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.
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.
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 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.