In a previous life I was part of the Government comms team that launched the 5 A Day campaign. I remember discussing whether it would seem unachievable to many people. Yes, as it turns out – although, as with many public health campaigns, there’s a delay between awareness and changing habits.
Then last month scientists at Imperial College London announced we’d been getting it wrong all along: actually we should be chowing down 5 A Day times two. Yes, 10 portions of fruit and veg a day. Doing so, they say, would cut the risk of heart disease by 24%, strokes by 33% and cancer by 13%. And veg (worse luck) is way better for us than fruit.
Given that two thirds of Brits and Irish still consume less than five portions, raising the bar to 10 seems unlikely at best. I kept a food diary last year as part of a wellbeing project and, although I’m no saint, I do try to be mindful of what I put in my
cakehole mouth. So I decided to rise to the challenge for a week; I dug out the diary and bought a shed-load of fruit and veg. How hard could it be?
Well, here’s what I learned:
1) So many questions! Do beans count? (Yes, pulses count but only up to one portion.) Do spuds count? (No.) What about nuts and nut butters? (No.) What’s a portion? (Roughly, a handful). Do juices still count? (Yes, but only up to one portion and fruit juices are full of sugar.) Do two servings (at different times) of the same thing count? (Er, yes, I think so.) Don’t even get me started on olives and hummus.
2) Green smoothies are really great. I mean it – they can seriously boost your veg intake AND they taste good enough for the kids to want some! I use some combination of banana, avocado, natural yogurt, cucumber, spinach, a handful of oats, cinnamon and chia seed mix, a pear or apple, almond milk and a big squeeze of lime. Once I doled out the kids portions I added a scoop of protein powder too. Quick breakfast:sorted.
3) It’s easier to hit a good number of fruit and veg portions if you spread your intake throughout the day. Sounds obvious but cereal for breakfast, a sandwich for lunch and maybe an apple or banana for a snack comes to only one or two portions of the good stuff by the time you eat your evening meal. And that makes it tough to hit even five portions a day. So mix it up a bit: add half a grapefruit to breakfast and eat salad or veggie soup at lunch. If you’ve got four portions of goodness inside you before your evening meal the pressure is off a little bit – six portions suddenly seems a lot more achievable.
4) What about my kids? I haven’t found anything about whether 10 A Day is recommended for children. If your kids are small like mine (aged 3 and 1) you have to pick your battles. Mine are offered a variety of textures and flavours which they accept or reject on a daily changing basis. The smoothie thing helps (see above).
Overall, 10 A Day is HARD, even consciously keeping track with my food diary. The ony days I actually hit 10were the days I had a green smoothie for breakfast. The other days I managed 7 or 8 portions. And you know, I’m good with that. Because for me it’s about being realistic and enjoying healthy food, not feeling (as this journalist did) like a sentient composter.
Meanwhile, will people take this new advice on board? My guess is no, outside of a small proportion of wealthy or driven wellness obsessives. Hopefully the old 5 A Day mantra is slowly changing habits: for many people, five is challenging enough. Rather than heaping responsibility on to individuals, today’s policy developers, retailers and advertisers need to step up and accept they also have a role to play in keeping the doctor away.