11 things you find out when you start eating 10-a-day

Recent headlines have suggested we should eat a rainbow diet of 10 portions of fruit and veg per day. But is it achievable? We took a seven-day challenge...

11 things you find out when you start eating 10-a-day

It’s been all over the news – new research suggests that eating lots (and lots and lots) of fruit and vegetables may give us longer lives. But with concern that this type of diet is unaffordable and struggling with the thought of eating so many vegetables, I challenged myself to eat 10 portions per day for a week to see how difficult it would really be. Here's what I found out... 

1. There are ways to make it cheaper.

At first, I assumed my grocery bills would skyrocket, so I was pleasantly surprised that plenty of everyday, budget items can count towards your daily total. Having clued up on cheap ways to eat more fruit and veg and written a shopping list to avoid impulse purchases, I stocked up on some thrifty essentials – supermarket own-brand cans of chopped tomatoes, tomato puree, dried lentils and chickpeas, dried fruit, sweet potatoes and seasonal veg that was on offer. The resulting bill was comparable to what I’d usually spend on a weekly shop, although I do acknowledge that I probably spend more than average as I work in food. 

2. Frozen fruit and veg are your friend.

Like many people, a lengthy commute means I don’t have time to go shopping more than twice a week at the most, and I don’t have a massive fridge. So knowing that frozen fruit and vegetables are just as healthy as their fresh counterparts made my shopping a whole lot more manageable. I gleefully stashed away frozen beans, peas, sweetcorn, chopped spinach, blueberries, raspberries – name a food and it’s probably hidden somewhere in my freezer right now.

3. I had less of an appetite for sugary snacks.

Perhaps it was the sheer volume of food that I was eating, but I didn’t feel the need to pick in between meals as much. When I did, I tried to get more nutritional bang for my buck and fit in an extra portion where possible. 10-a-day friendly snacks included fresh fruit and yogurt, or carrot and cucumber sticks with hummus. Truth be told, after eating all that, I didn't want another morsel (although I did eat some chocolate – I’m only human).

4. I ended up trying out new recipes that I wouldn’t have eaten otherwise.

Trust me, once you’ve invested in a whole kitchen full of perishable food, the last thing you want to do is throw any of it away. This put a bit of healthy pressure on me to a) come up with ways to actually cook and consume all of it, and b) to stick to my plan, and not give up and order pizza (because although tomatoes count, cheese sadly does not). The last thing that I wanted was to get stuck in a rut of repetitive meals, so I made the effort to come up with a list of recipes to try out during the week.

5. It takes a bit of forward planning.

It wasn’t the volume of fruit and vegetables that was the tricky part of the challenge, it was making sure that I got enough variety every day. If I’d already eaten one portion of, say, tomatoes for lunch, eating another portion at dinner wouldn’t count – meaning that I couldn’t just eat six apples and eight spears of broccoli and call it a day. Armed with my trusty colour-coded 5-a-day infographic, I set about creating a plan to ensure I was eating the entire spectrum each day – a true rainbow diet. This week also coincided with Pancake Day, so it was fun trying to think of ways to squeeze extra portions into my pancakes. I ended up making fajita-inspired crêpes filled with chipotle chicken, peppers, onions, mushrooms, tomato salsa and avocado, followed by fluffy American pancakes topped with strawberries, blackberries, grapes, pomegranate seeds and a sauce made from frozen blueberries, a squeeze of lime juice and a little bit of honey. Quite the feast!

6. You have to limit fruit and smoothies (sad, but true).

When I first decided to try out this challenge, I thought it would be a breeze – I could just whizz up loads of fresh fruit into a litre of a delicious smoothie and have consumed all my portions before midday, right? Wrong. The NHS says that smoothies and fruit juice (a 150ml glass) can only count as one portion, because when fruit is blended or juiced it exposes their natural sugars, which increases the risk of tooth decay. It’s also worth noting they recommend that the majority of your portions come from vegetables, rather than fruit – sugar is still sugar, even if it’s natural sugar. Boo. 

7. I had to think of exciting (yet healthy) ways to add extra flavour.

Don’t get me wrong, I love the taste of vegetables – but there’s only so much steamed broccoli and cauliflower that you can eat before you want something different. Reluctant to smother my carefully prepared vegetables in sugary and salty condiments like ketchup or soy sauce, I made sure to add plenty of all-natural flavourings – including fresh garlic and ginger, miso paste, spices like smoked paprika, chilli and cumin, and my favourite herbs, such as basil, rosemary and sage.

