You may have seen the recent headlines that eating 10 fruit and vegetables a day can prevent a whole host of illnesses and premature deaths as a result of these. But where did this information come from? What are the health benefits? And should we be doubling our intake of fruit and vegetables?
The Origins of 5 A Day
5 a day came about in 2003 when the World Health Organization (WHO) published a report that assessed the findings of many scientific studies on fruit and vegetable intake and their effect on health. The WHO reported that daily consumption of 400-500g of fruits and vegetables is advisable to reduce risk of developing cardiovascular related problems such as high blood pressure, stroke and coronary heart disease. This recommended quantity of 400g was then used to develop the 5 a day campaign by dividing the 400g target into five 80g portions of fruits and vegetables. 80g portions are a realistic quantity and breaking these down across the day to achieve 5 portions is manageable, whilst it also promotes variety as each of the 5 portions should be a different fruit or vegetable to get a range of different micronutrients.
Since this WHO research has been published it has provoked even more scientific interest into the benefits of varying quantities of fruits and vegetables on health. Imperial College London published a scientific article evidencing the beneficial health effects of consuming 10 portions fruit and vegetables each day, a portion is counted as 80g. Researchers compiled data from over 350 studies across the world, and calculated the risks of developing or dying from: cancer, stroke, coronary heart disease, cardiovascular disease and deaths by all causes. The results showed that for every 2 and a half extra portions (200g) of fruit and vegetables included in the diet, there was a 10% reduction in the risk of deaths from all causes, for example somebody consuming 650g/day compared to someone consuming 450g/day would have a reduced risk of the aforementioned diseases. However this only applies up to a maximum of 800g of fruit and vegetables consumed per day, no further reductions in risk were observed by researchers when intake exceeded 800g/day. The researchers claimed that 7.8 million early deaths could be avoided a year if everybody consumed 10 portions of fruit and vegetables a day.
So what does that mean for the general public? With only a third of the British public reaching the current recommendation of 5 a day, the guidelines are unlikely to change anytime soon. Although consuming the extra portions would be desirable, it’s currently an unrealistic expectation and people should focus on consuming 5 a day; there is no benefit of a guideline that isn’t followed.
The bottom line is that the more fruit and vegetables we can eat, the better! We should be aiming to consume 5 portions a day as a minimum, and include as many different fruits and vegetables in our meals and snacks to consume as we can.
Here are some savvy tricks on how to sneak fruits and vegetables into your day:
- Use fruit as a topping for your cereal or porridge whether it is diced, grated, mashed or whole
- Bananas and wholegrain toast go surprisingly well together
- Make a smoothie using fruit and veg
- Beans on toast counts as one of your 5 a day
- Have a portion of spinach, tomatoes and mushrooms alongside a poached egg and a slice of wholegrain toast. A cooked breakfast consisting of 80g portions of baked beans, tomatoes, spinach and mushrooms would provide 4 of your 5 a day straight away
- Have a 150ml glass of fruit juice
- infuse your vegetables with your favourite herbs and spices
- beans, chickpeas and lentils are 1 of your 5 a day
- side salads count
- citrus fruits, mango and papaya taste great in salads
- meat free meals are an easy way to boost veg count by having chickpea burgers for example homemade tomato sauces count, and then if you bulk them out with veg you’ve instantly got 3 of your 5 a day = winning!
And of course just eating the fruits and vegetables whole, without any added extras is often the easiest and one of the tastiest ways to enjoy your 5 a day.
This article has been written by Karis Betts ANutr, Graduate Nutritionist.
Reference: Aune, D et al. 2017. Fruit and vegetable intake and the risk of cardiovascular disease, total cancer and all-cause mortality—a systematic review and dose-response meta-analysis of prospective studies. International Journal of Epidemiology, Volume 46, Issue 3, 1 June 2017, pp1029–1056.