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The thirty-first Summer Olympics has kicked off in Brazil. If you’re like most of us, you’re feeling pretty inspired by these athletes who have overcome great odds to reach the top of their fields. But if you look around at Brazil in general, you might notice something else: Brazilians are in great shape!
The obesity rate in Brazil rests at about 18 percent, much lower than the 33 percent obesity rate here in the United States. This impressive trend might be due in part to the Brazilian government’s numerous public health initiatives, aimed at helping their population stay healthy.
So what is Brazil doing, that we aren’t doing here in the United States? One of the biggest initiatives focuses on reducing consumption of processed foods. As the Ministry of Health states, “Ultra-processed foods disturb mechanisms located in the digestive system and the brain that ensure that the intake and expenditure of dietary energy is balanced. These mechanisms tend to underestimate the energy contained in ultra-processed foods, with the result that the sense of satiety occurs only after excess consumption. Excess dietary energy is stored as body fat. The result is obesity.” In other words, processed foods don’t trigger “fullness” signals, so you eat more of them, leading to weight gain.
The government warnings against processed foods appear to be working: Only 21.5 percent of the average Brazilian’s diet comes from processed foods. Meanwhile, here in the United States, the average person consumes 57.9 percent of their diet from a bag or crinkly package. Yikes!
So what are Brazilians eating, if they aren’t cruising the drive-through or hitting up the nearest vending machine? The average Brazilian gets 69.5 percent of their calories from whole or minimally processed foods. They’re filling up on produce, nuts, legumes, lean meats, seafood, and so on. Basically, Brazilians eat more closely to how nature intended – and it shows in their national health statistics.
So what foods should you avoid? For starters, anything in a box or bag. Avoid foods with long lists of ingredients (especially when you have no idea what half of them are). Lay off the processed meats and choose fresh cuts instead. Reduce the amount of baked goods in your diet, and choose whole grain options when you do eat them.
For more information on eating a minimally processed, healthier diet, give us a call. The way we eat in the US is so ingrained in our culture that it can seem confusing at first, when you decide to change your diet. But once you learn a few simple rules, you’ll see how easy it is to change your diet… and change your life!