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04th April 2014

Fruit and Vegetables by Numbers

Alphabet made of many fruits and vegetablesThe message of five a day is well recognised by both consumers and health professionals as one of the basics of healthy eating messages, so what should we make of the headlines this week that in fact we really need to eat seven or more?

Our UK five a day (more strictly at least five) recommendation is based on World Health Organization guidelines of at least 400g (5 x 80g) portions of fruit and vegetables a day, with this intake suggested to lower the risk of serious health problems  like heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and obesity.

5 or 7?

However, a new report from University College London that used National Health Survey data to examine the eating habits of 65 000 people in England, found that those who ate at least seven portions of fruit and vegetables, compared to less than one, reduced their overall risk of death by 42%. But the study also showed that people who eat between five and seven a day have a 36 per cent reduced risk, those who eat three to five portions have a 29 per cent decreased risk and those who eat one to three helpings of fruit and veg have a 14 per cent reduced risk of death.

Changing government recommendations on the basis of this study alone is premature, especially as it is just one population study and we know that people who eat more fruit and vegetables are also likely to have a healthy diet and lifestyle in general.

Less than 5

And we still have some way to go to achieve the current guidelines. In the latest National and Dietary Nutrition survey,  adults aged 19 to 64 years consumed on average 4.1 portions per day and older adults (i.e. those aged 65 years and over) consumed 4.4 portions. 31% of adults and 37% of older adults met the “5 a day” recommendation, so around two thirds of the population are still not meeting the current target.

The danger of the wide reporting of a “7 a day” message is that people may feel daunted. We also always need to be mindful that healthy eating is not just about fruit and vegetables, and variety is also important.

Yet for the majority of the population, who are not getting 5 a day, encouraging more fruit and vegetable consumption is important. The message from this paper is that even increasing intake  by 1 portion may be of benefit.

So whatever you or your clients are currently having, try to have a bit more.

*All information is correct at the time of publishing

Ayela Spiro

Nutrition Scientist, British Nutrition Foundation

Ayela is a nutrition scientist at the British Nutrition Foundation, where her role involves providing expert advice on nutrition and health issues to a number of key audiences including consumers, health professionals, charities, the media and the food industry. At the heart of her work is the communication of nutrition science that promotes understanding of nutrition and health and contributes to the improved wellbeing of all. Read more

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