5 A Day: Are you confused?

5 A Day | Confusing nutrition advice |

So many people are interested in the message of 5 A Day and if it is really worth it’s salt.

The media loves a good mix up of the facts, so many people are excused for wondering whether: the 5 a Day is based on any evidence at all; what actually counts towards our 5 A Day and if we should really be aiming for more than 5?

Hopefully we can help to put some of these questions to rest in this week’s blog post.

Is 5 A Day a good public health message?

The message of ‘5 A Day’ is actually a very well known campaign and, as far as public health messages go, it is thought to be one of the most widely known pieces of dietary advice. I’d say that’s pretty successful as a start…

However the average adult in the Health Survey for England (2011) managed only 3.8 portions per day, although other research suggests this may be closer to 4.1 portions/day. Those in lower income groups were found to be consuming around a portion lower than average intakes – at around 2.9 portions a day.

In terms of the benefits to health of eating fruits and vegetables, we know from a plethora of studies that eating more fruits and vegetables are associated with better bowel function, possible protection against certain cancers and reduced blood pressure. On top of this they are full of important micronutrients, such as vitamins and minerals and fibre.

Where does our advice on fruit and vegetables come from?

It was in 2003 that the UK adopted the ‘5 A Day’ campaign, which was actually based on advice from the World Health Organisation’s global strategy on fruit and vegetable consumption. This report recommended that eating AT LEAST 400g of fruit and vegetables a day could help to lower levels of death from chronic diseases such as heart disease, stroke and some cancers by up to 20%.

So how does this relate to our current recommendations?

Based on this information from the WHO, our Department of Health created the 5 A Day campaign, which aimed to encourage people to consume AT LEAST 5 portions of fruits and vegetable each day. A portion is calculated to be roughly around 80g. 80 x 5 = 400g.

This is where our figure for 5 A Day campaign comes from.

But should we be aiming for more than 5? 7, or 10, perhaps?

The advice from our Department of Health has always been to try and eat ‘at least’ 5 a day or choose ‘5 or more’ fruits and vegetables each day.

Many people are confused about our recommendations for fruits and vegetables as other countries such as Canada, Iceland and Brazil specifically recommend more than 5 portions (and indeed more than the WHO’s 400g recommendation). This may be based on their own internal research, and/or be specific to their own populations. However, advice from the WHO was not ‘country specific’, and therefore could apply to all populations.

On the flip side, Belgium, Germany, Slovakia, South Africa, Spain and the UK all follow WHO guidelines and have interpreted this as roughly 5 portions of fruits and vegetables a day (at least!). Therefore advice on how many fruits and vegetables to eat hasn’t actually changed – it’s always been % or more – although the specifics of the message may have got a little lost.

But what actually counts?

Most fruits and vegetables count towards your 5 A Day. 80g is roughly a portion and the advice is to try and include a variety of fruits and vegetables.

There are some specifics around certain varieties though, that are good to know.

 Fruit juice – this only ever counts as one of your 5 A Day as a lot of the fibre is lost in the processing, and the processing also makes the sugars more readily available to the teeth.

One 150ml glass of pure, unsweetened fruit juice counts towards one of your 5 A Day, and, even if you consume other varieties of fruit juices it still only counts once!

Smoothies – may count as more than one portion if they contain all the edible pulp as well as the juice. However, realistically, because the fibre content would still be lower than a fresh piece of fruit, smoothies only count as a maximum of two portions of your 5-A-Day. This may be being reviewed by Public Health England.

Tinned fruit – around 3 tablespoons or 80 grams of these count as a portion, as long as the fruit isn’t tinned in syrup.

Dried fruit – around 30g of dried fruit can count towards your fruit and vegetable intake (e.g. 1 heaped tablespoon of raisins, currants or sultanas, 2 figs or 3 prunes) and it’s recommended to have these alongside other foods to minimise the impact of the sticky sugars on your teeth.

Potatoes – potatoes, yams, cassava and plantain don’t count towards your 5 A DAY as they are very high in starch and therefore count as a carbohydrate. Sweet potatoes, parsnips and swedes do count towards your 5 A Day however.

And what about portions?

As mentioned above, 80g is an estimated portion size for a portion of fruits and vegetables. For fruit juice 150mls is recommended and for dried fruits 30g is an estimated portion (based on this being 80g fresh weight).

However, for ease (and especially to help children with their portions of fruit and vegetables) these measurements usually equate to roughly around a handful e.g. a handful of grapes, raisins, plums etc. It also equates quite nicely to an average apple, banana, orange too which generally make up one portion for an adult on their own.

For vegetables it’s a little bit trickier, but 3 tablespoons of mixed, chopped or tinned vegetables usually equates to roughly a portion, and a portion of salad is suggested to be around a small dessert bowl size, or the equivalent of a side salad. There is no exact science to portion sizes because they depend on so much, including your size, activity levels and sex.

Even trickier is the amount of vegetables in a composite meal – but ultimately you’re looking for the combination of vegetables included to make up to around 80g in order to make it one portion.

We wouldn’t expect people to be measuring these out, and really, if you’re choosing a meal with vegetables, you’re already doing the right thing. It’s a good idea to have around half of your plate made up of vegetables or salads – that way you definitely know you’re getting a couple of portions of your 5 A Day.

So hopefully that’s helped to clear up some of the mysteries around 5 A Day.

To Sum Up:

  • Variety is the key and realistically most of us could do with eating more fruits and vegetables every day!

Just Eat More | 5 A Day

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