Food

The Truth Behind “5 a Day”

We have heard the message loud and clear for years now: you must eat five portions of fruit and vegetables per day. In other words, you need to get your 5 a day. But, there is a lot of ambiguity behind this statement. How much counts as a portion? And are some fruits or vegetables superior to others?

When the 5 a day campaign was launched, its message was clear. It never professed to be telling the whole story, it was merely a nudge in the direction of better health for the population. Now, this guideline has either been warped completely out of shape or has been forgotten altogether. When we see Heinz spaghetti hoops with their own sticker proudly stating that the product contains one of your 5 a day, we can’t help but be sceptical. Are spaghetti hoops a healthy addition that will get me one step close to the 5 portions of fruits and veg I need today? It seems unlikely.

So, what should we really be eating if we want to obtain the full health benefits from the 5 a day campaign? I can tell you right now, spaghetti hoops is not on the list.

Let’s start by looking at fruit. While the whole world is convinced that fruits are healthy and should be eaten in large quantities, there is strong evidence to suggest that this is not true. Fruit juice has already been debunked as an unhealthy drink due to the fact that is packed full of sugar. Whole fruit is not as bad but it is still pure sugar and can have negative effects on your blood sugar level. This means that if you want to get your 5 a day then it should be more vegetables than fruits. In fact, some health experts propose a new figure of 7 a day, with five of these being vegetables and the remaining 2 being fruit.

So, you know you are supposed to eat lots of vegetables, but it isn’t quite as simple as that. Frying or roasting vegetables with loads of oil significantly detracts from their health value. Steaming your vegetables or simply eating them raw is the best way to get all of the nutrients from them. While some suggest that fresh veg are better than their tinned or frozen counterparts, this is not necessarily true. Most frozen and tinned vegetables are frozen and tinned within hours of being picked. This means that the nutrients are still there, and perhaps even more so than in fresh vegetables.

Cut back on fruit and boost your vegetable intake. Anything else you should know? You should be wary of how supermarkets market their fruit and vegetables. Often the 5 a day labelling is not designed to provide you with health information but instead to sell you a product. Ultimately, profits are number one. This means that you might see a small but expensive pot of mango purporting to be one of your 5 a day, while a whole mango, which is far cheaper, is notably free of any such labelling. This doesn’t mean that pre-chopped mango is better for you. It is simply that mango in this form is more expensive and therefore drives larger profits.

Be sceptical of what you buy and try to buy whole fruit and vegetables whenever you can. You’ll save yourself money and still get all of the health benefits. 5 a day is not a lie but you need to be careful with how you choose to interpret it.

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