We all know that we need to eat our 5-a-day as part of a healthy diet, but how can you make sure you're actually getting enough fruits and veggies? Here we look at what counts towards your 5-a-day and share some easy tips to make sure you're getting enough.
What is your 5-a-day?
The term ‘5-a-day’ refers to the number of fruits and vegetables we should be eating every day. The 5-a-day campaign was launched in 2003 by the UK government.
The message originates from the World Health Organisation (WHO), which recommends consuming at least 400g of fruits and vegetables each day to reduce the risk of health conditions such as heart disease and cancer.
What are the benefits of 5-a-day?
Research shows us that there are some major benefits of consuming five portions of fruits and vegetables every day. This is because fruits and vegetables provide an array of vitamins and minerals that we need to stay healthy, including folate, vitamin C and potassium. But it’s not just the vitamins and minerals that make fruits and vegetables so good for us.
These foods also provide substances called phytochemicals, which work over and above micronutrients. The variety of colours we see across the range of fruits and vegetables indicate the phytochemicals they contain.
For example, carotenoids are present in bright orange and yellow foods like sweet potato and apricot, lycopene is found in red foods like tomatoes and watermelon and anthocyanins are part of deep purple and blue food such as blueberries and red cabbage.
Each of these contribute to our health in some way, promoting the health of our eyes, skin, mood, immunity and reduce our risk of disease.
Fruits and vegetables provide us with fibre which promotes regular bowel movements, feeds our healthy gut bacteria, and reduces our risk of bowel cancer. Image credit: Eva Katalin via Getty Images
Fruits and vegetables also provide fibre that is vital for good gut health. Fibre promotes regular bowel movements, feeds our healthy gut bacteria, and reduces our risk of bowel cancer.
Due to their high fibre and water content, fruits and vegetables are high in volume and vital nutrients but are also low in energy. This means that they fill up your stomach and help you to feel satisfied after meals without providing excess energy that may lead to fat storage and weight gain.
This means that upping the amount of fruits and vegetables in your diet can help you manage your weight within a healthier range.
What counts as a portion for 5-a-day?
One portion of fresh fruit or vegetables is 80g. So unfortunately, that flimsy lettuce leaf in your sandwich won’t cut it as one of your 5-a-day. In terms of volume, 80g is approximately one handful of most fruits and vegetables.
For example, for fruit this could be one medium apple, one medium banana, or a handful of grapes or strawberries. For vegetables this could include a cereal-sized bowl of salad, a 5-centimetre stick of cucumber or 3 tablespoons of sweetcorn, broccoli, or chopped carrot.
For some foods this rule is slightly different. When it comes to dried fruit, approximately one heaped tablespoon, or 30g will count. This is because the water has been removed from these fruits, and so the energy and nutrients are more concentrated.
For fruit juice, you can include the recommended daily limit of 150 millilitres as one portion, but any more than this won’t count.
One portion of fresh fruit or vegetables is 80g - approximately one handful of most fruits and vegetables. Image credit: Klaus Vedfelt via Getty Images
5-a-day fruit and veg list
Here you will find a list of some of our most common fruits and vegetables that will all count as one portion in an 80g serving.
- Dragon fruit
- Passion fruit
Add some berries or chopped apple to your porridge in the morning for an easy way to help you get your 5-a-day. Image credit: Arx0nt via Getty Images
- Bok Choy
- Broad beans
- Brussel sprouts
- Butternut squash
- Collard greens
- Sugar snap peas
- Sweet potato
- Swiss chard
Snack on raw sugar snaps peas, celery or carrots whilst cooking to increase your veggie intake. Image credit: Ron Levine via Getty Images
Do onions count?
Yes, onions are included as one of your 5-a-day in an 80g portion size, or as part of a total of 400g of fruit and vegetables over the day.
Do potatoes count?
Potatoes with their skin on are a healthy food to include in your diet as they contain fibre, B vitamins and potassium. Despite this, they do not count towards your 5-a-day. This is because they fall into the ‘starchy’ food group with foods such as pasta and rice.
