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From ‘5 a day’ to ‘eat the rainbow’: food guidelines around the world

October 23rd 2016 / Anna Hunter

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Whether displayed on an Eatwell plate, pagoda, spinning top or pineapple, food guidelines around the world are diverse. Here’s what the world’s eating (or is advised to…)

One of the joys of holidaying abroad is tucking into the local grub, but is a hotel buffet really representative of a nation’s eating habits? Likely not given the dubious health credentials and heritage of food on offer at many a resort, but tapping into different cuisines is normally an enjoyable and enlightening experience that’s not only telling of regional culture, customs and produce, but also a community’s approach to health. From different ratios of fruit and vegetables to eating sustainable food and drinking three cups of tea a day (HOW this has been left off of our Eatwell plate is a mystery), here’s a taste of the international banquet of dietary guidelines out there. Put the kettle on and tuck in.

UK

We’ll start on home soil. The government’s most recent food guidelines were published in March of this year, with a greater emphasis on eating fruit and vegetables and fibre rich, whole grain carbohydrates. Given that on average we consume just 19g of fibre a day, almost half the recommended amount of 30g as suggested by Public Health England, it’s clear there’s a drive to get us moving as a nation, so to speak. Crisps, biscuits, sugary foods and sauces have been removed from the Eatwell plate altogether, rather than occupying the sliver that they once used to, and there’s a focus on choosing low sugar dairy, limiting the consumption of fruit juices and smoothies to just one a day, eating less red and processed meat, increasing intake of beans and pulses and eating two portions of sustainably sourced fish a week.

Sustainability and the connection between modern food production, environmental damage and poor dietary habits is being increasingly highlighted in global food guidelines, but only four countries have emphasised the importance of eating a more plant-based diet for both health and sustainability reasons in their official dietary advice. The UK isn’t one of them, but along with The Netherlands, we’re getting there.

Brazil

The mother of all dietary recommendations, Brazil’s guidelines are seen as the gold standard of both eating and living well. There’s no plate, pyramid, chart or pagoda (that’ll be China), instead, the Brazilian Ministry of Health has a ten step ‘message’ approach, taking in environmental, economic and of course health issues to promote learning to cook and making food from scratch, being wary of food industry advertising and avoiding the consumption of overly processed foods. From explaining what a diversity of fruit, vegetables, grain and starches might look like to promoting eating together mindfully in non-stressful environments and buying directly from local producers where possible, Brazil advocates developing a healthy culture around food, rather adhering to prescriptive ‘limits’. The fact that men should be sharing responsibility where planning, prepping and cooking is concerned is a particularly welcome recommendation, and Brazil’s approach has found favour with Jamie Oliver on his fight for a global Food Revolution. Get ye to Rio.

Australia

Ozzies not only vouch for eating a wide colour spectrum of fruit and vegetables, but the ‘Go for 5+2’ campaign encourages the public to aim for seven servings a day, five of which should be vegetables for optimum health. Basically, downing fruit juice officially won’t get you too far, and the ‘food plate’ separates fruit and veg to big up the ‘eat your greens’ message.

Germany

One of the ‘sustainable four’ (along with Sweden, Qatar and Brazil), Germany’s ‘nutrition circle’ has much in common with the Eatwell plate, only just one portion of fish is recommended in order to reduce human impact on the environment. Avoiding overcooking meals is emphasised so that nutrients and vitamins are not lost during the cooking process, as is taking a good amount of time over mealtimes. Good old holistic, sensible advice basically.

The Netherlands

Developed on the back of research into the relationship between chronic disease and dietary habits, the Netherlands’ food circle and guidelines were also updated this year, and along with the UK, sustainability is a focus. Eating more plants and fewer animal based products is encouraged, as is choosing just wholemeal cereal and grain varieties and ensuring that you get in 200g of vegetables and 200g fruit daily. Adding legumes to your plate is applauded, consuming max one alcoholic drink a day is advised and only taking nutritional supplements when you actually need them is also underlined. The tea and coffee guidelines are particularly unique- three cups of tea a day is the sweet spot (no sugar mind) and filtered over unfiltered coffee is preferable. Who knew doing Dutch involved a brew?!

Sweden

Another nation prioritising sustainability, Sweden’s dietary guidelines don’t beat around the bush. A simple, traffic light style ‘More’, ‘Less’ ‘Switch To’ poster is aimed to keep the population on a healthy nutritional track, and guidelines were developed in consultation of the public, alongside experts and in line with the Nordic Nutrition Recommendations of 2012. Given that the Scandinavian diet gets almost as much attention as the Mediterranean way of eating these days in terms of health benefits (reduced risk of colon cancer and generally fewer cases of chronic inflammatory conditions), eating Nordic as well as devouring the region’s box sets could be the way forward. The strapline for Sweden’s nutritional guidelines is ‘find your way to eat greener, not too much and to be active!´, which sums things up nicely, and the consumption of high fibre fruit and veg, vitamin D enriched low fat dairy and both oily and non-oily seafood is particularly endorsed. A keyhole symbol devised by the Public Health Agency is used to indicate nutritious, health giving food groups and types.

