Five a day
Due to their nutritional and health benefits, it’s recommended that fruit and vegetables form the basis of your diet, with a minimum intake of five portions each day - about a third of your daily food consumption. Currently the UK averages two to three portions a day, so we’re falling well short of the benefits they can provide.
Fruit and vegetables should be incorporated into every meal, as well as being the first choice for a snack. Population studies have shown that people who eat a lot of fruit and vegetables may have a lower risk of chronic disease, such as heart disease and some cancers. Health benefits can be gained from fresh, canned (in natural juice), frozen, cooked, juiced or dried versions. Potatoes don’t count though, as they’re a starchy food.
How much is a portion?
- One piece of medium-sized fruit, such as an apple, peach, banana or orange.
- One slice of fruit, such as melon, mango or pineapple.
- One handful of grapes or two handfuls of cherries or berry fruits.
- One heaped tablespoon of dried fruit.
- One small glass (150ml) of unsweetened 100 per cent fruit or vegetable juice. Juice counts as a maximum of one portion regardless of how much you drink.
- A smoothie containing all of the edible pulped fruit and/or vegetable may count as more than one portion but this depends on how it’s made. Smoothies count as up to a maximum of two portions per day.
- A small tin (roughly 200g) of fruit
- 3 tablespoons of fruit salad or stewed fruit.
- One portion of canned fruit is roughly the same quantity of fruit that you would eat for a fresh portion, such as two pear or peach halves, six apricot halves or eight segments of tinned grapefruit.
- A side salad.
- A serving (roughly 80g) of vegetables, such as frozen or mushy peas, boiled carrots or stir-fried broccoli.
- Beans and pulses count as one of your five a day portions but only count as one portion a day, no matter how many you eat.
- Cooked dishes that contain significant amounts of vegetables may also count.
So how do you ensure an intake of five portions a day? Here’s a typical plan:
- Glass of fresh orange juice or smoothie for breakfast = one portion.
- Small pack of dried apricots for mid-morning snack = one portion.
- Side salad with lunch = one portion.
- Sugar snap peas and broccoli, served with main meal = one portion.
- Strawberries as dessert = one portion.
Do remember that some fruits contain many of their nutrients just under the skin, so eating them with the skin on can provide greater nutritional benefits and the maximum amount of fibre compared with just drinking the juice of the same fruit.
Why are they important?
Fruit and vegetables of differing colours contain diverse mixtures of phytonutrients (protective plant compounds). These can act as powerful antioxidants, protecting the body from harmful free radicals and helping to protect against certain chronic diseases such as cancer. Some fruit and vegetables are labelled as ‘superfoods’ because they contain high concentrations of some phytonutrients, particularly antioxidants, which appear to be beneficial to health.
- Blueberries - contain flavonoids that can improve circulation and help defend against infection
- Broccoli - rich in the antioxidants vitamin C and beta-carotene, as well as folate, all of which can protect against cardiovascular disease and cancer
- Tomatoes - rich in lycopene, a powerful antioxidant that can protect against harmful free radicals
But variety is the key. In addition to these phytonutrients, each variety of fruit and vegetables contains its own combination of vitamins, minerals and fibre. Choosing a variety throughout the day will provide a diverse package of essential nutrients.
Boiled or steamed?
Although fruit and vegetables are packed with vitamins and minerals, many of these essential nutrients can be easily destroyed by heat when cooking and during food preparation. Water-soluble vitamins are especially vulnerable when boiled. One solution is to eat raw vegetables as much as possible, such as raw carrot, celery or peppers.
When cooking vegetables, try steaming, microwaving or poaching rather than boiling. These methods do not involve immersing them in water, so the maximum amount of nutrients can be retained, as well as their fresh taste. If you prefer to boil vegetables, do so for the minimum amount of time and in as little liquid as possible in order to retain their valuable nutrients. You could also utilise the water used in another part of your dish, such as gravies or stocks, to recapture some of the leached nutrients.
Fibre for weight control?
Fruit and vegetables are an important source of dietary fibre – both soluble and insoluble, they are virtually fat free and low in calories so in addition to keeping your digestive system healthy they can help with weight management