Is five a day actually enough?
A lot of the time, it can feel like us Brits are really struggling to reach our five recommended portions of fruit and veg a day. We start to increase our overall consumption levels to try and up our numbers. Do I have banana with my Weetabix? Should I have some extra broccoli with my tea? Do I shovel four pub nets of blueberries down my throat at 10pm when I realise all I've had that counts today is baked beans (on toast... with cheese).
From an early age, the importance of these seemingly vital five portions a day has been drilled into us. Now, some nutritionists and scientists are saying that, actually, we should be aiming for seven. "Seven?!" I hear you cry? Well, when you weight it up against the simply gobsmacking 17 portions that they aim for in Japan, it starts to sound almost feasible. In fact, Britain has one if the lowest benchmarks in Europe.
In fact, with a bit of planning and know-how, seven portions starts to become almost easy. However, if you plan to keep your target to five, the gift is in choosing a combination of fruits and vegetables that really pack in the vitamins, and mixing them up so that you cover all bases.
As a start point, it is advised that you try to keep your portions of fruit to 2-3 a day. Some fruit is incredibly high in sugar. You're just as likely to damage your teeth if you eat a whole packet of dried fruit a day than if you chomped away at the same amount of sweets. Fruit juices as well should be kept to one portion ideally.
Within each group of vitamins and minerals, there are some fruits and vegetables that deliver more benefits than others. Below is a simple list of the fruits and vegetables that pack the most punch in four essential vitamins and minerals (Vitamins A, C, E and potassium), so you can make your choice count and maximise your intake.
Vitamin A is essential for cell production, bone development and maintaining healthy hair, skin and teeth. Foods that are particularly proficient in Vitamin A include:
- orange vegetables (carrots, sweet potatoes etc)
- dark green, leafy vegetables (kale, spinach, cabbage)
- honeydew melon/watermelon
Maximise your Vitamin A: swap mash potato for sweet potato mash. It's much tastier.
Vitamin C is the one that most people think of when they are considering what their bodies need. It helps your body grow and repair tissue and makes collagen, which is essential in the production of skin, cartilage, tendons and blood vessels. Contrary to popular belief, oranges aren't the sole supplier of Vitamin C. High providers include:
- kiwi fruit
Maximise your Vitamin C: swap cous cous or quinoa for a mixed bean salad (M&S do a great one). Feeling peckish - just have both!
Vitamin E is an antioxidant, so helps to protect your body against damage. Vitamin E also massively helps the body to manufacture red blood cells. With your cells dying and being replaced all the time, this makes it a high priority vitamin. High sources of Vitamin E include:
Maximise your Vitamin E: Make some parsnip wedges to serve as a carbohydrate with your evening meal. These are a fantastic substitute for potato wedges.
Potassium is essential as it helps out bodies build necessary proteins, muscle and aids healthy heart condition. Great sources of potassium include:
- dried apricots or prunes
- orange juice
- baked potato
Maximise your potassium: As a dessert, bake a banana in the oven then dot with a few dark chocolate chips. Ridiculously indulgent but sneakily good for you. Just don't overdo the chocolate!
So overall, we're saying that aiming for 5-7 portions a day is nothing to be ashamed of. Just mix then up and make them count. The World Health Organisation guidelines state that 5-7 should be enough to help us reach our recommended quota to help us stave off health problems such as obesity and diabetes. On the whole, as long as you aim to eat a good amount of fruit and vegetables and cut down on alcohol and processed foods, you're not doing a bad job. If you're still struggling with the 5-7, spare a thought for our friends over in Japan.