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lundi 2 mars 2015


United States Food and Drug Administration has issued a new set of rules to guide Americans towards good eating. The scientific value of it is highly dubious and the social value of it negligible.
First of all, a country as diverse as USA cannot issue guidelines for the population. Diversity of cultures, racial and national origins as well as Food Availability. Most importantly, POVERTY.
Lack of availability of food and the means to procure them when they are available is a deadly combination which can turn a healthy country into an unhealthy one in short order. I have personal experience in this matter and have observed how a country which was healthy and lean and without cardiovascular disease or diabetes, within a short period of time became overweight and sick, despite no change , if anything only an increase, in physical activity.
Many of the well-known Public Health oriented Nutritionists, such as Marion Nestle, has commented at the ambiguity of these guidelines from the USA.
Americans tend to embrace fads with ferocity unknown to the civilized people.
It was funny to observe Americans carefully cleaving the egg yolks from their breakfast eggs at hotels. An array of artificial products entered the market. Then came the low Fat Diet, which produced an entire industry of false sugars and possibly contributed to Obesity, Diabetes and Cardiovascular Ill Health. The New guidelines seems to say, come back, all is forgiven! I am sure Egg Industry but not the American chicken would be very happy. Meat is allowed, and as usual no mention of Quality of the meat is mentioned. And the normal chant about Vegetables and Fruits, knowing that apart from an educated populace, less than one in twenty Americans eat the prescribed fruits and vegetables!
When I was a student in Australia, I intuitively realized that eating Australian Food on a daily basis was a sure prescription for ill health and Death, I did not know the reason why at that time, but many years later during my travels to Asia and Europe, I understood the concept of MICROBIOME… eat to please your gut bacteria which has the same ancestral origins as you do. I am a very proud Australian, grateful to the multitudes of gifts it gave me, but I cannot forget that I am only two generations removed from organically grown rice, curried free range chicken and vegetables grown within a few kilometers and seasonal fruits.
So the Guidelines for Food for me (this has to be individualized, as Genetic, ancestral food varies. The neutral ancestral food is Mediterranean) has to take into account:
My Microbiome
Food Availability ( as I travel between Europe, North America, Cuba and Asia) is inconstant and has to be constantly modified. As I work among Native Americans and live among them in their isolated reservations, that comes into the equation as well.
This has created a wild array of food habits.
I just ate a lovely butter soaked croissant and downed it with strong coffee with milk and sugar at a café in Brussels. But I will refuse to it Bread or Croissants while I am in USA. Home made Idlis or Dosai are much welcomed in Cochin, India. I would eat Danone Yogurt in France but not the same brand in the USA as the ingredients are not the same, same goes for Cheese from France and the same brand ( eg: President) made in Wisconsin, USA.
I have a set of good friends in Miami, one of them, Dr W and his wife G, are also foodies but meticulous about what they eat. Our dining sessions (as they go on for hours) usually consist of well prepared meals in good proportion (never fast food, never large portions). Here is one of the more important ingredients of Food: Eat with Friends or Family and don’t eat alone. In Cuba, I never eat alone, and when I do eat, I spend enough time enjoying the company of people I eat with.
When I travel to the remote Indian Reservations, I take food with me from Europe or stop at Trader Joe on the way. Fortunately when consulting with the Lakota in Eagle Butte, the coworkers are cognizant of our collective aim of eating well and good meals are freshly prepared each day.
Unfortunately, many of the developing countries, such as India, Brasil, Malaysia, China among others, equate being progressive and western, by adopting American Fast Food Culture . I don’t see Indians in India lining up at a French Restaurant or an Italian Restaurants but try to get into a Starbucks or McDonalds! Wish you luck.. All these countries have increased their rate of obesity and overweight as well as the chronic diseases they never used to suffer from, at a rapid rate.
In a way, you are what you eat. Or to pun on an old saying
Tell me what you eat, I will tell you what sort of person you are!
Worried about losing the progress Brasil has made under Lula, and the worsening overweight and obesity patterns,  Brasil has issued Food Guidelines and to me it is much more sensible.
Here is a summary of it:
The guidelines are remarkable in that they are based on foods that Brazilians of all social classes eat every day, and consider the social, cultural, economic and environmental implications of food choices.

The guidelines are remarkable in that they are based on foods that Brazilians of all social classes eat every day, and consider the social, cultural, economic and environmental implications of food choices.

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.

   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.

   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.

   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. 
Make natural or minimally processed foods the basis of your diet
Use oils, fats, salt, and sugar in small amounts when seasoning and cooking natural or minimally processed foods and to create culinary preparations
Limit consumption of processed foods
Avoid consumption of ultra-processed products
Eat regularly and carefully in appropriate environments and, whenever possible, in company
Shop in places that offer a variety of natural or minimally processed foods
Develop, exercise and share culinary skills
Plan your time to make food and eating important in your life
Out of home, prefer places that serve freshly made meals
Be wary of food advertising and marketing  

It is well understood that in the USA, the food industry has disproportionate power to influence the creation of food guidelines ( eg: the meat industry blocked the inclusion of “eat less meat” in a previous guidelines). The agencies of the government do not have funds to disseminate its own information, and the public relies upon the Food Industry for the information which cannot be said to be unbiased!
Many of the “experts” who recommend the guidelines are either consultants to the Food Industry or have nefarious relationship with the Industry.
I wonder whether there are any Anthropologists involved in the formulation of the Food Guidelines? Looking at the language of the Brazilian Guidelines, it is obvious they had asked Nutritional Anthropologist advice!