For the past decade we’ve been reminded to get our 5 a day. That’s all well and good, but a lot of us don’t understand why it’s important. To confuse matters, recent reports suggest we should be getting 7 or more a day rather than 5! Is it really necessary for us to include 7 portions of fruit and veg in our diet on a daily basis in order to guarantee optimum health and well-being?
To make this all bit clearer, we asked our nutrition experts for their view. Read on to find out more about the importance of including fruit and veg in your diet, and why 5 portions is enough to keep you happy and healthy.
Why 5 A Day?
Fruit and vegetables are a fantastic source of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants – all of which are vital for good health and well-being. Plenty of studies have identified the link between poor diet and health problems such as obesity, heart disease and some cancers. There is strong evidence to suggest that, with every portion of fruit and vegetables, there is greater protection against most of these ailments.
In 1990, the World Health Organisation (WHO) introduced the concept of ‘5 a day’. Along with the UK’s Committee on Medical Aspects of Food and Nutrition (COMA), they set the recommendation that we should be consuming 400g of a variety of fruits and vegetables daily. This was then adopted by the UK government, and it is now widely recognised that fruit and veg should make up a third of our daily food consumption. Eating 5 a day is considered an achievable goal and is enough to provide significant health benefits.
Benefits of 5 A Day
So what are the specific benefits of having 5 different fruits and vegetables a day? Well, it all comes down to the nutrients. We all need a number of different nutrients to make up a healthy balanced diet. Fruits and vegetables are a rich source of vitamins, minerals and many healthy nutrients, such as Vitamin A, Vitamin C, iron, dietary fibre and calcium.
By eating or drinking a wide range of fruit and veg, we can get enough of the nutrients we need to look after our health and lower the risk of serious problems such as stroke, type 2 diabetes and some cancers. Regularly eating fruit and vegetables also helps to improve your digestive system, strengthens your skeletal system and even supports your immune system; reducing your vulnerability to minor infections like the flu and cold. Furthermore, as fruit and vegetables are low in fat and calories, getting plenty in your diet can help you to lose weight and keep it off.
Is 7 A Day Necessary?
Back in 2014, a University College London study made headlines after it was revealed we should be aiming for 7 portions of fruit and veg a day instead of the recommended 5. Alarmingly, many of the recommendations – such as eating tinned and frozen fruit – were cited as unhelpful dietary contributions, and vegetables were found to provide a lower risk of disease and early mortality than fruit. As you will probably remember, this study caused nationwide confusion and many began to question the validity of the recommended 5 a day guidelines.
The NHS quickly responded to the headlines, claiming many news publications reported the results of the study incorrectly, and so contributed towards the confusion. It highlighted the limitations of the study, and how it was not representative of a person’s usual diet and didn’t take into account other factors, such as how diet changes over time.
Ultimately, whilst the study made some valid claims, according to the NHS, the 7 a day recommendations ‘do not go against the 5 a day message’. Therefore, if you’re getting 7 portions of fruit and vegetables a day, that’s fantastic, but in realistic terms, the minimum requirement for good health and well-being is 5. Anything more is a bonus.
How Many Portions Are We Eating?
If we all tried really hard to eat 5 portions of fruit and vegetables a day, it could save an estimated 15,000 lives a year in the UK alone. Yet despite all of the scientific evidence and long running campaigns, recent findings suggest 70% of the UK population eat fewer than 5 portions of fruit and veg a day!
According to the latest National Diet and Nutrition Survey (NDNS) data, it’s children who are the most likely to miss the daily target, with only 10% of boys and 7% of girls aged 11 to 18 years meeting the recommendation. Adults are doing a bit better, with 30% eating their 5 a day, but the majority average just 4 portions. This is particularly worrying in light of the 7 a day recommendations!
Reasons why people don’t get their 5 a day
So why aren’t we getting enough fruits and vegetables in our diets? We’ve pinpointed the 3 main reasons – do any of them sound familiar?
- Too Expensive – Many people worry that eating 5 different portions of fruit and vegetables a day is expensive, but it doesn’t have to be. There are plenty of ways to cut the cost and eat healthy on a budget. For example, bananas cost less than 25p in a supermarket, which is far less than the average chocolate bar. Fresh fruit and vegetables are also cheaper when they are in season, and they taste better too.
- Lack of Time – If you’re always busy, it can be tricky finding time to cook healthy meals and shop regularly for fresh fruit and veg. Quick and easy ways to get more of your 5 a day include drinking vegetable juice such as V8, which provides 1 portion of your 5 a day. Our juice can also be used to whip up quick and easy family meals such as this delicious 7 Ingredient Chunky Chilli. You can also stock up on tinned and frozen fruits and packaged dried fruit which last longer than fresh varieties.
- Disliking Fruits and Vegetables – If you or a member of your family is anti-fruit and veg, it may seem easier and less hassle to forget about them completely. However, with so many different types of fruit and vegetables available, there’s no way you could have tried them all, so persevere and find what you like. You may also find a vegetable you have been avoiding since childhood is actually quite different in taste now that you’re older. Have fun trying lots of different foods and discovering new flavours.
5 a day timeline
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