Are you getting your 5 a day? For the past decade, we’ve been reminded to get it. 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?
The concept of 5 A Day comes from a World Health Organisation study that recommends we should be eating 400g of fruit and vegetables a day. When you divide this out, you end up with 5 portions of fruit and veg a day.
This was 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.
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.
Benefits of 5 a day
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.
Benefits of 5 a day include:
- Reduced risk of cancer & diabetes
- More vitamins & minerals in your diet
- More energy
- Healthier lifestyle
- Stronger immune system
- Fewer calories and less fat in your diet
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 5 a day enough?
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. Vegetables were also 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.
Are we getting our 5 portions a day?
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!
A simple 5 a day meal plan
If you want to get 5 a day the easy way, try this simple meal plan every day. Mix it up with different veggies and fruit to keep things interesting:
1/5 Add fruit to cereal, porridge or lower-fat yoghurt. Or add mushrooms or tomatoes to scrambled eggs.
2/5 One glass (150ml) of V8 vegetable juice. Or a quick smoothie in a blender using your favourite fresh or frozen fruits.
3/5 Add some crunch to your sandwiches with lettuce, tomatoes, cucumber or grated carrots. Or enjoy a portion of cucumber, peppers and carrot sticks with dip.
4/5 Have a salad or vegetable side dish with your main meal.
5/5 Add a portion of frozen veg to your dinner. If you’re having a roast dinner, add some carrots or broccoli to your plate. Or simply sprinkle sweetcorn or pineapple chunks on top of a thin-based pizza.
And there you have it! 5 portions of fruit and veg without any hassle.
What counts towards your 5 a day?
The following portions count towards your 5 a day:
- 80g of fresh, canned or frozen fruit/veg
- 30g of dried fruit
- 150ml of vegetable juice/fruit juice/smoothie
- 80g of peans or pulses
According to NHS advice, 80g of fresh, canned or frozen fruit and/or vegetables counts towards your 5 a day. Each 80g serving counts as 1 of your 5.
It doesn’t matter what state your veggies are in, as long as you eat them! You can have frozen, tinned or dried fruit and veg. Plus, you can serve them in any sort of recipe to make things extra tasty.
A 150ml glass of V8 original vegetable juice counts towards your 5 a day. 30g of dried fruit counts too. But don’t think you can just drink V8 all day long. Some portions only count once per day.
Vegetable juice, smoothies and fruit juices only count once per day towards your 5 a day. Plus, crushing fruit and vegetables into juice and smoothies releases the sugars they contain, which can damage your teeth.
While a good source of fibre, beans and pulses contain fewer vitamins and minerals than other portions of fruit and veg. As such, they only count once per day as well.
What doesn’t count towards your 5 a day?
Not all fruits or veg count towards your 5 a day. These include:
- More than one 80g portion of beans or pulses
- More than one 150ml glass of vegetable juice/fruit juice/smoothie
Potatoes, while good for you, don’t count towards your 5 a day. They don’t count because, in UK meals, they are used as a source of starch, not vitamins and minerals. The same is generally true for yarns, cassava and plantain.
3 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?
1. 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.
2. No 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 lasts longer than fresh varieties.
3. Disliking fruits and vegetables
Some people just don’t like fruit or veg. This can make getting your 5 a day a serious challenge. However, with so many different types of fruit and vegetables available, there’s no way you could have tried them all.
If you persevere, you might find something 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.
The “5 A Day” campaign timeline
Read more on getting your 5 A Day: