The benefits of fruits and vegetables have long been recognised, and the introduction of the ‘5 a day’ campaign in 2001 was designed to break down the World Health Organization (WHO) 1991 recommendation of a 400g daily fruit and vegetable intake into practical portions.
The nutrients in fruits and vegetables are essential for our bodies, but what exactly does a portion look like and how many of us are reaching the 5 a day target?
Five portions of fruit and vegetables a day could be made up of:
- Two broccoli spears, one medium tomato, three heaped tablespoons of peas, one slice of melon and one pear
- Three sticks of celery, eight cherry tomatoes, four heaped tablespoons of spinach, three prunes and one banana
While this sounds simple enough when broken down like this, the Health of Britain – Perspectives on Nutrition independent study found that 88% of us are failing to meet the 5 a day guideline, and 12% are not even managing one portion daily.
How is this possible? There are various elements contributing to this situation, from the focus on marketing junk food to the availability of convenience meals, to the decline of the family meals around the dinner table. Meals have become something that are often squeezed into an already too busy schedule, and when stress is high and time is short it’s all too easy to grab a fast food meal lacking the benefits of fruits and vegetables.
So, given the current situation for many people, asking whether 5 a day is enough may seem a slightly irrelevant question. If people are not achieving 5, what would be the point of raising the guideline to 6 (the guideline for Denmark), 10 (the French guideline), or even 17 (the staggering guideline for Japan)?
The fact is that while the 400g / 5 a day guideline is useful as a benchmark (albeit a low benchmark – remember the 5 a day guideline was always meant to be the minimum, not the optimal intake), the exact requirements for each person vary considerably depending on their age, gender, physical activity, stress levels, overall diet and many other factors.
What should you do then?
- Aim for a minimum of 5 fruits and vegetable portions each day
- Choose as wide a variety of fruits and vegetables as possible – 5 of any fruit or vegetable will not be as effective as a range of 5 different varieties
- Use a natural multivitamin and mineral to ensure adequate vitamin and mineral intake – not to replace the need for fresh fruits and vegetables
- Consider supplementing a natural dehydrated fruit and vegetable supplement if you, or perhaps your children, regularly do not meet the guideline
For more personalised advice, contact me.