Greece

Speaking of the Mediterranean diet, Greece is a paragon of wholesome European eating in terms of fruit and vegetables recommendations- the Ministry of Health suggests eating six servings of vegetables daily, prioritising green vegetables in particular, along with three servings of fruit. Greece’s food pyramid divides groups according to how often they should be eaten- daily, weekly and monthly, and olive oil is recommended as the main lipid to be used, while the use of herbs such as oregano, basil and thyme is encouraged over the addition of salt to food. Fish is very much a staple too, with the government proposing five to six servings per week, with just four portions of red meat a week.

Cyprus

Another Mediterranean marvel, the Cypriot dietary guidelines shape dietary advice according to energy requirements during the day, so breakfast is the most important meal of the day, lunch should be given due time and respect and dinner should be the lightest meal of the day. Brightly coloured fruit and vegetables are preferable thanks to their high level of micronutrients and antioxidants, and 4.2 tablespoons of olive oil per day is a-okay. Red wine should be your tipple of choice (no more than one glass a day mind, or two for men), and it’s best not to keep salt cellars on the table to prevent temptation.

China

A bit of a leap to Asia here, but China’s food pagoda is too beautiful to go unmentioned. Also, China’s sustainability goals in terms of food production and consumption have recently been revised, with the government aiming to reduce citizens’ meat consumption by 50%, in order to both improve general health and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The base of China’s pagoda consists of cereals and whole grains; it’s interesting to note that these take precedence over fruit and vegetables. Reducing cooking oil and eating soybean products every day is also on the Chinese agenda.

Japan

Another inventive nation in terms of food guideline visualisation, Japan’s spinning top also prioritises grains. Fruit and vegetables are depicted separately, with vegetables and vegetable rich soups and cooked dishes just behind grains in terms of importance, and fruit at the very bottom of the spinning top, to be consumed in a smaller volume. Variety and eating local are advocated, as is limiting food waste, eating regularly, enjoying food and monitoring your diet daily.

Fiji

This Pacific nation’s lifestyle ‘pineapple’ incorporates many areas of wellbeing, from physical activity to the avoidance of smoking and benefits of breastfeeding. Sourcing food locally is advised, and if possible the government encourages citizens to grow produce themselves.

Benin

Benin’s food guidelines are presented in the form of a traditional African house, with a bottle of water at the entrance of the house to encourage an adequate intake of clean water. Vegetables make up the widest section of the house, and are to be eaten regularly either alone or as part of a sauce. Fruits are one level down and eating fish at least five times a week is encouraged. If fish, lean meat or eggs aren’t available, guidelines emphasise that pulses, soyabeans, cheese, peas and peanuts can be substituted in order to provide protein. The use of salt and stock cubes should be limited, and seasoning with garlic, ginger, and even prawns, is preferable. The government urge the population to foster and pass on traditional cooking skills and cuisine, in order to both protect Benin culturally and reduce the intake of processed products.

Oman

The Omani ‘healthy plate’ is bursting with fruit and vegetables- the Ministry of Health admonishes five servings of vegetables and up to four servings of fruit daily. Potatoes are to eaten skins-on, and one serving of legumes per day is recommended.

USA

The US government revises dietary guidelines every five years, with the most recent guidelines published in January of this year. Good luck wading through them; the literacy does go on a bit, while the ‘My Plate’ diagram is extremely simplistic, with five macronutrients divided proportionately. It’s intended as a prompt, with accompanying messaging emphasising the importance of establishing a healthy eating pattern for life, increasing variety and the nutrient density of the foods you eat and limiting the intake of food high in sodium and sugar. Communal responsibility is emphasised; healthy eating should be established in schools and workplaces, and healthy eating should be combined with adequate levels of physical activity. In terms of what the population should prioritise, making sure that at least half of your grain consumption is of the wholegrain variety, eating fruits in their whole form and eating a variety of vegetables, from dark green to red to starchy, is the order of the day. Limiting meat consumption is noticeably not mentioned, which is surprising given China’s recent meaty revolution…

Canada

Presented as a rainbow (although it looks more like a motorway to me), Canada’s food guidelines appear simple, but are fairly complex on further reading. At least one dark green and one orange vegetable should be eaten per day, vegetables and fruit should not be prepared with added sugar, fat and salt, and the same goes for grains, most of which should be of the whole variety. The addition of sauces and spreads should be limited and the addition of two glasses of skimmed or low fat milk, or a similar fortified soya milk, is recommended to ensure a good uptake of vitamin D. Two servings of certain types of fish is ideal, but only fish that has not been exposed to moderate to high levels of mercury. Processed meats aren’t exactly advocated, but the Federal Ministry of Health advises choosing low salt options if you do eat said ‘luncheon meats’. A small amount of unsaturated fat per day is fine, including dressings and mayonnaise. Despite the detailed dietary advice, 33% of Canadian children currently fall into the obese category, and Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution is particularly on the campaign trail to lower this percentage.

Want no-nonsense nutrition advice? Amelia Freer at your service…

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