"We all know by now that we should be eating more fruit and vegetables. From newspapers and magazines, leaflets in supermarkets and even labels on the food we buy, we are constantly encouraged to eat more of the green stuff. And that’s no bad thing.
Fruit and vegetables are power-houses of nutrition. Packed with vitamins, minerals, anti-oxidants and all kinds of phyto-nutrients, fibre and water, diets rich in fruit and veg are associated with better health – lower heart attack risk, lower risks of some cancers, decreased obesity, better eye-sight, healthier looking skin – you name it, fruit and veg have a role in it.
But just how many portions of fruit and veg should we be aiming for every day…and what is a portion? If you’ve been getting through 2 cartons of juice and 3 tins of beans every day to increase your fruit and vegetable intake, well done for trying. But a closer look at the Department of Health’s recommendations will help you take a step in the right direction.
The Department of Health recently launched new guidelines on what exactly counts as a portion of fruit and vegetables, after a National Diet and Nutrition Survey revealed that only one in seven adults eat the recommended quantity of greens on a regular basis. Part of the problem is that, while a lot of people are aware of the need to eat five portions of fruit and veg a day, there seems to be a bit of confusion over what exactly constitutes a portion.
The 5 a day campaign was initially launched to encourage people to eat more fruit and vegetables as the evidence shows that eating at least five portions of fruit and vegetables each day could help prevent up to 20% of deaths from conditions such as heart disease and cancer. That’s a lot of lives saved just by eating more of something.
However, some food manufacturers jumped on the 5 a day bandwagon and began to promote their products as being as healthy and nutritious as fresh fruit or vegetables. Take baked beans, for example.
Beans do count as a vegetable portion and the tomato sauce they come in can also go some way to meeting your 5 a day. In fact, cooked tomatoes provide even more of the anti-oxidant lycopene than fresh tomatoes. But when those beans and cooked tomatoes are accompanied by salt, sugar, fat, Tele-Tubbie shaped pasta and even mini-sausages, the health message begins to get pushed a little to one side.
The Department of Health now insist that companies who make claims like this will have to review their recipes to ensure their processed foods are not high in fat, sugar or salt, if they want to be included in the 5 a day campaign.
So, what exactly counts as a portion of fruit and veg?
Well, the list below should help you out on that one. But to confuse matters, there are some foods that can only count once. Whether you drink a glass of fruit juice or a whole carton of fruit juice, it can only count as one fruit and veg portion per day. Sorry folks, but when fruit and veg are juiced, they lose their fibre so this guideline is in place to ensure we all get enough fibre to keep our bowels happy. If you smoothie your fruit, on the other hand (blend up whole fruit with milk, yoghurt and other yummy things like honey), each fruit portion that goes into your blender counts.
Beans (small, round beans like baked beans, not long thin green ones) and pulses can only count once because they are higher in protein and calories and lower in water than other vegetables. And 100% concentrated puree, such as tomato puree, can also only count as one portion, no matter how much you eat of the stuff.
And to set the record straight, frozen is just as good (sometimes better) than fresh, and tinned veggies are certainly better than none if that’s all you have access to.
Have a look at what constitutes a portion and get yourself down to the greengrocers pronto.
Fruit - aim for at least 2 servings a day.
½ avocado or grapefruit
1 medium apple, banana, orange, fresh peach, large slice of fresh pineapple, tablespoon of raisins, handful of grapes, handful of banana chips (a handful is how much will comfortably fit in the palm of your hand)
2 inch slice of melon, small mandarin-type oranges, rings of canned pineapple, plums, apricots, kiwi fruit, handfuls of raspberries
7 slices of canned peach, strawberries
Vegetables - aim for at least 3 servings a day - but the more the merrier
1 cereal bowl of lettuce, medium onion, medium tomato, large parsnip
2 inches of cucumber, spears of broccoli, heaped tablespoons of cooked spinach
3 sticks of celery, heaped tablespoons of sweetcorn, lentils or beans (only once a day), mixed frozen vegetables, peas or carrots
5 spears of asparagus
7 slices of beetroot, cherry tomatoes
8 cauliflower florets, Brussels sprouts
As with everything else, variety is the spice of life. Although not specified in the government guidelines, we would recommend that waist watchers don’t rely on avocado, banana chips and raisins for their 5 a day. Avocado is a relatively high-fat food (okay, it’s good fat, but it’s still fat), banana chips are all too often fried and dried fruit can be coated in oil to keep them shiny and as good as new.
So fill up your plate with greens (and reds, oranges, yellows and purples) and get on target for better health."