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Dietary diversity, and in particular consumption of nutrient-rich foods including fruits, vegetables, nuts, beans and animal-source foods, is linked to greater nutrient adequacy. We developed a ‘dietary gap assessment’ to evaluate the degree to which a nation’s food supply could support healthy diets at the population level.
In the absence of global food-based dietary guidelines, we selected the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet as an example because there is evidence it prevents diet-related chronic disease and supports adequate micronutrient intakes. We used the DASH guidelines to shape a hypothetical ‘healthy’ diet for the test country of Cameroon. Food availability was estimated using FAO Food Balance Sheet data on country-level food supply. For each of the seven food groups in the ‘healthy’ diet, we calculated the difference between the estimated national supply (in kcal, edible portion only) and the target amounts.
In Cameroon, dairy and other animal-source foods were not adequately available to meet healthy diet recommendations: the deficit was −365 kcal (–1527 kJ)/capita per d for dairy products and −185 kcal (–774 kJ)/capita per d for meat, poultry, fish and eggs. Adequacy of fruits and vegetables depended on food group categorization. When tubers and plantains were categorized as vegetables and fruits, respectively, supply nearly met recommendations. Categorizing tubers and plantains as starchy staples resulted in pronounced supply shortfalls: −109 kcal (–457 kJ)/capita per d for fruits and −94 kcal (–393 kJ)/capita per d for vegetables.
The dietary gap assessment illustrates an approach for better understanding how food supply patterns need to change to achieve healthier dietary patterns.
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