A major nutritional dictum over the last few years has been the importance of getting five portions of fruit and vegetables past our lips every day. Despite the consistency of this message, the latest statistics show that only one in seven of us make the mark in this respect. Recently, the Government has had a crack at pushing this theme once again. However, despite such laudable efforts, many of us still seem utterly confused about what we need to do to get their daily dose of plant-based produce. This situation is not helped by the fact that many individuals confess to being quite daunted by this five-a-day notion, as for them it conjures up images of munching through mounds of rather unappealing salad.
Actually, a close look at the official guidelines reveals that a standard portion of fruit of veg weighs in at a modest 80 g. While this equates to a large bowlful of salad leaves, it is also commensurate with perhaps less intimidating vegetable servings such as a couple of spears of broccoli, a medium-sized carrot or tomato, a two-inch section of cucumber, half a courgette or a handful of mange tout. Three tablespoons of kidney beans, lentils or chick peas represent a portion of vegetables too. Baked beans, however, do not count, and neither do canned tomato soup or spaghetti hoops. Last year, Heinz cooked up a marketing campaign designed to convince us that their tinned foods loaded with salt and refined sugar count towards our fruit and vegetable quota. I am glad to say the Government appears to have seen through the rather cynical ploy, and have barred this sort of canned fare from the recommended list.
As far a fruit goes, we can get a whole portion’s worth from just a single banana, pear, apple or orange. Other options are a brace of more modestly-sized fruits such as plums, tangerines, clementines or kiwi fruits, or a good handful of cherries or grapes. Drinking a small glass (150 ml) of fruit juice or smoothie is another way of giving the body a dose of fruit, though the Government’s advice is that this cannot count for more than one portion per day, however much is drunk. Personally, I am doubtful that overly-processed and high heat-treated cartoned fruit juice has much in the way of health-giving properties, and would advise sticking to freshly squeezed juices and smoothies not made from concentrate.
So, what practical options exist for those keen to meet their five-a-day target? My suggestion would be to start the day with a piece or two of fruit, whatever else is eaten at this time. Failing that, some freshly squeezed fruit juice or quality smoothie will do. Eating a piece of fruit in mid morning and mid afternoon is another useful tactic. While we have generally been put off eating between meals, snacking on healthy foods actually seems to have several potential benefits including improved weight control. An alternative to fruit as a snack is raw veg. Some chopped-up carrots, cucumber or celery, perhaps dipped into hummus (don’t forget, chick peas count too) can make a very healthy stop-gap while feeding the kids or on returning home from work. A half-decent serving of salad or cooked vegetables at dinner will easily ring up the five recommended portions for the day. With a bit of practical know-how, getting our daily dose of fruit and veg needn’t be hard to swallow at all.