A great campaign has started this week ‘Veg Power’ an initiative to get children eating more vegetables, I am a huge supporter of this and really think more work needs to be done to make fruit and veg seem cool to kids! So in light of this I thought it would be a good time to go back to a basics and talk about why and how we can achieve 5 a day…
The 5-a-day message has been around for years, it sounds simple ‘eat 5 portions of fruit and vegetables each day’. Evidence from the World Health Organisation (WHO) shows that there are significant health benefits to eating 400g (5 portions) of fruit and vegetables a day, yet only 8% of teenagers and around a third of adults are achieving this number. The WHO state that reaching 5-a-day can lower the risk of serious health problems, such as heart disease, stroke and some types of cancer. So, why does the UK do so poorly on meeting this recommendation? We are here to help identify what counts towards your 5-a-day and give you some top tips on how to add them in to your daily diet.
Not only can fruit and vegetables help reduce your risk of diet related diseases but they help contribute to a healthy, balanced diet. Fruit and vegetables are a great source of vitamins and minerals, such as vitamin C, potassium and folate, and eating a variety of foods can help you meet your recommended daily intake. Fruit and vegetables are an excellent source of dietary fibre and can help maintain a healthy gut and prevent digestion problems. In the UK, the guidelines for fibre are set at 30g per day however, we are only hitting around 18g. A high fibre diet has many health benefits, including reducing the risk of bowel cancer, check out my blog post on fibre here.
What is a portion?
A recommended portion is approximately 80g. Here are some examples of one 80g portion from the British Dietetic Association:
- One banana
- Half an avocado
- Two satsumas
- Two handfuls of berries
- One heaped tablespoon of dried fruit
- Three heaped tablespoon of fruit salad
- Three heaped tablespoons of vegetables (raw, cooked, frozen or tinned all count!)
- Three heaped tablespoons of beans, peas, lentils however, these pulses only count as one portion even if you have more than 80g.
Fruits and vegetables do not have to be fresh or organic to count towards your 5-a-day. Canned, frozen, dried fruit and 100% fruit juice all count. It is important to note that if you have more than 150ml fruit juice a day it does not count to more than one portion. The UK government recommend the 150ml limit due to fibre being removed in the juicing process. Dentists also recommend having fruit juices with a meal, for example having a small glass of fresh orange juice with your breakfast. This is to prevent possible tooth decay due to the sugar released once fruit is juiced.
Achieving your 5-a-day
Five a day is a minimum target for fruit and vegetables. Adding fruit to your breakfast, extra vegetables to your meals and switching some salty snacks for carrots, peppers or cucumber with dips such as hummus can be easy ways to up your intake. Once you have comfortable reached 5-a-day see if you can sneak some more in, the more vegetables the better.
- As mentioned above, your fruit and vegetables don’t have to be fresh all the time. A top tip is to ensure that you have frozen and tinned options to hand for those last-minute meals and to also prevent food waste. Broccoli, onions, butternut squash and berries are easy, convenient foods to have in the freezer. Tomatoes, sweetcorn, peas, roasted peppers and mixed beans are great to have in your cupboards. Chickpea stews are a great ‘go to’ meal and which can be made with all cupboard/freezer ingredients.
- Switching meat for beans, lentils or pulses can be a great way to reduce your carbon footprint and get closer towards your 5-a-day. Loading up stews, curries or chilli with beans and variety of vegetables can be a cheap, tasty and a nutritious way to cut down on meat (maybe even start halving the meat content if you do not want to cut meat out completely.)
- Seasonal fruit and vegetables can be easier and cheaper to get your hands on, so try to hunt down a great local farmer market (this can also reduce your plastic usage as they do not tend to come pre-packaged) to see what is in season, they may even taste better than those that have been brought over from Peru.
- Variety is key. Nutritionists always talk about a balanced diet but that is not another word for ‘healthy.’ The BDA recommend ‘eating the rainbow’ choosing each portion of fruit and vegetables from the following colours: red, green, yellow, white, purple and orange. The different coloured fruit and vegetables contain their own combination of vitamins, minerals and of course, fibre.
The key message is to make eating 5-a-day easier and more accessible. The NHS and Change 4 life have great resources when it comes to making swaps, and the internet has great recipe ideas. Adding one portion of fruit or vegetables to your day for a couple of weeks is a great start if the thought of 5 a day is too overwhelming. Think of it as adding nutrients to your existing diet, not restricting or cutting nutrients out.