Fruit and vegetables are an important part of our diet, providing us with many essential vitamins and minerals, as well as often making our meals more colourful and exciting. This food group makes up a large proportion (about a third) of the recommended diet in the Eatwell Guide. This is because research has shown that eating a lot of fruit and veg reduces the risk of developing many different diseases, such as heart disease and stroke, obesity, high blood pressure and some cancers.

Many fruits and vegetables are also naturally low in calories and high in fibre which can help you maintain a healthy weight as well as looking after your digestive health.

Many of us in England are aware that we are advised to eat 5 portions of fruit and vegetables a day. However, it is sometimes difficult to know what counts as a portion and how much to have.

In this post about fruit and veg, split into two parts, I have included tips on how to incorporate more into your diet.

 

What counts as one of your 5-a-day?

Almost all fruits and vegetables count towards your 5-a-day, including canned, frozen and dried as well as fresh.

Frozen and canned

Frozen and canned fruit and veg can be very useful when your favourites aren’t in season as they can be a little bit cheaper than the fresh stuff. They are also often frozen within a couple of hours of being picked so retain a lot of their nutrients.

If eating canned fruit and vegetables make sure they are canned in natural juices or water to avoid added sugar and salt.

Soups, sauces etc.

Fruit and vegetables mixed into soups and sauces (e.g.: tomatoes in a bolognaise sauce or onions in a casserole) also count as a portion.

If you are eating convenience dishes and packet sauces just be aware that they often contain a lot of added salt, sugar and fat so make sure to read the label.

Beans and pulses

Beans and pulses, such as kidney beans and lentils, count as one portion of your 5-a-day, no matter how many of them you eat. This is because their nutrient content is slightly lower than other fruits and vegetables.

Dried fruit

30g of dried fruit (e.g.: currants, sultanas, dates) counts as a portion of your 5-a-day. Current recommendations suggest that they should be eaten at mealtimes and not as snacks between meals. This is because dried fruit has a higher sugar content than fresh fruit and eating it with other food at a mealtime limits the effect of the sugar on your teeth.

Drinks

Fruit juice can count as a portion of your 5-a-day. It is advised that a portion of fruit juice is 150ml, and should be limited to one portion a day. This is because crushing the fruit to produce juice releases the sugars from within the cells of the fruit which can cause damage to teeth if drunk excessively. You should also try to just drink juice at mealtimes for the same reason.

However, don’t be afraid to include juice as one of your 5-a-day, particularly if you find it difficult to eat five portions every day.

You can also dilute the juice with water to make it go further if you are feeling very thirsty.

Potatoes

Potatoes are a starchy food and a good source of energy and fibre (if eaten with the skins on) but they do not count as a portion of your 5-a-day. Yams, cassava and plantain also don’t count as they are eaten as starchy foods.

Sweet potatoes, parsnips, swede and turnips do count as a portion as they contain more vitamins and minerals and are usually eaten in addition to other starchy foods. Sweet potatoes and other orange coloured vegetables, for example, are a good source of beta-carotene which is converted to vitamin A in your body.

Just be careful not to cook potatoes and other starchy foods in a lot of added fat and salt.

 

It’s important to try and eat a variety of fruits and vegetables as they all contain a different combination of vitamins and minerals. The saying “Eat the rainbow” illustrates this point very well. Try eating a portion from each colour group; red, green, yellow, purple, orange and white.

 

 

HEALTHIER SNACK IDEAS

Whether it’s the start of a new academic year or just returning to work after a summer of fun, September always makes me feel optimistic about being a more organised and productive me. I stock up on new stationary, pull out my ‘sensible’ shoes for walking around London again and (most importantly) decide which snacks I will be taking with me to keep me fuelled up during a busy day at uni.

Many of us often feel the need for a snack between meals to keep us going throughout the day, or if we are planning an exercise session. There are now lots of snack options in supermarkets and on the high street but unfortunately a lot of them can be high in saturated fat, added sugar and salt and don’t often contain many vitamins, minerals and fibre.

 

When choosing a snack, it is a good idea to focus on the four food groups which will give you a variety of nutrients;

  • Fruit and vegetables – provide lots of vitamins and minerals and are often conveniently (and naturally) packaged for taking to work or on-the-go.
  • Bread, rice, potatoes, pasta and other cereals – provide your body with carbohydrate to give you fuel throughout the day, and fibre if you choose wholegrain varieties.
  • Meat, fish, eggs and beans – provide protein which is the most satiating macronutrient (keeps you feeling full). Most of us do eat enough protein at mealtimes, though, to meet our needs.
  • Milk and dairy – provide calcium which supports normal bone and teeth health. Including a dairy based snack can help you reach the recommended target of 2-3 servings of dairy a day.

 

Here I have compiled a selection of healthier snack ideas that you could swap for your usual chocolate bar. (Although I believe everything should be in moderation so if you really fancy the occasional piece of chocolate or packet of crisps, go ahead.) You may also find it helpful to print out this list and stick it on the inside of your cupboard door so when the hunger pangs hit you know exactly what to rustle up for yourself.

