Whether you're trying to up your fruit and veg intake or want to aim for lucky number seven we explain how to do it...
Amid the non-stop flow of advice about diet and health, and whether the magic number is five, seven or 10, one message stays constant. The fact that all experts agree – a diet rich in fruit and vegetables is good for us. Fresh, frozen, even canned all count– and may reduce the risk of heart disease, diabetes and some forms of cancer, plus help to 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 a day – with vegetables and salad proving more beneficial than fruit. Studies like this continue to stress the value of plant 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 by eating a wide variety you’ll reap the most from your 7-a-day.
What counts as a portion? Take our quiz...
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. 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/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.
Once you know how much of each ingredient equals a daily amount, you will get a clearer understanding of what you should be aiming for.
So, for example, you might eat a big salad of just leaves, which equals 1 portion – but change that to half an avocado, one medium tomato and a 5cm chunk of cucumber, and you have notched up three portions.
Eat the rainbow
As well as being rich in essential vitamins, fruit and vegetables are packed with plant compounds, important for maintaining health and well-being. These compounds are found across the colour spectrum, but certain colours are especially rich in powerful protectors:
Supplies lycopene, which protects the skin from sun damage and may help against certain cancers:
Packed with beta-carotene, which the body converts to vitamin A for healthy skin:
Supplies the carotenoids – lutein and zeaxanthin – which protect the eye from damage and help to reduce the risk of developing cataracts:
Rich in energising chlorophyll:
Good source of protective anthocyanins, which are great anti-agers:
Snack yourself healthy
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 – actually a fruit – have a high protein content, so they help to keep you fuller for longer.
- Cupped handful (30g) of dried fruit, such as apricots, sultanas or goji berries.
- One medium piece of fruit.
Recipes to help you reach 7-a-day
This article was last reviewed on 15th January 2018 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.