The good news is that sweet potatoes do count towards your 5-a-day, so making this swap could help you meet your target.
Do lentils count?
Yes, 80g of lentils can be included as one of your 5-a-day, but no more than one. All beans and lentils can be included, but as the different types do not have the diversity of different nutrients that fruits and vegetables do, however much you eat they remain as just one of your five.
Don’t let this stop you though; we know that beans and lentils are highly beneficial sources of fibre and protein and therefore make a wonderfully healthy addition to any meal.
Do nuts count?
No, nuts are not classed as fruits or vegetables and therefore do not count towards your 5-a-day. Nuts and seeds are considered healthy sources of fat and are beneficial in their own right, containing many of the minerals we need to stay healthy as well as heart-healthy unsaturated fat and fibre. One portion is 30g, or approximately one small handful.
Onions, beans, and lentils count towards your 5-a-day, but potatoes and nuts don't count. Image credit: lacaosa via Getty Images
Ingredients you might not realise count towards your 5-a-day
Frozen and canned fruits and vegetables all count towards your 5-a-day. This can be a helpful option to limit cost and food waste. Try keeping a bag of frozen peas or berries in your freezer to add to meals, and the same quantity of 80g or three tablespoons applies here too.
If you buy canned produce, aim to buy those in water or juice rather than brine or syrup to minimise added salt and sugar.
You may also be pleased to hear that hummus counts towards your 5-a-day due to the chickpeas it contains. Your 5-a-day could also include your homemade guacamole, sweet potato wedges, baked beans, tomato puree and homemade fruit and veggies smoothies (which may count as more than one depending on the ingredients and quantity).
Canned and frozen produce are a great way to get your 5-a-day on a budget. Image credit: Carlo A via Getty Images
Is 5-a-day enough, or should it now be 7-a-day?
Consuming five portions of fruits and vegetables per day offers a variety of health benefits, but should we stop there?
Research by Imperial College London in 2017 found that increasing our intake beyond five each day may provide additional benefits to our health. The study was a meta-analysis, meaning that it analysed the results of many studies that had already been done.
The team concluded that if everyone ate 10 portions, or 800g, of fruits and vegetable per day, we could potentially save up to 7.8 million premature deaths globally.
Having said this, the latest evidence from 2019 tells us that only 27% of adults and 8% of children achieve five portions of fruits and vegetables every day. This comes down to a variety of factors including taste, cooking skills, affordability, habit, and education.
As most of the population don’t reach the minimum target of 5-a-day, the first step is to simply increase fruit and vegetables, even if just by one or two portions each day. For anyone who can increase their intake higher than five as part of a balanced diet, then go for it, because the evidence suggests that you may well be improving your health even further.
Based on research by the American Gut Project, another way to think about getting enough fibre, phytonutrients, vitamins and minerals from plants is to look at how many different plant foods you are consuming each week.
This research found that consuming thirty different plant foods a week supports gut microbial health and production of important substances called short chain fatty acids. Thirty may sound like a lot, but it extends to all plant foods including nuts, seeds, grains, herbs and spices.
This way of eating promotes the diversity of plants across a week, further increasing the diversity of nutrients and fibre to support our overall health and wellness.
Research indicates that going beyond your 5-a-day and aiming for 7 portions of fruit and vegetables may provide additional benefits to your health. Image credit:
How to eat more fruit and vegetables
To increase the fruits and vegetables in your diet, why not have a go at the following tips:
- Add some berries to your porridge in the morning
- Snack on a banana or pear
- Add some sliced tomatoes or cucumber to your vegan sandwich or have them on the side
- Eat your meal with 150 ml of fruit juice
- Add some lentils to your vegetable soup
- Serve your meal on a bed of spinach
- Keep a small pot of your favourite dried fruit with you to snack on
- When you use your oven, pop some extra veggies in to roast, like aubergine or sweet potato
- Snack on raw sugar snaps peas, celery or carrots whilst cooking
- Add some frozen peas when your rice is nearly cooked
- Think ‘one more portion’ at each meal and you will have already increased your intake by 3 portions a day
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Featured image credit: Maria Korneeva via Getty Images