How many portions of fruits and vegetables do you eat on average every single day? Be totally honest with yourself, is it 2? 5? 8? 1? Or even none? If you are not sure, why not record your consumption of fruits and vegetables for the next 7 days, and then work out your average consumption.
A portion is about 80g of fruit or vegetables. This is roughly equal to, an apple, orange, banana, or similarly-sized fruit, two plums, nectarines or similarly-sized fruit, a handful or grapes or berries, a slice of melon, pineapple or large fruit, one tablespoon of raisins or other dried fruit, two serving spoons of cooked vegetables, e.g. broccoli or carrots, a dessert bowl of salad, two serving spoons of beans and pulses (only one portion per day) and a 150ml glass of fresh fruit juice or smoothie (only one portion per day)
If you are like most people in the UK the answer that you will come up with is probably between 2 and 3. In the UK, the Food Standards Agency survey tells us the average adult male is consuming just 2.7 portions of fruit and vegetables on average, while the average adult female consumes 2.9 portions. Even more worryingly the average under 19-year-old, is consuming only 1 or fewer portions. If that wasn’t bad enough, most authorities are telling us that 5 a day should be an absolute minimum. For example in Australia the government recommends seven a day, Greece nine, and in America the National Cancer Institute, says that the ideal minimum is five for children, seven for women, and nine for men! So why does the UK only recommend 5? Quite simply it’s down to the fact that as a nation we are so poor at eating fruits and vegetables, it was felt 5 was at realistic for most people – although this has not turned out to be the case unfortunately.
So why do we need fruit and vegetables?
We need to eat a minimum of 5 fruits and vegetables every day in order to provide our body-mind with the fibre, minerals, vitamins and trace elements it needs in order to prevent deficiency related diseases, such as scurvy, prevent health problems such as depression, heart disease and cancer and to enable our body and mind to function optimally. Vegetables and fruits also contain hundreds of chemicals called phyto-nutrients, whilst not essential to health, are known to promote health and prevent against disease. Common phytonutrients include carotenoids, coumarins, flavonoids, indoles, lignans, isoflavones (including genistein and daidzen) organosulfurs and phytosterols. They are most commonly found in colourful fruits and vegetables such as kale, broccoli, spinach, berries, apricots, peaches, melons, squashes, sweet potatoes, yams, carrots and pumpkin.
One important study followed thousands of women over ten years to find out whether following certain guidelines on diet and lifestyle would improve their chances of preventing cancer. The researchers found that women were able to reduce their chances of developing cancer by 22% by eating fruits and vegetables and following a healthy lifestyle.
HOW TO INCREASE YOUR INTAKE OF FRUIT & VEGGIES TO A MINIMUM OF FIVE A DAY
I do acknowledge that this is not easy for most people, but I have found the following to work well for my own patients.
CALCULATE YOUR AVERAGE DAILY INTAKE
If you haven’t done this already calculate what your average daily consumption of fruits and vegetables are. This is your starting point
One of the best ways to motivate yourself to eat more fruit and vegetables is to get emotionally attached to the benefits that will arise as a consequence of eating more. Try the following visualisation. Close your eyes and see or sense yourself at the end of your life in which you had chosen to NOT increase your intake of fruits and vegetables to minimum of five a day. Notice what health problems you might have developed or how your energy levels have been limited. What were the consequences of that decision? How has it limited and negatively impacted your health and wellbeing? Notice how you are feeling in your body. Now take a moment to see yourself at the end of your life having taken the choice to improve your health and lifestyle, the decision to eat a minimum of five fruits and vegetables a day. Notice how this time your experience is so much more positive, how you are experiencing better health and have enjoyed greater energy levels. Feel those feelings and if you like what you are experiencing make a commitment NOW to improving your health and eating a minimum of 5 a day. This visualisation exercise is particularly effective at jolting people out of unhealthy habits, I use it a lot with my patients and it works a treat!
INCREASE YOUR INTAKE SLOWLY
I have had patients increase their fruit and vegetables intake from 2 a day to 6 a day almost overnight, but because this was a shock to their body, they often experienced quite a lot of abdominal discomfort. My advice to you is to increase your intake of fruit and vegetable by one portion each week to a minimum of five, three of which should be vegetables. Try and eat a variety of different fruits and vegetables in order to benefit from their different and unique nutritional content.
Here are a couple of suggestions as to how you can get fruits and vegetables into your diet
- Eat a piece of fruit with a protein snack (such as cheese, nuts, seeds or yoghurt) mid-morning and mid-afternoon
- Put chopped apples, pears and/or berries on your cereal/porridge
- Buy a large bag of organic frozen vegetables and cook a bowlful with every main meal
- Make a fruit salad most days
- Drink your vegetables and/or juices – freshly prepared is best
- Add vegetables to everything including omelettes, fish and chips, lasagne etc
- Eat raw vegetables as a snack with guacamole or hummus
- When eating out order salads, vegetable soups, or stir-fried vegetables
Author: Mark Atkinson