8. I didn’t lose any weight.

The challenge was a good reminder that eating well doesn’t necessarily mean cutting calories. It was only a week, and I wasn’t limiting my food intake in any way – just adding lots and lots of vegetables – so I didn't lose any weight. While lots of fruit and vegetables are low in calories, some of them are quite high – avocado, bananas and sweet potatoes being just a few. They’re also nutrient dense, but won’t necessarily equate to pounds lost just because you’re eating them instead of other snacks. (Plus, I really love dishes like cauliflower cheese and fried aubergine parmigiana, which simultaneously count towards your portion total and double your fat and salt intake for the day – but they’re so worth it).

9. You can go out to eat and still reach your target.

Unlike following a restrictive diet or a prescribed meal plan, which can make socialising difficult, it’s relatively easy to eat out and stick to 10-a-day, providing that the restaurant has enough plant-based options. Vegetable-heavy cuisines such as Indian, Thai, Chinese and Italian are likely to contribute to your daily quota, although it's more difficult to count how many portions you’ve eaten when you’re not preparing the food yourself.

10. I naturally ate less meat and grains.

Normally I base my meals around meat, fish or some kind of carb – whether that’s pasta, rice or bread. Now that I was planning my veggies first, I found myself switching to plant-based protein such as lentils and chickpeas, and swapping side dishes for cauliflower rice or sweet potatoes in order to tick off another portion. Although I still included all my usual choices and wasn’t purposely trying to cut down on them, making these swaps helped me to get more variety into my meals, which made me more satisfied overall.

11. I felt really positive about making healthy choices.

Overall, I’m really glad that I did the challenge. As someone who struggles with restrictive diets this was great for me, as it was about including more rather than eating less, which made me feel really positive. Trying to come up with creative ways to reach my daily tally was fun and made me discover delicious new vegetable-packed dishes that I otherwise wouldn’t have tried. Although I won’t be strictly counting to 10 portions every day from now on, I think it’s a great number to aim for, and I will continue to base my meals and snacks around fruit and vegetables where possible.

Some recipes to get you started...

Five-a-day tagine
Five-a-day couscous
Five-a-day burger
Spanish meatball & butter bean stew
Minty roast veg & hummus salad
More recipes that contain lots of fruit & veg

Read more…

What counts as a portion of fruit and vegetables?
Cheap ways to get your five-a-day
The latest health and nutrition news

Have you tried eating 10-a-day? Let us know in the comments below…

This page was last reviewed on 19th January 2019 by Kerry Torrens.

Kerry Torrens is a qualified Nutritionist (MBANT) with a post graduate diploma in Personalised Nutrition & Nutritional Therapy. She is a member of the British Association for Applied Nutrition and Nutritional Therapy (BANT) and a member of the Guild of Food Writers. Over the last 15 years she has been a contributing author to a number of nutritional and cookery publications including BBC Good Food.

All health content on bbcgoodfood.com is provided for general information only, and should not be treated as a substitute for the medical advice of your own doctor or any other healthcare professional. If you have any concerns about your general health, you should contact your local healthcare provider. See our website terms and conditions for more information.

