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Why do we need to eat Five-a-Day?

The Five-a-Day campaign is one of the most recognised public health messages still talked about almost 20 years after the government first announced it. Based on a report by The World Health Organisation and the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations the suggestion is that increasing vegetable and fruit intake to around 400g or five portions a day can help prevent the development of diseases such as diabetes, cancer and heart disease and reduce the prevalence of nutrient deficiencies.

However, this strategy has been criticised for a number of reasons one simple factor being that many people do not understand the purpose behind this message or how it will benefit them. People also don’t often understand what equates to a ‘portion’ or what they can or should include in their fruit and vegetable five. Manufacturers were quick to jump on this as a way of making their product seem healthy by claiming their product to be “one of your five-a-day” despite also including numerous other processed and highly calorific ingredients.

This campaign has faded away and was replaced by the Change for Life campaign and then again during the global pandemic we were (seemed like momentarily) urged to “lose weight, get active, quit smoking and drink less” to “Get Fit For Life”. Despite these largely ineffective and transient public health interventions the message to “Eat a Rainbow of vegetables and fruit is an important health idea and one that Nutritional Therapists would encourage their clients to do more.

At least five portions of fruit and vegetables was the original message, but now we recommend at least five vegetables with a couple of portions of fruit. A portion is around 80g or an easier way to think about it is around the size of an eating apple. The voluntary register for Nutritional Therapists and Nutritionists – The British Association for Nutrition and Lifestyle Management recommend that we fill half our plate with vegetables at lunch and dinner and try to include some in our breakfast if we can.

The benefits of eating a rainbow of vegetables and fruit are numerous:

  • Increased intake of vitamins and minerals all found in fruit and vegetables.
  • Increased fibre both soluble and insoluble forms which supports a healthy digestive system.
  • Supports a healthy microbiome – emerging science demonstrates the importance of this ecosystem living within and on our bodies.
  • Provides various phytochemicals (phyto is Greek for plant) such as polyphenols and flavonoids which have been shown to support the immune system, protect cells and DNA from damage, support eye health and can help regulate some hormones.
  • Helps in the removal of some toxins or metabolites as well as cholesterol through healthy digestion and excretion.
  • Can help us to feel fuller after a meal, balance the levels of sugars in the blood and keep our appetite in check.

So why not challenge yourself to include more colourful vegetables every day by adding one or two to breakfast – think poached egg with wilted spinach and a grilled tomato and try filling half your dinner plate with a rainbow salad.

Check out here for some recipe ideas.

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