For a long time now the UK government have been pedaling the view that five is the magic number when it comes to the amount of fruit and veg we should eat per day to stay healthy and maintain a balanced diet. For some of us this hasn’t been too much of a challenge (on most days), but for others the fruit and veg proportion of their diet hasn’t quite been meeting the mark. We are constantly bombarded with the obesity stats for the UK, and how much sugar the ‘average Brit’ consumes per year in the form of processed snacks and nasties, and how the diet of the majority of the population does not contain nearly enough fresh produce.
The 5-a-day recommendation has been one of the government’s most successful health and wellbeing campaigns, and was introduced in the hope that it would provide a simple guide to a healthier diet by ensuring that a manageable amount of fruit and veg was included. However, new research has being flooding news platforms in recent weeks which suggests that 10 portions of fruit and veg per day is actually what we should be aiming for if we want to live longer and reduce our risk of heart disease and many other serious illnesses, which doubles previous recommended quantities. This has caused some controversy as many believe that 10 is an unrealistic number to expect people to meet, and that it will confuse already well-established guidelines for healthy diets.
But what actually counts as a portion?
Debate also exists surrounding what actually counts as a portion of fruit or vegetables. It’s all very well trying to eat 5 or even 10 portions per day, but if you don’t know how much makes up a portion, you could be seriously underestimating or overestimating how much you’re really consuming. When we are getting different advice from all corners it can be difficult to decipher the advice we should really be following. Is it realistic to expect people to track their fruit and veg portion sizes whilst also eating a balanced and varied diet and trying to eat so many portions per day?
NHS guidelines suggest that 80g of any fruit or veg counts as a portion, but even if we take this as the way to measure our intake, it’s not quite as simple as just measuring portion sizes. There are many different opinions on whether it should be more fruit or more veg, whether raw is superior to cooked in terms of nutritional content, whether tinned is inferior to fresh, and so on.
There are also some food sub-groups which lie in the ‘blurred’ category in terms of counting as part of your daily intake of fruit and veg, such as potatoes, dried fruit, and beans and pulses. However, the general consensus seems to be that dried fruit count in moderation, beans and pulses are welcome in their freshest form, and potatoes can just about join the party… as long as they aren’t deep fried and covered in salt.
Juices and smoothies are another point of contention, as many suggest that only a small amount of these liquids can be counted as maximum 1 portion in a day. We have also been told that you must spread out your portions of fruit and vegetables throughout the day, so a huge salad piled high with colourful veg eaten at lunchtime doesn’t set you straight for the whole day. So it’s not as simple as counting portions; there are different factors and conditions which make meeting these new targets seem more and more unattainable.
So moving forward…
What we should really take away from this is to not over think your fruit and veg intake, and just try and fit in as much as you can to your diet. 5-a-day seemed more manageable, but this new 10 portion per day advice takes healthy eating advice out of the realm of ‘manageable’ and becomes slightly unrealistic for us everyday folk. I mean yes, the suggested benefits of 10 portions per day sounds miraculous; including our chance of contracting heart disease falling by 24% and cancer by 13%, but really where is the long term proof? Doesn’t it seem a bit much?
The BBC coverage of this consulted a dietician who suggested that a simple increase from our existing consumption can make a difference to our longevity and protection from disease; so if you’re currently a 3-a-day person, up it to 5, or a 7-a-day (well done), up it to 9, and so on. The overall goal is to eat as much fresh and healthy produce as possible, so don’t get too hung up on the numbers. Ordering a fruit basket and veg basket each week can keep things interesting and make sure that you’ve always got a decent supply of fresh produce readily available.
Tips for getting your 5…7…10 portions per day:
If we are all expected to consume an entire allotment’s-worth of vegetables every day, we’d better start getting more creative with our meals. Here are a few ideas to get you started.
- Aim to include a banana as part of your breakfast every day- they are the perfect morning fuel
- Top your cereal with a handful of berries
- Make a delicious smoothie using frozen banana, frozen berries, spinach, oats and almond milk (remember a smoothie can only count as 1 of your 5 a day)
- Add grilled mushrooms, tomatoes and sautéed kale to your weekend eggs on toast
- Make your salad more interesting with dark leafy greens, sweet red pepper, avocado and chickpeas
- Think ahead by making a warming root veg soup on a Sunday to see you through ‘til Thursday
- Add texture to a sandwich or wrap using lettuce, sliced cucumber and grated carrot
- Prepare some roasted vegetables using olive oil and seasoning for a great lunch on the go
- Sprinkle pomegranate seeds and mango for a salad with a twist
- Replace spaghetti with spiralised courgette and butternut squash; delicious with pesto, basil and fresh cherry tomatoes
- Instead of egg fried rice, try cauliflower or broccoli fried rice for a healthier version of the takeaway favourite
- Simple lentil and chickpea curries are perfect for a cold evening
- Add veg into your weekly favourites, such as chopped carrot in spaghetti bolognaise, or make mash with sweet potatoes and peas instead of just white potatoes
- Replace meat in tray bake recipes with beans and pulses for added fibre and nutritional value
- Sides of sweetcorn and peas are always a favourite with children
- Instead of salty snacks, try carrot sticks with houmous when the 3pm hunger strikes
- Try banana nicecream as a healthy alternative to ice cream, simply freeze ripe bananas then whizz them in a blender and you’re good to go
- Try making baked fruit snacks to naturally sweeten your morning; a great recipe here from Positive Wellness
- Swap sweets for dried fruit such as apricots or dates: satisfy your sweet craving without the energy crash
- Roast drained tinned chickpeas with a sprinkling of salt, pepper and paprika for a great alternative to salted nuts