Comments, questions and tips

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12th May, 2018
Hi, I started trying to fit 10 a day into my life style in March 2017, initially I lost no weight, but a year and a half down the line I have lost a stone and a half, averaging a 1 lb a month! I was doing the diet to be healthy so the weight loss was a bonus. Iwas at the top of my BMI and now I am in the lower half. I eat average 8 a day sometimes 6 sometimes 12, I do it without thinking now, I am fitter and more comfortable in my body,
20th Jul, 2017
As per replies below, there is no limit to fruit intake (plenty of healthy fruitarians around) with respect to sugar - it's been shown in many studies that the fibre moderate IGF spikes and controls blood glucose levels. Smoothies account for as many quantities as you put on, as long it it is WHOLE FOOD put in- juices without the pulp don't count much as they are not whole food but have had the bulk, including crucial fibre, removed. Generally you want to be eating plant based foods as the highest proportion of your diet you can, compared with animal based foods, which only have deleterious effects on the body in the end (countless studies of dietary patterns- epidemiological, disease specifC, some RCTS.) Gourmands may find this hard to swallow but this is where we are with the majority of nutrition research nowadays. Just because you like a meat/ food/fat/ etc doesn't mean it's good for you. We all like to hear good news about our bad habits. Please see nutritionfacts.org for evidence Based, scientifically validated diet and health information and summaries and don't rely on mavericks, bloggers, food writers etc for your diet and health advice.
18th Jul, 2017
I get so tired of reading articles which say sugar in fruit is bad. Natural sugar in fruit is totally FINE! I am certified in nutrition and I have done a ton of research on this very topic.
18th Jul, 2017
you cant loose weight by still eating potatoes, pasta and bread. Meat is much healthier, in small portions of course... and natural meat, not produced. You need enough of good fat to enhance absorption... with every meal. Olive oil, butter, nuts. Pasta and sugar snacks are almost the same story.
19th Jul, 2017
10000% wrong is every shape way and form. I'm 11.42 stone at 6'1 and I eat nothing but pasta, potatoes, fruits and veggies. Instead of trying to give advice maybe you should read first.
14th Jul, 2017
I think that we all have to use our own common sense with this. The "rules" are so prescriptive and frankly ridiculous. If I'm blending up spinach, a big handful of blueberries, and an apple for my morning smoothie, no way is that going to count as 1 instead of 3 just because it was blended up. I also disagree with counting things only once - if you can't afford 10 separate fruits and vegetables per day, you'll still be so much healthier if you're having brocolli for 2 meals - why would I only count it once? The more we substitute any fruit or vegetable for meat and unhealthy foods, the healthier we'll be. And I think that baked potatoes should definitely count as 1 as they contain vitamin C, seems snobbish to not allow them as they are also the most affordable staple for people on a budget.
19th Jul, 2017
I agree! I put two bananas in my smoothie which comes out to about 160 calories but so many nutrients as well! Potassium is the counter balance to sodium and e don't get enough of it but there is tons in bananas. Every serving is a portion it doesn't matter what you eat it with.
16th Mar, 2017
The following doesn't make any sense: "While lots of fruit and vegetables are low in calories, some of them are quite high in energy – avocado, bananas and sweet potatoes being just a few". 'Energy' is purely calories, that's all it means. I think what you mean to say is that some fruit and veg are low in calories (ie energy) eg carrots, leeks, onions, tomatoes etc, others are *high* in those, ie grains, pulses and veg with high starch (carbohydrate) food such as potatoes. Similarly "They’re also high in nutrition" - it's not clear what you mean by that? 'Nutrition' is everything that is in your food intake - do you mean vitamins, minerals, as well as proteins, fats, carbohydrates (inc. sugar)?
goodfoodteam's picture
22nd Mar, 2017
Hi there, thanks for your comment. Sorry that you found this confusing, we have tweaked the wording slightly to make it clearer.
15th Mar, 2017
It's wonderful to read an article by someone who's actually attempted this 'unrealistic' diet. I agree that it involves a shift in mindset. ________________________________________________________________ I've been on a dietary odyssey myself; transitioning from omnivore, to inconsistent vegetarian, and eventually settling on strict vegan. I know, I know... but before you judge me, hear me out. I merely want to contribute my thoughts in the spirit of the article. This is what I've learned: ________________________________________________________________ 1. it's easy to get 10 serves of vegetables in if you diet is entirely plant based. vegetarians know this too. ________________________________________________________________ 2. its very cheap, as I no longer buy cheese or meat. this is where the money goes. cheese is the achilles heel of many vegetarians! ________________________________________________________________ 3. you do lose cravings for sweet things, and also for junk/fast food. _________________________________________________________________ 4 no significant weight loss will occur until you give up eggs and dairy, as well as meat. Once you do, it will fall away quickly. ________________________________________________________________ 5. you don't feel as hungry, and are rarely full to bloating. ________________________________________________________________ 6. it does take more planning, and you will try lots of new recipes by necessity. this becomes part of your new life. ________________________________________________________________ 7. you'll smell better, your partner will notice. Indeed, everything about you will smell better, if you catch my drift. ________________________________________________________________ 8. I too feel less need to eat grains ________________________________________________________________ 9. If you go about it with good humour and a positive attitude, the initial skepticism from family, friends and colleagues will fade. ________________________________________________________________ 10. I've had no problems in going out for dinner. it's not as uncommon or fringe as it once was, and chefs will respect your diet and make something delicious. ________________________________________________________________ 11. yes! you can have pizza without cheese, and it's good. ________________________________________________________________ over to you guys


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