With different nations recommending different daily intakes of fruit and vegetables, it can be difficult to know if we are eating enough to get the maximum benefits from our meals.
We take a look at the benefits of eating fruit and vegetables, and whether we are getting as much as we should be.
The UK government started their five a day campaign back in 2003, whilst the US updated their recommendations in 2011, with the “My Plate” program, which states that a half of your plate should be fruits and vegetables. But, all of these “easy” measuring systems provide different advice for how much fruit and vegetables a person should be getting per day.
- Australia: 5 portions veg, 2 portions of fruit
- France: 10 portions per day
- Japan: 13 portions of veg, 4 portions of fruit
The Australian Government recommends 5 portions of vegetables per day as well as 2 portions of fruit. At the higher end of the scale, the French recommendation is 10 portions per day, whilst the Japanese government recommends a staggering 13 portions of vegetables daily, as well as 4 portions of fruit.
The other problem with following government guidelines on how much fruit and vegetables to eat per day is that each country classifies a portion as a different weight.
How Much is a Portion?
The World Health Organisation advised in 1990 that our minimum daily intake of fruit and vegetables should be 400g a day. Following UK government guidelines, a portion of fresh or tinned fruit or vegetables is 80 grams. A portion of dried fruit is 30 grams, because the fruit has been dehydrated, losing much of its water weight. This means that it has a higher vitamin and mineral density per gram, but also more calories. A guide to how much of each type of fruit and vegetable makes up one portion is available here. Many supermarkets put a guide to how much of each fruit is a portion on the packaging.
As mentioned above, many different countries class different weights of fruit and vegetables as one portion. Australia launched their “Go for 2+5″ portion recommendation back in 2005, but their weight classifications are vastly different from UK specifications, as they recommend a minimum intake of two 150g portions of fruit and five 75g portions of vegetables. This is the same as nearly 9 portions according to the UK system.
Recent Research Suggests More is Always Better
One study University College London study, which was published in March 2014, followed 65,226 British participants between the years 2001 and 2013, focusing upon how many portions of fruit and vegetables they ate per day, and correlating that information with the incidence of deaths in the same group of people. Deaths were tallied under all-causes, as well as deaths resulting from cancer and heart disease. These figures are adjusted for sex, age, cigarette smoking, social class, Body Mass Index, education, physical activity and alcohol intake, and exclude deaths within a year of the food survey.
The study found that those who regularly ate 7 or more portions of vegetables and fruit per day were 42% less likely to die of any cause than those who ate no portions of fruit or vegetables per day. This effect was found regardless of the ages of the subjects in the study. UCL issued a press release about the study, noting that;
Eating seven or more portions reduces the specific risks of death by cancer and heart disease by 25% and 31% respectively.
The study also found that for every extra portion of fruit and vegetables eaten, the chances of death decreased incrementally.
Compared to eating less than one portion of fruit and vegetables, the risk of death by any cause is reduced by 14% by eating one to three portions, 29% for three to five portions, 36% for five to seven portions and 42% for seven or more.
This means that every effort to eat even a few more portions of fruit and vegetables per day does increase the medical benefit.
The study also looked at how different types of fruit and vegetables affected the results. The way that fruit and vegetables were processed was found to be significant. Fresh fruit and vegetables were obviously beneficial for health. Government guidelines currently state that frozen and tinned fruit and vegetables are just as beneficial as fresh alternatives. However, the researchers discovered that eating canned and frozen fruit increased the risk of dying by 17 per cent, and fruit juice was found to have no significant benefit.
The researchers have speculated that because tinned and frozen fruit were classed together on the original surveys, the results could be slightly misleading. It was suggested that because tinned fruit is often preserved in syrups and sugary liquids, this may reduce the healthiness of the portion of fruit. Without more research into this, it is difficult to understand exactly how and why the consumption of frozen and tinned fruit and vegetables is linked with poorer life expectancy than the consumption of fresh produce.
Vegetables were found to play a much larger role in improving health than fruit. However, fruit should not be ruled out of the diet in favour of vegetables, as all are beneficial to health.
This study is likely to be influential in the giving of nutritional advice in coming years. The study covered a huge number of participants, as the data for over 65,000 people was used in the study. Many studies, especially preliminary ones, use far fewer participants, usually less than 50, and so this huge number gives the results more weight. The long time span of the study also gives weight to the results. The study covered 12 years, allowing a good follow-up period, which helps researchers to work out the long-term consequences of our dietary habits.
The study naturally supports the recommendations made by the Australian government, for people to try to focus mainly on consuming fresh vegetables, supported by the consumption of some fruit.
How Does Eating Fruits and Vegetables Improve Health?
