the food we eat” and “Purchase high fibre white versions of bread and pasta”
Translation: Please buy highly processed bread and pasta instead of other more nutrient dense alternatives, as this makes the associated members of the ‘Eatwell’ guide happy. These versions of bread and pasta are still processed!
The Brazilian guidelines have this to say about bread, which we completely agree with: “Breads that in addition to flour, water, salt and yeast, contain other ingredients such as hydrogenated vegetable fat, sugar, starch, whey, emulsifiers, and other additives are ultra-processed foods and as such should be avoided.” This is basically all sliced bread that you can buy in the UK supermarkets!
Here’s a picture of the ingredients list in Hovis “wholemeal” bread, which many, many people would think was a healthy choice:
Why can the Brazilian government give such good and impartial advice, yet the UK are telling us to base over a third of our daily consumption on these food sources.
- UK advice: “Try to have some milk and dairy food (or dairy alternatives). Go for lower fat and lower sugar products where possible.”
If you are choosing low fat or dairy alternatives you are by default choosing processed options. The Brazilian guidelines are sensible to suggest eating these foods in moderation but choosing minimally processed (therefore full fat) when you do so.
4. Avoid consumption of ultra-processed foods
- Because of their ingredients, ultra-processed foods such as salty fatty packaged snacks, soft drinks, sweetened breakfast cereals, and instant noodles, are nutritionally unbalanced.
- As a result of their formulation and presentation, they tend to be consumed in excess and displace natural and minimally processed foods.
- Their means of production, distribution, marketing, and consumption damage culture, social life and the environment.
Avoid soft drinks! Not much more we have to say about this other than it being another huge YES for the Brazilian guidelines.
They state clearly that ultra-processed foods “tend to be consumed in excess”. Why does this not feature in the UK Guidelines?
Instead, our ‘Eatwell’ guide has a dedicated section on how to read food packaging labels therefore advocating eating processed and packaged foods daily. If the advice was to eat natural and minimally processed foods this part of the guide would be irrelevant.
It is especially frustrating when they have also added “Remember that portion sizes used on the label are suggestions and may not be the same as you actually consume. For example, some foods and drinks commonly consumed as single servings have the nutritional information presented per half pack”.
Why are food and drink producers even allowed to do this? And why are the UK guidelines suggesting that it is ‘normal’ behaviour to over consume on the portion sizes recommended?
It might have something to do with the fact that these products are specifically designed to be over consumed. Regardless, it is certainly very confusing for consumers to be working out what they are eating using these food labels.
Let’s take a look at an example, a box of ‘Kelloggs’ Corn Flakes say that one portion is 30g. This is what 30g looks like and this is what an average person’s bowl of cereal looks like.
Many people are consuming double or triple what the producers of the food are suggesting on their nutrition labels. And why wouldn’t people eat the larger portion, considering the contradictory image on the front of the box is of a brimming bowl full of cornflakes?!
According to the ‘Eatwell’ guide “Most people in the UK eat more than they need”. As we can see above this is definitely the case, and often through no fault of the individual.
If Public Health England are aware of this, surely it would be better advice to say AVOID these processed foods altogether!
It is also very interesting that the Brazilian guidelines are making comment on the other detrimental aspects of processed food, “Their means of production, distribution, marketing, and consumption damage culture, social life and the environment.” This is so very true and we feel it really is an important point to be made.
Many of the ingredients, processes and by-products of processed food is seriously damaging to the environment and unsustainable in the long term. Not to mention the waste that is accumulated from packaging.
“Eating processed foods also effects our culture and social life, as it leads to less preparation and cooking of meals from scratch. It affects eating habits and stops people cooking national dishes together as these are instead replaced with microwave meals, take away and fast food.”
The Brazilian National Secretariat for Food and Nutrition security, Arnoldo de Campos has been quoted stating that “Quality of the food is now more of an issue than access to it…We have a poorly legislated productions system which is addicted to bad-quality food and unregulated advertising practices. For instance, the latest Coca-Cola slogan is ‘open happiness’, for a soft drink full of sugar. It is more difficult to tackle obesity than hunger.”
Speaking of unregulated advertising practices in 2010 Nestle launched Floating Supermarkets. Why does a company such as Nestle need to sell their products to people in the poorest communities in Brazil?
Nestle say that this service will benefit Brazilians in remote areas because they are “helping feed the poor with nutritious and affordable foods. The company often adds nutrients such as iron, zinc, iodine and vitamin A to address deficiencies among the poor”.
We are sure one of the world’s largest food companies doesn’t need the revenue from these areas so if they genuinely wanted to help by providing ‘nutritionally balanced’ foods why didn’t they source lots of fresh fruit, vegetables, eggs, fish and meat and offer it for free or for small prices?
Instead they are selling items such as:
- Chocolate powder
- Cuisine specialities (whatever that means)
- Milk maid products (such as condensed milk)
- Ice creams
- Soy products
This is not a list of essentials!
