Is 5 a day really enough?

It was the World Health Organisation (WHO, that in 1991 first advised adults should have a daily consumption of 400g of fruit and vegetables per day which equals to about 5 portions of 80g each but it wasn’t until 2001, ten years later, that the department of health in the UK translated this to the 5 a day plan that most of us have come to recognise.

So first of all, what is a portion? Well, it equates to 7 strawberries, 8 cauliflower florets or a 2 inch piece of cucumber for example.

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According to WHO, 2.7 million deaths would be avoided annually worldwide if everybody ate 400g of fruit and veg a day. An enquiry by the Prime Minister’s Strategy Unit stated that lower than recommended intakes of fruit and veg were to blame for 42,200 premature deaths annually in the UK and poor nutrition has cost the NHS £6bn in treatment and care.

Fruit and vegetables, in a number of ways, can help to reduce the risk of ill health as they are a source of antioxidants, vitamins and minerals but not all varieties are created equal.

Polyphenols in apples and berries are good for cancer prevention and so are leafy green veg. For healthy bowels you might want to add garlic and onion for prebiotics to stimulate healthy gut bacteria. This is why you need to eat a good variety of fruit and veg.

I would say that the governments recommended 5 a day is not enough to keep us optimally healthy. France recommends 10 portions, Denmark advises 6 portions and Japan recommends a whapping 17 portions (although they are a bit smaller at 50g but that is still more than double the UK’s 400g a day recommendation).

But we are falling short of even the 5 a day recommendation in the UK. A survey in 2008 by TNS, Health of Britain, found that 88% of us are failing to meet the 5 a day target and 12% are not even managing to eat one portion. The average consumption is 2.7 portions for women and 2.4 portions for men.

The difficulty is knowing you are getting enough and also comes down to the source of your fruit and veg. For example an apple that has been shipped over from New Zealand and stored for weeks before you buy it at the supermarket will have far less nutrients than an English Cox’s apple picked and eaten straight from the tree.

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So to make sure you are getting as much fruit and vegetables as possible and get the most nutrient value out of them here are some tips:

Pick fruit and veg that is in season and grown locally as far as possible. Box schemes such as the ones from www.abelandcole.co.uk or www.riverford.co.uk are great for this.

Snack on fruit and veg instead of sugar and salt laden processed food through out the day.

Aim to eat more vegetables than fruit so as to keep your sugar intake down.

Try and eat as much of your fruit and veg raw as cooking depletes nutrients. When you do cook avoid cremating your food and boiling it to death. Veg should have a slight crunch to them so try steaming for a healthier option. The only exception to this rule is tomatoes, cooking tomatoes releases the nutrient lycopene.

Aim to have half of your main meal plate made up of vegetables.

Spuds don’t count towards your 5 a day, neither do yams or cassava. They are carbohydrates and sit in the pasta, rice and bread category. But, sweet potatoes do count towards your 5 a day as they are a rich source of beta carotene and protein.

Organic is better than non-organic. Researchers from NewcastleUniversity found that organic varieties of fruit and veg contained up to 40% more antioxidants.

Eating 5 bananas a day doesn’t count either I’m afraid, you need to have variety. Eat a varied range of colours of fruit and veg as the different colours signify different nutrients.

And finally, I would recommend supplementing with a high quality multi-vitamin and mineral to make sure you are filling the gaps left by your diet because lets face it, its not easy consuming that much fruit and veg every single day. Even though I make a conscious effort to make sure I am getting as much as possible there are days when it just doesn’t happen.

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