There are numerous ways in which eating fruits and vegetables is beneficial for health. Both are high in fibre, which is required for digestive health and regular bowel movements. A high fibre content also helps to make the eater feel fuller for longer, which can help significantly with dieting and weight loss efforts. The NHS states that eating a diet high in fibre
can help prevent heart disease, diabetes, weight gain and some cancers, and can also improve digestive health.
Source: NHS website
It can also help to lower cholesterol levels.
Fruits and vegetables are also a great natural source of numerous vitamins and minerals that are essential for maintaining good all-round health. By choosing a wide variety of fruits and vegetables, the vitamin and mineral content of your diet will be greatly improved.
Eating vegetables and fruits rich in potassium may help to lower blood pressure, and may also reduce the risk of developing kidney stones and help to decrease bone loss. Vegetables that are high in potassium include spinach, mushrooms, kale and squash. Pulses are also high in potassium, and count towards your five (or seven) a day. Bananas, avocados and apricots also have a high potassium content.
Fruits and vegetables are often high in antioxidants. These play a wide range of roles in the body, but are thought to fight disease, reduce damage to cells from free radicals and reduce the chances of stroke, heart disease and cancer.
Fruit and vegetables often contain both vitamin A and vitamin C. Vitamin A is required for health eyes, hair and skin, and is thought to help the body to fight off infections efficiently. Vitamin C helps heal cuts and wounds and keeps teeth and gums healthy. Vitamin C also aids in iron absorption. Foods that are high in vitamin C include kiwis, guavas, broccoli, peppers, berries, and citrus fruits such as oranges, lemons and grapefruits. Sweet potato, carrots, kale and lettuce are all great sources of vitamin A.
Finally, many fruits and vegetables, as well as pulses, contain folate (vitamin B9). This is important for the production of red blood cells, as well as growth in general. Folate is especially important for pregnant women, as it plays a significant role in proper foetal development. Folate cannot be stored by the body, and so needs to be consumed every day for optimum nutritional health. Foods that contain folate include broccoli, Brussels sprouts, spinach and asparagus, as well as many pulses such as chickpeas and black eyed peas.
Tips and Tricks for Eating More Fruit and Veg
Adjust your favourite recipes
It is easy to add in an extra vegetable or two into a family favourite. Try grating a carrot into a tomato sauce to add flavour and texture, add an extra onion into the recipe, or trying a new vegetable for variety.
Try a different type of mash
Love mashed potatoes? Whilst potatoes do not count towards your five (or seven) a day, sweet potatoes, carrots, turnips, swede and celeriac all do. If you don’t want to cut out potatoes completely, try boiling and mashing half the amount of potatoes you normally use, and make up the rest of the mixture with one of these root vegetables.
Choose a red sauce over a white sauce
Whilst creamy and cheesy sauces are rich and incredibly tasty, they are also high in calories and do not contain any vegetables or fruit. The tomatoes in a tomato sauce are much lower in calories, and count towards your quota of daily fruit and vegetables. Cooked tomatoes are also thought to be healthier than raw tomatoes, because the cooking process makes the Lycopene content easier to absorb in the body. Lycopene is an antioxidant linked with lowering stroke risk.
Are a great way of adding more vegetables, colour and nutrients to your plate, as well as increasing your fibre intake. Try adding salad vegetables such as lettuce, tomato and cucumbers to your usual lunch time sandwich.
Eat fruit for breakfast and snacks
Instead of carb and calorie heavy options. Studies are suggesting that this will keep you fuller for longer, because of the high fibre content, and lower GI score.
By buying fruit and vegetables that are in season, they will not only be tastier, but cheaper too. This means that buying larger amounts of fruits and vegetables need not be especially expensive.
How vegetables are cooked has a large impact upon their nutritional value. Dieticians all agree that the fresher a portion of fruit or vegetables is, the better. This is because the nutrients in any fruit or vegetable deteriorate as soon as they are harvested. Over-cooking vegetables also reduces the vitamin content. Therefore lightly steaming vegetables for a few minutes is the best way to cook them, whereas boiling or frying vegetables greatly reduces the nutritional value of the food.
Verdict on How Much Daily Fruit and Veg
Overall, the nutritional benefit of eating fruits and vegetables as a significant part of a balanced diet is undeniable. The only question remains therefore is how much should we be eating?
Dieticians and researchers all agree that the answer is simply “as much as possible”. As the recent study from University College London shows, for every extra portion of fruit or vegetables that we are able to consume each day, there is a marked benefit to health in both the short and long term.
Whilst ideally people would be eating 7 or even more portions of fruits and vegetables per day, it seems that any effort to increase the amount of fruits and vegetables consumed makes a difference.
Try slowly increasing the variety and amount of fruits and vegetables consumed per day. This will allow your body to adapt to the increased fibre content, as well as helping you to slowly but permanently making dietary changes for the better.