We have all heard the message – get your 5-a-day! The catchy slogan that is used in the UK to encourage us to eat more fruit and vegetables. It is a simple message on one level but when we talk about it people have lots of questions.
Laura and I reached out to our Facebook group Let’s Talk Food and asked the members what they wanted to know and made a video answering the questions we received. If you would like to see the video then join the group – it would be lovely to have a few more members getting involved in the conversation.
Where does the evidence come from? Lots and lots of evidence that has been pooled together indicates quite clearly that more than 400g of fruit and vegetables is linked to better health. The more variety within that is also beneficial. As a result, the World Health Organisation recommend that everyone should aim to eat at least 400g of fruit and vegetables.
Each country tries to package this advice in a way that suits their population. In the UK, the average portion size for most fresh fruit and vegetables is 80g. Five portions takes us to the magic number. It doesn’t include potatoes as these are considered to be carbohydrate rich foods more similar in nutrition to pasta, rice and bread than other vegetables. The average intake is 2-3 portions so 5 is an achievable number.
Why do different countries have different recommendations on the number of portions? If the average portion size is smaller but the number of portions is greater then you need to use a different number to achieve the increase to the WHO recommendations. There is also a bit of split in whether we need to recommend a split between fruit and vegetables – this also depends on what the population of the country currently eat. The best advice is to have big variety of both fruit and vegetables.
What does 5-a-day look like as part of your daily food intake? If we look at the UK Eat Well Plate model it shows that if we were to put all our food for the day onto one plate, fruit and vegetables should take up about a third of what we eat. We can use this to help us as we plan meals and snacks.
What is a portion? In the UK, for most fruits and vegetables it is 80g. For dried fruit and tomato puree it is 30g to account for the water that is lost in the drying and concentrating process. There are some great portion guidelines to help get a better feel for what a portion looks like,
For more information about the 5 a day message you can read about it on the NHS website and for beautiful images of example portion sizes then the British Heart Foundation have some clear images.
Does the colour or our fruits and veg matter? Colour gives some indication of the nutrients in our fruits and vegetables. A range of phytochemicals are responsible for the colours and it is often said that we should eat a rainbow so that we can make the most of all the nutrients and phytochemicals that our fruit and veg contain. There is no one colour that is better than another, Variety is key.
Is raw always better than canned, cooked, frozen or dried? Again, how fruit and veg are cooked and prepared affects the nutrient content or how bioavailable certain nutrients are. So just as we should eat a rainbow, eating a fruit and veg in a variety of forms maximises the nutrients that we can get from this food group. Dried fruit are higher in fibre and richer in micronutrients than fresh but much lower in water soluble vitamins than fresh. Cooked tomatoes, cooked in the presence of fats or oils allow the fat soluble vitamins to be absorbed better than from fresh tomatoes in a salad for example.
Here is a snapshot of our video. Come join us on Facebook to watch the video in full.