Natural Balance Foods

Getting your 5 a day – or is it 7?

fruit and vegetable 5 a day or is it 7 a day?

We are constantly being confused by the recommended amount of fruit portions we’re supposed to consume in a day. Initially it was 5, then it was changed to 7, so how many portions are we meant to be eating day-to-day? Luckily out nutritionist Lucy-Ann is on the case and is here to settle this once and for all.

The press reported on a paper published by the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health which essentially explained that the “5 a day” campaign simply wasn’t encouraging enough fruit intake.

So, is 5 enough?

The “5 a day” recommendation wasn’t actually based on any specific scientific research, it was simply an awareness campaign to encourage healthy eating. The number was referred to as a minimum estimation rather than an ‘ideal’ amount. Some have considered this amount to be a total underestimation with “7 a day” setting a more appropriate bar, however sticking to the 5 portions isn’t all that bad. A study concluded that sticking to this intake still provides health benefits whilst reducing risk of diseases like cancer and cardiovascular disease.

Of course 7 is better!

Having 7 portions a day further reduces these risks and offers more health benefits. If you’re on a wholefood or plant-based diet you may find yourself consuming 5-7 portions in one sitting, as well as vegans and vegetarians where around 10 portions amounts to an expected volume of fruit.

Here are the main pointers from the “5 a day” campaign formed by the World Health Organization:

  • The five portions should take into account a variation of fruit and vegetables
  • Mostly all fruit and vegetables count towards your 5 portions
  • A ‘portion’ is around 80g (3oz)
  • Potatoes and cassava are excluded from the list due to their huge starch contribution to the diet
  • Frozen, canned, fresh, pure or dried juices all count

Key findings from the new study…

  • Consuming vegetables holds a larger reduction in risk of death than eating the same volume of fruit.
  • The consumption of fruit and vegetable and its effects were measured separately. It concluded that those eating 3 or 4 portions of fruit or 3 portions of veg per day held a lower risk of death.
  • Cardiovascular disease related deaths were lowest in those eating 7 or more portions a day at a 31% reduced risk.
  • Cancer related deaths were reduced by 25% in those consuming 5-7 portions or more.
  • A significantly reduced risk of death from cardiovascular disease or cancer was present in those eating 3 or more fruit and veg portions a day.
  • As for the type of fruit and vegetables consumed, research concluded that eating vegetables, fresh fruit, dried fruit or salad were in association with a lowered risk of death. They also found that consuming canned or frozen fruit was linked to an increased risk of death.  

Tips on hitting 7 portions a day…

The human race are creatures of habit, we have to move out of comfort zones and adapt to changes at a slow pace for a successful outcome. This is particularly applicable to food and meal plans so begin your increase slowly but surely. I usually encourage people changing up their diet with the following plan:

  • Begin by altering your first meal or first part of the day – breakfast, snacking and drinking
  • Then focus on midday and lunch a few days/weeks later
  • After this, rework your choices for the later afternoon and evening

Another avenue I suggest is through implementing one new idea per week to adapt well to the change – which many find to be an unexpected struggle. This 'change' includes eating new foods, reducing the consumption of a particular ingredient/dish or introducing a new recipe idea. Getting settled with one change at a time is the most optimal approach for a successful shift where the person will feel encouraged, inspired and empowered to stay in the swing of the change.

How to boost your fruit and veg intake…

  • Have a build-up of bite size veg in the fridge to snack on throughout the day – radishes, sugar snap peas, mange tout, raw carrots and cherry tomatoes which are delicious just as they are.
  • Consuming more fresh fruits is an effective and cheap way to up your intake – eat some as a snack with a Nakd bar or even add a bite to your breakfast.
  • Avoid pre-packed fruit and vegetables and go for the loose collection in shops – it’s much cheaper and friendly for the environment.
  • Make a large salad on a daily basis – incredibly simple and easy!
  • Snack on a Nakd bar – they count!
  • Invest in a Veg Box Scheme – the variety and seasonality is spot on!

The following menu includes some simple meal ideas, would provide up to 10 portions a day…

  • Breakfast: 1 bowl of oats soaked in almond milk, with chopped apple, walnuts, and handful of raisins (2 portions)

  • Snack: Raw vegetable crudités with hummus or guacamole (1-2 portions)

  • Lunch: A big salad – start with a base of watercress or spinach, romaine lettuce, or red leaf lettuce – top with baby tomatoes, sliced or chopped cucumber, some beansprouts or lentil sprouts, 2-3 tablespoons of garden peas, some olives, and any other veggies you like (3-5 portions).

  • Dinner: Vegetable curry (with or without tofu) with quinoa or brown rice and steamed broccoli, or lentil soup with 2-3 different steamed vegetables (3-5 portions).

Don’t forget that your trusted Nakd bars count towards your 7 a day!

Key Reference:
Oyebode O, Gordon-Dseagu, Walker A, Mindell JS. Fruit and vegetable consumption and all-cause, cancer and CVD mortality: analysis of Health Survey for England data. Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health. Published online March 31 2014

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