5 A Day – not as difficult to achieve as you might think

June 12, 2012 12:53 pm

5 a day isn’t as difficult to achieve as you might first think

Although the 5 A Day scheme may not be that new – it was launched in 1994 to encourage us to increase our intake of fruit and vegetables to benefit our health – there still seems to be some uncertainty about what counts towards it. This was reflected by the fact that the most recent National Diet and Nutrition Survey showed that not even a third of adults of working age were managing to meet the 5 A Day guideline (Department of Health, 2011). This article aims to clarify what counts as a portion of fruit and vegetables and dispel some of the common misconceptions that exist around this topic.

Do fruit and vegetables have to be fresh?
Not at all – they can be frozen, tinned, dried or juiced and are no less nutritious; in fact frozen berries and green vegetables tend to have a higher Vitamin C content than their fresh counterparts, as freezing “locks in” the nutrients. If buying tins, choose fruit in juice rather than syrup and vegetables in water rather than brine, as this helps to lower your intake of sugar and salt. Just remember with dried fruit that it more concentrated as the water has been removed, so you don’t need to eat so much – more on portions shortly. Fruit juice has to be “pure” – watch out for “juice drinks”, which can contain a lot of added sugar – and no matter how much you drink, it will only count as one portion – this relates to the fact that the fibre and flesh has been removed, so the nutritional benefits from those have been lost. However, you will see from the portion guide that a smoothie will count for two portions as long as it contains a full portion of juice and one of fruit.

Do I have to eat five different fruit and vegetables?
It is best if you can eat a range of different fruit and vegetables and vary which you eat from day to day. This is because fruit and vegetables do not all contain the same vitamins and minerals. It is particularly beneficial if you can eat a “rainbow” of fruit and vegetables each day – if you think about it you will be able to name red, orange, yellow, green and purple ones – as it is their antioxidants (plant chemicals that protect cells in the body) that are responsible for the colour of fruit and vegetables.

Adding vegetables to pasta or other dishes can easily increase the number of nutrients you get

What exactly is a portion?
Use the following as a guide:
• Medium sized fruit e.g. apple, banana, orange, pear – 1 fruit
• Smaller fruits e.g. kiwis, plums, satsumas – 2 fruit
• Berries and grapes – 1 handful
• Larger fruits e.g. melon, mango, papaya – 1 large slice
• Tinned or stewed fruit – 3 tablespoons
• Dried fruit – 1 heaped tablespoon of small fruits e.g. raisins; 3 apricots or prunes; 2 figs
• Pure fruit juice – 150ml
• Pure fruit smoothies – these actually count for 2 portions as long as they contain 80g of whole fruit and 150ml of pure fruit juice
• Vegetables – 3 heaped tablespoons
• Salad – a small cereal bowlful

I eat a lot of potatoes, do they coun
Unfortunately, although potatoes are nutritious, they don’t count towards your 5 A Day. They are more similar nutritionally to starchy foods such as bread and cereals.

What about the fruit in yoghurts?
Again, they don’t count. This time it relates to there not being enough fruit to count as a portion – there has to be at least 80g. However, add some chopped or tinned fruit to yoghurt to provide a portion.

I now know what can count towards my 5 A Day, but how can I achieve the target?
• Have a glass of fruit juice with one of your meals.
• Add chopped fruit or a spoonful of dried fruit to your cereal.
• For a healthy cooked breakfast serve a poached egg on a slice of toast with a grilled tomato, boiled mushrooms and baked beans.
• If making a sandwich, add a generous portion of salad to the filling.
• Make a chunky vegetable soup and freeze individual portions for a warming winter lunch.

Vegetables can go a long way in various dishes 

• In summer make a salad for lunch – base it on pasta, rice or couscous and add plenty of chopped salad vegetables with either some pulses (peas, beans and lentils) or a small portion of meat, fish or cheese.
• Serve a jacket potato with a salad and what about trying the following fillings: Cottage or soft cheese with tinned pineapple; grated cheese with grated carrot and raisins; tuna with chopped cucumber and spring onions and vegetable chilli.
• Add vegetables to dishes wherever you can – casseroles, stews, curries, chilli and pasta sauces are all good vehicles to carry extra vegetables.
• Add chopped peppers, onions, tomatoes, mushrooms, courgette and sweetcorn to pizza.
• For a healthier dessert, serve tinned or stewed fruit with low fat yoghurt, light evaporated milk or low fat custard.
• Snack on a piece of fruit, a portion of dried fruit or vegetable sticks with a salsa, low fat yoghurt dip or cottage cheese.

If you would like further information about the 5 A Day scheme including more suggestions for how you can eat more fruit and vegetables, visit the NHS Choices website – http://www.nhs.uk/LiveWell/5ADAY/Pages/5ADAYhome.aspx



Department of Health (2011) National Diet and Nutrition Survey: Headline results from Years 1 and 2 (combined) of the rolling programme 2008/9 – 2009/10 [online] Available at http://www.dh.gov.uk/en/Publicationsandstatistics/Publications/PublicationsStatistics/DH_128166 – accessed on 7th June 2012.

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