Nutrition : Headlines,Fruit and veg How many a day???

Tuesday 08 May 2018

I want to look at the recent headlines that have been printed in all the leading newspapers about the research into fruits and vegetables and how much is enough for us to eat each day.

Didn’t they say 5?
For years the government has been recommending 5 portions a day. There is now increasing evidence that this is not enough to keep us fit and healthy in the long term. Statistic have been published that say that by increasing the number of portions a day from 5 to 7 or even 10 can reduce the risk of dying from cancer by 25% and of heart disease by 31%. These calculations were published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, which also wrote that for each portion of vegetable eaten each day it cut the risk of dying by 16%, a portion of salad by 13% and a portion of fruit by 4%.

Dr. Oyonlola Oyebode lead author of the report said the dietary effect was ‘staggering’, but she did stress that even eating a few portions can still have a dramatic impact on health. The results came after the University College London study of 65.000 people in England and Wales between 2001 and 2013. They found that canned fruit and fruit juices appeared to increase the risk because of the high sugar content. These finding support the Australian government of 2 fruits and 5 vegetables portions a day.

Karol Sikora who is an oncologist, wrote an article which appeared in one newspaper supporting the new initiative and explained that it was sad that it took a life threatening illness like cancer to get people to change their eating habits. He went on to say that he feels that fruits and vegetables are nature’s way of keeping us healthy as the plants contain cancer preventing compounds that help to mop up free radicals we accumulate in our cells and as we get older which cause damage to the DNA. He encourages his patients to ‘cram’ as many vegetables and fruits as they can into their diets.

However this research has been criticised as being unachievable for most and was accused of creating a disheartening message for those who struggle to reach the 5 portions a day. Expense and lack of cooking skills was also a concern.

I also think personally that people do not give themselves time to bother or focus on buying, preparing and eating them because convenience foods seem to have taken over. We are heavily reliant on supermarkets for our shopping. One report did show that if a family of four purchased their fruits and vegetables from a market stall they could buy sufficient for each member to reach 5 a day for £18.00 which is quite impressive.

Phytonutrients and colour on your plate
Those who read my blogs will know that I have recommended 8-10 portions a day for years. This is because vegetables in particular contain lots of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. They also contain the health enhancing phyto- nutrients (phyto -chemicals). These have been researched and found to have huge protective benefits to the health of our cells. There are 1,000’s of phytonutrients and they are being discovered all of the time. A few examples are Ellagic acid in berry fruits and lycopene in tomatoes.  Of course we cannot pretend to know all of them but the clue is in the colour of the fruit or vegetable. The more colour on your plate then the more phytonutrients present. Each of the different coloured pigments have different nutritional qualities. This is best illustrated in the book called The Rainbow Diet By Chris Woollams. He describes fruits and vegetables as being ‘nature’s gift to us including all the natural pigments and other food compounds for our health’.

Make changes manageable
All of this evidence cannot be ignored and although I am a huge fan of vegetables and fruits in the diet I do have empathy for those who struggle for whatever reason to include them. It is like everything in life if you want to make changes you start small and build up gently. This way the changes are more sustainable.

Fresh is best
I am always encouraging people to use fresh vegetables and fruits as much as possible simply because of the health benefits and one tip that I try and pass on is to use vegetables and fruits that are in season simply because they will be cheaper and at their peak nutritionally. If you do have access to a farmers market or independent green grocer they will inevitably be cheaper. Funnily enough I bought some purple sprouting from our local green grocer yesterday and it was delicious simply steamed. The stalks were very tender so no waste.

Seasonal veg
This time of the year we should be looking out for broccoli, cauliflower, kale, purple sprouting, salsify, spinach, spring onions and water cress. Carrots of course and pumpkins now seem to be available all year round which will add colour to the plate. The BBC Good Food website has an excellent chart telling what to look out for at different times of the year. You may find this useful.

Cooking methods
I always encourage people to try and invest in a steamer because it is such a simple nutritious way to cook several vegetables at one time in one container. This saves on the washing up. Stir fries are also a good option one pan 5-10 mins and it is cooked. Regular readers will also know that I am a he fan of soups, quick and easy to make and will freeze for days when time is short.

The portion challenge
So if you are reading this and want to improve the amount of fresh fruits and vegetables in the diet then challenge yourself to include 1 extra portion each couple of days or so until you reach a good level. Any increase at all is a positive move. Think of the health benefits!!


 The Rainbow diet  referred to in the text (  this is the  later version published after the original blog )

The Rainbow Diet: And How it Can Help You Beat Cancer Paperback – 1 Jan 2015
by Chris Woollams

Blog originally written by Caroline April 2014

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