Brazil Aims to Instill Healthy Eating Habits in its Residents

by Cameron St. Germain

Part of the Food Policy Snapshot Series

Policy Name:

Dietary Guidelines for the Brazilian Population



Population: 209,745,000 (2017, Worldometers)


In 2014, Brazil’s Ministry of Health brought together experts from a variety of sectors including health, agriculture, education, as well as leaders from civil society organizations in order to draft a new set of dietary guidelines. The public was then asked to contribute opinions and preferences through an online platform. The resulting document provides a holistic approach to healthy eating that focuses on selecting natural, unprocessed foods including traditional Brazilian foods. It also stresses the importance of eating with others as a way of strengthening social bonds and reinforcing healthy eating habits.

Progress to date:

The guide was distributed to the country’s schools and health clinics in 2015. The government has not yet produced any studies to examine its effectiveness.

Program/Policy Initiated:


Food policy category:

Sustainable diets and nutrition

Program goals:

The guidelines were designed to promote healthy eating habits. In particular, they aim to:

  • Reduce undernutrition, obesity, and obesity-related illnesses.
  • Promote socially and environmentally sustainable ways of producing, distributing, and consuming food.
  • Improve public knowledge about nutrition, including traditional dietary patterns.

How it works:

The guide seeks to increase public knowledge and autonomy in choosing healthy foods. Specifically, it encourages Brazilians to choose natural, unprocessed or minimally processed foods. To make this clear, the guide explains what exactly “unprocessed” and “minimally processed” mean and provides multiple examples – with pictures – of each. This is followed by a similar section on “ultra-processed foods,” which explains what they are and why they should be avoided. Biological, environmental, cultural, and social reasons are given for making healthy dietary choices.

Next, the guide describes what constitutes a healthy meal. It provides numerous photos of healthy breakfasts, lunches, and dinners to give the reader a good idea of what healthy meals look like. Most meals include a traditional Brazilian component, such as angu, a polenta-like cornmeal mash, and cupuacu juice, made from a tropical fruit related to cacao.

The guide then focuses on “modes of eating,” meaning when, where, and how we eat. It recommends eating at regular times each day, avoiding snacking, and eating slowly and mindfully. It also encourages Brazilians to eat with friends, family, and colleagues. In essence, eating with company promotes good social relations and prevents people from sitting alone and shoveling food into their mouths in front of their TV or smartphone.

Finally, the guide ends with ten steps to follow for a healthy diet.

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

Why it is important:

In recent decades, Brazil has experienced a massive influx of foreign, ultra-processed foods. Rising incomes along with a more international mindset have increased demand for these foods. However, overconsumption of processed foods has also produced an increase in obesity and related chronic illnesses like hypertension, heart disease, and some types of cancer. Half of all adults and one-third of all children are overweight, and 15% of Brazilians are obese. According to a study from the University of Brasilia, Brazil’s obesity-related medical costs totaled $269.6 million in 2011.

Processed foods tend to be loaded with added fat, salt, and sugar. They are also usually very energy-dense and low in fiber, meaning that they are high in calories but do not provide long-lasting satisfaction. All of these factors make it very easy to over-consume processed foods. A study from the University of São Paulo shows that Brazilians have indeed consumed more processed foods since 1987 (the earliest survey year), and that the consumption patterns associated with these foods can lead to excess eating and obesity.

According to a long-term study conducted by EPIC-Norfolk, eating alone is linked to less nutritious diets among the elderly. Solo-eaters tend to eat a less diverse diet, and they consume fewer vegetables per meal than those who eat with others.



Learn more:

Point of Contact:

Brazil Ministry of Health

(61) 3315-9031

Similar practices:

Many countries publish dietary guidelines. Here are a few examples from the United States, the United Kingdom, and a variety from the European Union.

However, Brazil’s dietary guidelines have received special praise in popular publications like The Atlantic and Vox because of their simple and culturally appropriate approach.


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