How the new Brazilian dietary guidelines work with the promotion of fruits and vegetables
In the absence of regulations to reduce the demand, offer, availability, affordability and desirability of superfluous edible products (e.g. sugary drinks, energy dense ready-to-eat products and other ultra-processed products), essential foods such as fruits and vegetables have been increasingly displaced by these products1-3. While such products penetrate into diets and food systems, populations start to loose the notion of what is food, along with all fundamental aspects of the way we relate to food and its impacts over health, culture, natural resources and social relationships. Fruits and vegetables, besides being displaced, have their images misused in ultra-processed products to create misleading notions that they equal or replace fresh fruits and vegetables consumption1,4.
The new Brazilian Dietary Guideline (Guia)3 was designed to recover the meaning of food and promote the recognition of eating as a socio-political and cultural act. It’s also aims at valuing healthy traditional eating practices and food systems, and embracing Brazil’s agro and socio-biodiversity.
More real food, more fruits and vegetables
Brazil has a vast variety of fruits and vegetables prepared and eaten in many different ways, hence they are a powerful resource to achieve the Guia call for Brazilians to eat and value real food. Furthermore, by moving from a nutrient-based perspective to a food-based one, and then from foods to meals, the Guia improved its communication with the population and improved the potential social traction of the recommendations, as Brazilians rarely eat foods out of a prepared meal, even some fruits that are commonly eaten separately, are also merged to some preparations3.
An endless list of traditional Brazilian dishes, even the ones eaten for especial occasions or celebrations, include fruits and/or vegetables, such as in the feijoada with kale and orange; moquecas with tomatoes, onions and herbs; chicken with okra; jabá com jerimum with pumpkin and onions; rice with pequí; fish and shrimps with acai; tacacá with jambú; manissoba with cassava leaves; oxtail with watercress5.
Hence, the achievement of the Guia’s objective ‘to support and encourage healthy eating practices’ is inherent to the promotion of fruits and vegetables. In addition, as the guideline focus on in natura or minimally processed foods*, it avoids those distortions advanced by ultra-processed product corporations, that make people believe that they are having a lot of fruits or vegetables, when in fact they are eating a product with no or very few fruits and/or vegetables. Within this perspective, the Guia also helps deconstruct the misleading idea built by Big Snack corporations that ultra-processed products containing ingredients derived from fruits and vegetables equal the benefits of eating fresh or minimally processed fruits and vegetables1,4.
Favourite fruits and vegetables
By evoking the multiple dimensions and values of food and eating practices the Guia also highlights key nodes of the food system that favour the purchase and consumption of fruits and vegetables produced by small-scale local farmers and food vendors. Concrete recommendations on where to buy food encourage Brazilians to favour food fairs and farmers markets or direct purchase from small-scale farmers instead of super and hypermarkets3. This strengthens the essential socio-economic dimension of food and nutrition, not only by expanding the opportunities to increase the demand for fruits and vegetables along its offer and availability, but also by preserving local food systems and agrobiodiversity.
The Guia stresses that ‘healthy diets derive from socially and environmentally sustainable food systems’, so by principle dietary recommendations need to be aligned with environmental integrity3. Without which, ways of production favouring monocropping, intensive biocides and synthetic fertilisers will deteriorate the natural resources that provide us nutritious and diversified fruits and vegetables.
Along these lines, the Guia is clearly in the position of going beyond its expected to benefit the Brazilian population, it is certainly inspiring many other countries to protect their diets and food systems from the penetration of the competing ultra-processed products and promote healthy and sustainable eating and production practices of fruits and vegetables.
* Natural foods are obtained directly from plants or animals and do not undergo any alteration following their removal from nature. Minimally processed foods are natural foods that have been submitted to cleaning, removal of inedible or unwanted parts, fractioning, grinding, drying, fermentation, pasteurisation, cooling, freezing, or other processes that may subtract part of the food but which do not add oils, fats, sugar, salt or other substances to the original food3.
- Gomes FS. Snack healthy or unhealthy, but snack: the snack barrier to increase fruits and vegetables consumption in Latin America. IFAVA Newsletter 2011; 57:4.
- Boutelle KN, Fulkerson JA, Neumark-Sztainer D, Story M, French SA. Fast food for family meals: relationships with parent and adolescent food intake, home food availability and weight status. Public Health Nutr 2007; 10(1):16-23.
- Ministry of Health of Brazil. Dietary Guidelines for the Brazilian population. Brasília: Ministry of Health of Brazil, 2014.
- Freshfel Europe. Where is the fruit? Freshfel Europe, 2010. Available at http://www.freshfel.org/docs/press_releases/Freshfel_Europe_-_WHERE_IS_THE_FRUIT.pdf
- Ministério da Saúde. Alimentos regionais brasileiros. 2 ed. Brasília: Ministério da Saúde, 2015.