Your Five-A-Day - What You Need To Know

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Given the many health benefits of eating more fruits and vegetables, we should all be trying to meet the government’s five portions of fruit and veg a day target. Why? They are packed with essential vitamins and minerals, a variety of phytochemicals (naturally occurring plant substances) and fibre that are essential for good health. Many of these nutrients also act as antioxidants which protect the body from harmful free radicals (found in pollutants) that can cause disease. 

According to the WHO (world health organisation) just over a third of the food we eat each day should be made up of fruit and veg, as shown in the proportion on the Eatwell Guide. The Harvard Healthy Eating Plate even suggests that half of what we should eat should be fruit and veg. With this in mind research suggests that most adults in the UK only have around one portion a day, with about a third of adults actually managing to meet the target. Why could this be? It maybe lack of knowledge of what one portion is or looks like, or maybe its the conflicting information suggesting that we should eat more than 5 a day or is it because, as with a lot nutritional info, its hard to find the facts?

Well whatever the reason here's what you need to know... Let's start smashin those 5-a-day goals! 

1. It's not as much as you think.

1 portion of your 5-a-day = 80g (for both fruit and veg). To get the best nutritional benefit these should be five different portions of fruit and veg, with no one being the same. For example, two broccoli spears and one apple would count as two portions. 

For vegetables this looks like...

  • Two broccoli spears or four heaped tablespoons of cooked kale, spinach, spring greens or green beans count as one portion.
  • Three heaped tablespoons of cooked vegetables, such as carrots, peas or sweetcorn, or eight cauliflower florets count as one portion. Same goes for frozen veg. 
  • Three sticks of celery, a 5cm piece of cucumber, one medium tomato or seven cherry tomatoes count as one portion.

  • Three heaped tablespoons of baked beans, haricot beans, kidney beans, cannellini beans, butter beans or chickpeas count as one portion each (remember no matter how much you eat, beans and pulses count as a maximum of one portion a day). 

For fruit this looks like...

  • One portion is two or more small fruit, for example two plums, two satsumas, two kiwi fruit, three apricots, six lychees, seven strawberries or 14 cherries.

  • One portion of a medium sized fruit is one piece, such as one apple, banana, pear, orange or nectarine.

  • One portion of a large fruit is half a grapefruit, one slice of papaya, one slice of melon (5cm slice), one large slice of pineapple or two slices of mango (5cm slices).

2. All types count.

Canned, frozen and fresh fruit and veg all count towards your 5-a-day. When eating canned fruit or veg try opting for ones in natural juice or water and with no added sugar or salt. Just remember that variety is important. Different coloured fruits and vegetables contain their own combination of vitamins, minerals and fibre, so try to eat one portion from each colour group.

There is no nutritional benefit in a guideline that is not followed.
— Victoria Taylor, British Heart Foundation

3. Juiced or blended isn't the same. 

Love a green juice? Me too! But remember that a glass (150ml) of unsweetened 100% fruit, vegetable juice or smoothie only counts as one portion. No matter how much you drink, or how many varieties of fruit or veg juice there is in it. Why? Because the juicing process removes most of the fibre from the fruit and veg.

*Top tip - Crushing fruit and veg into a juice releases the sugars contained within them. To reduce the impact on teeth (tooth decay), enjoy a small glass at mealtimes.

4. Prep.

The nutrients found in fruit and vegetables can be easily destroyed during food preparation and also by heat. So to help preserve these (whenever possible) try and eat them raw. When cooking vegetables, try steaming, microwaving, roasting or poaching rather than boiling, so the maximum amount of nutrients can be retained. 

*Top tip - Weigh and chop portions of fruit and veg and have them as snacks.

5. Dried fruit

Dried fruit is where I get the most questions. The 80g rule does not apply to dried fruit. One of you 5-a -day portion = 30g. This about one heaped tablespoon of raisins, currants or sultanas, one tablespoon of mixed fruit, two figs, three prunes or one handful of dried banana chips. 

Note that dried fruit can be high in sugar and can be bad for your teeth. Try to swap dried fruit for fresh fruit, especially between meals for example, have them as part of a dessert, not as a between meal snack.

6. 5 a day is the minimum...eat more if you can!

There is no limit on how much fruit and especially vegetables we should eat, 5 a day is the minimum we should be eating but if you can, eat more! There's significant research to suggest eating, up to, at least 10 a day benefits health and may reduce the amount of people who die early if they were to eat more than the current recommended guideline daily amount.

 


So there you have it. Achieving the 5-a-day target is not too hard after all so maybe you can eat even more than that! And by eating at least five portions of a variety of fruits and vegetables a day, you will give your body many essential nutrients that it needs to maintain long-term health...not to mention the bonus of looking and feeling better :)

Ailsa