 

Savoury snacks

  • 1 carrot cut into batons with 1 tablespoon of hummus
  • 3 celery sticks with 1 tablespoon of cottage cheese or hummus
  • 30g of reduced fat cheddar cheese with 7 cherry tomatoes
  • handful of plain rice crackers or a rice cake
  • 30g unsalted and unsweetened popcorn (you could add herbs or spices like cinnamon to it if you are making it yourself)
  • half a bagel with 30g low-fat cheese spread
  • a couple of celery sticks with a teaspoon of natural nut butter spread down the middle
  • 25g of mixed unsalted nuts
  • a boiled egg with a handful of spinach and a small drizzle of olive oil
  • 25g baked vegetable crisps (be careful of the salt content)
  • 1 slice of wholegrain toast spread with a tablespoon of nut butter
  • a pitta bread with 2 tablespoons of salsa
  • ½ avocado with a tablespoon of salsa
  • A couple of plain crackers with cottage cheese

 

Sweet snacks

  • 80g mixed berries, melon chunks, or grapes – look for fruit that is in season
  • 1 banana, 1 apple or 1 pear
  • 2 satsumas, plums or similar sized fruit
  • 1 low-fat fruit yoghurt
  • A handful of home-made trail mix (combine assorted nuts, seeds and raisins or dried cranberries)
  • A handful of strawberries and 2 tablespoons of Greek yoghurt
  • A small plain or fruit scone
  • A small bowl (about 25g) of low-sugar wholegrain cereal with semi-skimmed milk
  • A slice of toast with banana
  • 1 apple, quartered with 1 tablespoon of nut butter spread on it
  • A couple of tablespoons of Greek yoghurt drizzled with a little bit of honey
  • 1 square of dark chocolate with a handful of cherries
  • A handful of frozen grapes
  • A frozen banana sprinkled with cinnamon
  • 80g watermelon cubes sprinkled with 30g feta cheese
  • A fruit and nut/seed bar (try for one with no added sugar)

 

There are also some top tips for avoiding the unhealthier snack options;

  • Don’t have them in the house.

This is an oldie but a goodie! If you have sweets, crisps etc. lurking in your cupboard you are very likely to cave in and eat them, especially if you can see them every time you open the cupboard door. Also try to avoid the confectionary and salty snack aisles in the supermarket to reduce the temptation to buy them.

 

  • Have a glass of water

If you are feeling a little hungry, chances are you could actually be thirsty. It is very easy to mistake the signal for thirst as hunger. Try drinking a glass of water first and if you are still hungry a little while later, then have a snack.

 

  • Aim for three regular meals a day

If you find yourself wanting to snack continuously throughout the day, have a think about when and what you eat at mealtimes. It might be better for you to have a slightly more filling meal (containing a balance of protein, carbohydrates and plenty of fruit and veggies) instead of constantly snacking.

 

  • Don’t snack just because it’s there

Have a snack if you are feeling hungry, but not just because it is sitting there. Also be careful not to snack when you are bored. Instead try going for a short walk around the block, having a glass of water or make yourself a cup of herbal tea. All of these options are calorie free and will help to alleviate your desire to snack due to boredom.

 

Sources

Healthier snack ideas, Change 4 Life, http://www.nhs.uk/Change4Life/Pages/healthy-snacks.aspx

 

Healthy Snacks, BDA Food Fact Sheet, https://www.bda.uk.com/foodfacts/healthysnacks.pdf

WHAT IS A DIETITIAN?

Registered Dietitians (RDs) are health professionals who work in amazingly diverse settings with a variety of sick and healthy people. They use the most up-to-date scientific research to assess and treat dietary and nutritional problems.

There is a difference between a Dietitian, Nutritionist and Nutritional Therapist. Dietitians are regulated by law and must abide by a professional ethical code set by the Health & Care Professions Council (HCPC). The minimum qualification required is a BSc Hons in Dietetics, or a science-related degree with a postgrad qualification in Dietetics.

A Dietitian can work as a Nutritionist, but a Nutritionist cannot work as a Dietitian.

RDs provide people with practical advice to make healthy lifestyle and food choices. Dietitians can work in the NHS, private practice, education, sport, research, public relations, media, publishing, government and non-government organisations.

Dietitians often work as part of a multi-disciplinary team to treat complex conditions such as diabetes, IBS, Crohn’s disease, eating disorders, malnutrition, food allergies and intolerances to name just a few.

A common working day for a Dietitian working in the NHS may include working on the wards with in-patients, or running out-patient clinics to offer support to people with a variety of medical conditions.

The most common way to find a Registered Dietitian is to contact your local hospital or GP surgery, but you may also find the following websites helpful:

 

You can find more information about the role of a Dietitian in this BDA leaflet.