Have you heard about 5-A-Day? If you haven’t then this article is for you, and if you have, this article is also for you! There’s something for the newbies and the old hands, so let Jade Clark take you on a practical whistle-stop tour of the benefits, the myths, the ‘what’ and the ‘how much’ of fruit and vegetables
Grabbing a juicy pear instead of a couple of biscuits when the munchies hit will pay off in a variety of ways. Fruit and vegetables are an essential part of a healthy diet as they are loaded with vitamins, minerals, fibre and phytochemicals (valuable plant nutrients).
There’s been lots of research on the health benefits provided by fruit and vegetables. The antioxidants (natural chemicals that are thought to protect against harmful substances called free radicals), found in vegetables and fruit are associated with lower levels of cardiovascular disease (CVD). Fibre is an indigestible component of vegetables and fruit that helps keep you regular, sweeps unwanted substances such as “bad” (LDL) cholesterol through your digestive system and also keeps you feeling fuller for longer (a key to managing your weight). A high fibre diet also reduces your risk of bowel (colorectal) cancer.
The natural compounds (phytochemicals) that give fruit and vegetables their colour have also been shown to be beneficial. Choosing a colourful assortment of fruit and vegetables is best, as different benefits exist in the different colour spectrum. The orange pigment found in carrots for example, contain beta-carotene which is good for your eyes and skin. The deep red pigment found in tomatoes contain lycopene, which is linked with prostate health.
“Only about one third of adults are meeting the 5-A-Day recommendations„
The 5-A-Day Myths
Myth 1: Potatoes don’t count towards 5-A-Day because they’re not good for you.
Starchy vegetables such as potatoes, yams, plantain and cassava don’t count as one of your 5-A-Day because they tend to be eaten as the starchy part of a meal like rice, pasta or bread. However, these foods are still highly nutritious and high in fibre, so are very good for you and can be part of a healthy diet. Other root veggies such as sweet potato, parsnips, swede, turnip and carrots all count as your 5-A-Day because we tend to eat these alongside the starchy component of the meal.
Myth 2: I can get my 5-A-Day from drinking five fruit juices or smoothies every day.
Only one 150ml glass of 100 per cent fruit juice or a smoothie counts as one of your 5-A-Day. Having more than this is not recommended because crushing or squeezing fruit releases the natural sugars in the fruit which can cause damage to teeth. Additionally, drinking juice means you’re not getting the benefit of the fibre as this is largely removed in the juicing process.
Myth 3: Only fresh fruit and vegetables count towards 5-A-Day
Thank goodness that in this busy world frozen, tinned and dried, as well as fresh fruit and vegetables all count towards 5-A-Day! When you’re buying tinned fruit, select those tinned in natural juice and not syrup. Salt is often added to tinned vegetables so choose the unsalted versions where possible. Because dried fruit contains a lot of concentrated naturally occurring sugars, the portion size of these should be kept smaller than that of fresh (see portion size box for details). Ideally, eat these at mealtimes to help prevent the sugars sitting on the teeth for a long time.
Myth 4: I’ve heard that I should be eating 10 portions of fruit and vegetables a day. Help!
Earlier this year, a scientific study hit the headlines with reports that people in the UK should be eating ‘10-A-Day’ and that 5-A-Day was not enough. The research reports that eating 800 grams of fruit and vegetables a day (ten portions) is associated with the biggest reduction in risk for developing cardiovascular disease, stroke, coronary heart disease and dying young.
Whilst it might be ideal for everyone to be eating more than 5-A-Day, or even 10-A-Day, there’s perfection and then there’s real life! We know that most children and adults in the UK struggle to get their 5-A-Day, with only about one third of adults meeting the 5-A-Day recommendations.
Scientific studies show that every additional portion of fruit and vegetables you eat is associated with further reducing your risk of cardiovascular diseases, cancer and dying young. The UK guidance has always been to eat a minimum of 5-A-Day, acknowledging the benefits of additional portions. So, if you currently only manage three portions a day, eating another portion will likely be an additional benefit to your health.
“Fruit and vegetables are an essential part of a healthy diet as they are loaded with vitamins, minerals, fibre and phytochemicals„
Lots of other factors influence our health, our risk of getting certain diseases and dying. Whilst it’s important to aim for 5-A-Day for good health, other factors such as physical activity, alcohol, smoking and stress can also have negative and positive effects on our health too. Aim to eat a diet that follows the proportions of the Eatwell Guide (on page 63) – of which just over a third is fruit and vegetables – to help ensure your body is getting the nutrients it needs and in the right amounts.
Jade Clark is a UK Registered Dietitian with a specialist interest in public health, diabetes, workplace nutrition and behaviour change. She currently works for the NHS and has her own nutrition consultancy.