Fruit and vegetables made the headlines recently after a new review study was published, which found that people who ate up to 10 portions of fruit and veg per day had a significantly lower risk of developing chronic diseases, such as heart disease and cancer. In this 2 part mini series we will take a look at if we should all be striving to eat 10 portions of fruit and veg per day for good health. In part two we will give you tips on how to include more fruit and veg in your diet.

What was this new study all about?

The headlines were referring to a recent meta-analysis and systematic review (i.e. a high quality review paper) by Imperial College London, of 95 studies looking at fruit and vegetable intake. The study found that having 10 portions of a variety of fruit and veg (about 800g/day) compared to ½ a portion or less per day, was associated with:

  • 24% reduced risk of coronary heart disease
  • 33% reduced risk of stroke
  • 14% reduced risk of total cancer
  • 31% reduced risk of premature death.

Does it have to be 10-a-day for everyone?

From these results, it seems straight forward that we should be encouraging people to have 10 portions per day, but the recent National Diet and Nutrition Survey (NDNS) data found that only 27% of UK adults meet their 5-a-day recommendation!  So telling everyone to have 10-a-day is totally unrealistic!

Can I still benefit if I don’t eat 10-a-day?

There are benefits from even a small increase in the amount of fruit and veg we eat. The study found that disease (except cancer) risk was reduced with each 200g per day (2.5 portions per day) increase of fruit and veg consumed, up to a total of 800g per day (and 600g per day for cancer). So each 200g per day increase of fruit + veg was associated with:

  • 8% reduced risk of coronary heart disease
  • 16% reduced risk of stroke
  • 3% reduced risk of total cancer
  • 10% reduced risk of premature death

Essentially, it’s not all-or-nothing! Having just 2-3 portions per day is a good start to reduce disease risk but the more we eat the better!

It’s important to note that the studies (prospective cohort trials) included in this review can only show an association between increased fruit and veg intake and reduced disease risk, not a cause and effect relationship (i.e. they are unable to show fruit and veg intake is accountable for developing a disease or not).

So what should we be aiming for with our fruit and veg intake?

The study also found different types of fruits and veg were associated with lower disease risk. E.g. apples, pears, citrus fruits, green leafy vegetables and tomatoes were thought to help reduce heart disease and stroke risk.

Megan Rossi RD points out, “It’s not just about the sheer volumes of fruit and veg that’s important. Getting in a diverse range of fruit and veg has been linked with better health. This is because different varieties and colours of fruit and veg contain different nutrients. My top tip is to mix it up, aim for at least 10 different types of fruit and veg per week… and if you manage to meet at least your 5 serves per day, you’re doing great!”

Azmina Govindji RD also suggests eating a variety of colours, which doesn’t have to be costly! “Whether it’s 10-a-day or 5-a-day, the key is to have variety and eat more fruit and veg than you currently do. Same colours, same antioxidant (typically). The anthocyanins in blueberries are also present in red cabbage and beetroot. There’s no need to buy expensive so called ‘superfruits’ when you can get similar goodness in similar coloured fruit and veg.”

Should we worry about having too much sugar in fruit?

The government recommendations for added or ‘free’ sugar is that it should make up less than 5% of our daily energy from food and drinks, but this does not include fruit sugars! Catherine Collins RD notes, “Neither this new study nor previous work worries about fruit and neither should we. Yes, fruit has sugar, but it’s natural to the fruit, not ‘added’ – so don’t worry about including more fruit in your diet.”

What counts as a portion of vegetables or fruit?

These are based on adult portion sizes.

Fruit: 1 portion = 80g, which is roughly:

  • 1 medium sized apple, banana, pear or something similar sized
  • ½ a medium avocado
  • 2 plums, satsumas, kiwis
  • A handful of berries or grapes
  • Note: 30g dried fruit = 1 portion
  • 150ml/day of 100% fruit juice/smoothies: = 1 portion. Any more than 150ml doesn’t count as more than 1 portion because juicing removes most of the natural fruit fibre that you find in whole pieces of fruit.

Vegetables: 1 portion = 80g, which is roughly:

  • 3 heaped tablespoons of vegetables
  • 3 heaped tablespoons of pulses – beans, peas and lentils (count only as one portion per day)
  • 1 dessert bowl of salad
  • Note: white potatoes, yam, cassava + plantain DON’T count because they are starchy foods.

Fresh, frozen, tinned + dried fruit and vegetables – they all count!

 

Find out more here:  BDA Food Facts: Fruit & Veg

So still aim for your 5 a day, but the more you can manage the better. Keep an eye out for our next post featuring top tips and recipe links to include more fruit and veg in your diet from both the public and some more prominent dietitians on social media!