It is clear that Nestle’s real motive is to make more money, even if it is ethically or morally incorrect.
Adding nutrients to fake and processed food is just a clever marketing strategy by Nestle to sell its products while suggesting these foods have health benefits. But this is just a bandage for a bullet wound, no amount of added ‘nutrients’ will provide the same benefits of natural food sources or negate the ill effects of processed food.
Nestle are contributing to and making it much harder for Brazil to tackle their obesity rates, as their fake foods are cheap and easy to access so people are choosing them over fresh produce from local farmers markets.
It is admirable that Brazil are openly condemning processed foods and attempting to make a change in what their nation are eating. It is just a shame that the UK have not followed suit and instead are peddling a ‘Eatwell’ guide that is nutritionally unbalanced and heavily influenced by processed food companies. Sadly Nestle is one of them.
5. Eat regularly and carefully in appropriate environments and, whenever possible, in company
- Make your daily meals at regular times.
- Avoid snacking between meals.
- Eat slowly and enjoy what you are eating, without engaging in another activity.
- Eat in clean, comfortable and quiet places, where there is no pressure to consume unlimited amounts of food.
- Whenever possible, eat in company, with family, friends or colleagues: this increases the enjoyment of food and encourages eating regularly, attentively, and in appropriate environments.
- Share household activities that precede or succeed the consumption of meals.
Eating regularly in company. The Brazilian guidelines are advocating healthy all round eating habits, making the point that a healthy diet needs to be part of our lifestyles, cooking and eating socially where possible will contribute to this and will definitely encourage it to be implemented.
6. Shop in places that offer a variety of natural or minimally processed foods
- Shop in supermarkets and municipal and farmers markets, or buy directly from producers or other places, that sell varieties of natural or minimally processed foods.
- Prefer vegetables and fruits that are locally grown in season.
- Whenever possible, buy organic and agro-ecological based foods, preferably directly from the producers.
Compare this advice to our guide, which makes no suggestion of places to shop let alone mention the words organic, local or in-season.
If you shop at farmers markets or buy directly from producers it is much easier to get good quality (and organic) foods and you are much less exposed to processed foods.
In the UK supermarkets, while you can get a really good selection of fresh foods, at least half of the supermarket is made up of processed foods with whole aisles dedicated to cereal, crisps and biscuits. It’s almost impossible to avoid processed foods when you shop in the main supermarkets with packaged foods and offers everywhere you turn.
7. Develop, exercise and share cooking skills
- If you have cooking skills, develop them and share them, especially with boys and girls.
- If you do not have these skills – men as well as women – acquire them. Learn from and talk with people who know how to cook. Ask family, friends, and colleagues for recipes, read books, check the internet, and eventually take courses. Start cooking!
Jamie Oliver has tried to make a difference here in the UK with campaigns to make cooking and food education compulsory in schools. On his Food Foundation website it states
“Access to good, fresh, real food and the basic skills to cook it has the power to transform lives.”
How great would it be if our Government really got behind this and started putting out the advice that we all need to learn how to cook so that we can prepare nutritious meals using real food for our families?
8. Plan your time to make food and eating important in your life
- Plan the food shopping, organise your domestic stores, and decide on meals in advance.
- Share with family members the responsibility for all activities related to meals. Make the preparation and eating of meals privileged times of conviviality and pleasure.
- Assess how you live so as to give proper time for food and eating.
Putting good eating into practice every day is something you have to keep focused on and it is inspiring that in the Brazilian guidelines they recognise the importance of planning and preparation and are encouraging the public to do this.
In the UK there is a huge reliance of convenience foods and ready-meals, and to change our habits and get people back in the kitchen, we need sensible advice like this to be included as part of our dietary guidelines.
9. Out of home, prefer places that serve freshly made meals
- Eat in places that serve fresh meals at good prices. Self-service restaurants and canteens that serve food buffet-style charged by weight are good choices.
- Avoid fast food chains.
More sensible advice. However, with McDonald’s supporting almost all the nutrition advisory boards here in the UK, it’s unlikely we’ll get that advice being given out here!
10. Be wary of food advertising and marketing
- The purpose of advertising is to increase product sales, and not to inform or educate people.
- Be critical and teach children to be critical of all forms of food advertising and marketing.
We love this final piece of advice! Yes – food manufacturers advertise their products to increase product sales and for no other reason! They do not care about our health, they only care about their bottom line.
We need the UK guidelines to contain a statement such as this instead of giving us a diagram that includes pictures of “Veg Oil” and “Lower Fat Spreads” which allows Unilever to produce adverts promoting their products such as this one:
We recognise that Brazil have an obesity problem similar to the UK, but the difference here is that they are truly attempting to address the issue and make a positive change in the health of the Brazilian people.
They are giving out responsible guidelines rather than continuing to issue outdated information that is clearly not working for us here in the UK.
Let us know in the comments below what you think of these guidelines in comparison to our own.