Despite ever-changing advice on what’s best for us, all experts agree that a diet rich in fruits and vegetables is healthiest. Fresh, frozen and even canned all count, and may reduce the risk of heart disease, diabetes and some forms of cancer, plus help fight the signs of ageing.
A recent study by University College London reported increasing health benefits for people who ate up to seven or more portions of fruits and vegetables a day, with vegetables and salad proving more beneficial than fruit. Studies such as this continue to stress the value of plant-based foods in our diets, reminding us not only of the importance of fibre, but also colour. Many of the beneficial compounds in plants are linked to their colour pigments, so it’s important to eat a wide variety to get all the nutrients your body needs.
Although the recent study reported vegetables, salad, fresh and dried fruit were best, the following also count:
- Fruit and veg cooked in stews and soups, plus frozen, canned and dried fruit and veg.
- We are advised to keep an eye on the amount of fruit juice and smoothies we consume. Limit your consumption of fruit or vegetable juices and smoothies to a combined total of 150ml a day (one portion). Crushing fruit into juice releases the sugars contained in the fruit, which can cause damage to teeth. Even unsweetened fruit juice and smoothies are sugary, so limit these to a combined total of 150ml a day and enjoy as part of a meal to minimise the effects on your teeth.
- Potatoes don’t count because we tend to use them as a starch in place of bread, pasta or rice. However, they are still a source of fibre, B vitamins and potassium. Sweet potatoes do count because they are often eaten in addition to the starchy food in a meal.
- A smoothie containing 80g each (including the pulp) of two different fruit or veg counts as a maximum of two.
Top tips to help you eat more fruits and vegetables
1. Start with breakfast
If you’re aiming to pack more portions into your day, it’s worth starting as you mean to go on. Dried and fresh fruit can be added to porridge bowls or cereals, or you can include grilled tomatoes, mushrooms or beans in savoury breakfasts.
2. Include fruit and veg in snacks
Snacks are a great way to work in an extra portion of fruits and vegetables in between meals. Each of the following suggestions provides one portion:
- Veggie dippers (80g): try a mix of peppers, baby sweetcorn, cucumber batons and radishes
- One glass (150ml) of unsweetened 100% veg juice: when possible, make it fresh and include the natural pulp for fibre
- A small bowl of mixed salad: try a crisp slaw with a homemade oil-based dressing
- Lettuce wraps: use Little Gem leaves and fill with three tablespoons of spicy Mexican bean salsa
- Half an avocado scooped straight from its skin with a teaspoon: avocados – which are actually a fruit – have a high protein content, so they help to keep you fuller for longer
- A cupped handful (30g) of dried fruit, such as apricots, sultanas or goji berries
- One medium piece of fruit
3. Eat the rainbow
As well as being rich in essential vitamins, fruits and vegetables are packed with plant compounds, important for maintaining health and wellbeing. These compounds are found across the colour spectrum, but certain colours are especially rich in powerful protectors.
Red fruits and vegetables supply lycopene, which protects the skin from sun damage and may help against certain cancers.
- pink grapefruit
- red peppers
Orange fruits and vegetables are packed with beta-carotene, which the body converts to vitamin A for healthy skin.
- sweet potatoes
Yellow fruits and vegetables supply the carotenoids – lutein and zeaxanthin – that protect the eyes from damage and help to reduce the risk of developing cataracts.
- yellow peppers
- yellow courgettes
Green fruits and vegetables are rich in energising chlorophyll.
- kiwi fruits
- green grapes
Purple fruits and vegetables are a good source of protective anthocyanins, which are great anti-agers.
- red cabbage
- red grapes
4. Pack a healthy lunch
Planning ahead and making your own packed lunches can save time and money, and it’s usually more nutritious and tempting than a shop-bought sandwich. Salads offer plenty of opportunities to add extra vegetables, while soups can be great vehicles for beans and pulses.
Tasty packed lunch ideas:
Minty griddled chicken & peach salad
Wholemeal wraps with minty pea hummus & beetroot
Baked falafel & cauliflower tabbouleh with avocado, pea & feta smash
Curried mango & chickpea pot
5. Plan produce-packed dinners
With a bit of forward planning, you can ensure your dinners are full of nutritious fruits and vegetables. Try setting some time aside at the weekend to choose some recipes, then write a shopping list so you know exactly what you’ll need and when. Check the use-by dates on fresh produce, or opt for canned or frozen foods for later on in the week.
Delicious dinner options:
This article was last reviewed in November 2019 by nutritional therapist Kerry Torrens.
A registered Nutritional Therapist, Kerry Torrens is a contributing author to a number of nutritional and cookery publications including BBC Good Food magazine. Kerry is a member of the The Royal Society of Medicine, Complementary and Natural Healthcare Council (CNHC), British Association for Applied Nutrition and Nutritional Therapy (BANT).
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Looking for more inspiration to boost your fruit and veg intake? Take a look at our fruit and veg-packed recipes.