Is 5 a day enough? How 7 a day can really improve your health

Is 5 a day enough? How 7 a day can really improve your health

9 April 2019

Written by Jennie Bayliss

We are all familiar with the government’s slogan, “5 a day”, but is 5 a day enough? The USA also recommends 5 a day, but many countries recommend a lot more. France recommend 10 portions, Canada 5—10, whilst Denmark encourages people to aim for 6. And Japan encourages a whopping 17 portions, as 13 portions of vegetables and 4 of fruit. I read about this in an old article in The Guardian. My initial disbelief turned into intrigue. I wondered what it would be like to eat that much vegetables and fruit in one day. Reading more, I discovered that Japan’s portions are smaller than ours. Their portion size is 50g, whereas in Europe and the USA, it’s 80g. None-the-less, Japan is still recommending 850g of vegetables and fruit in one day.

As you probably know by now, I love my fruit and veggies and I’m always encouraging people to eat more. Now there is proof that eating a lot of plant foods – especially when raw – can really improve your health. A recent 12 year study by UCL, followed the eating habits of 65,000 people. One of the spectacular results was for those who ate at least 7 portions of fruit and vegetables a day. This group of people were shown to be 42% less likely to die from any cause over the 12-year period of the study. And for those who ate 10 portions a day, there were even more benefits.

Dr Oyinlola Oyebode (head of the UCL study) said, ‘The more fruit and vegetables you eat, the less likely you are to die at any age.’

zingy mint mango smoothie
vegetables and fruit
large mixed salad

Still intrigued by the Japanese target, I wondered what it would take to eat that much—and how much I actually ate a day. I know I eat a lot of veggies and fruit  – but I had never  weighed it before, so I decided to give it go.

For breakfast, I had Zingy Mint & Mango Smoothie with cucumber added. The spinach, greens powder and cucumber weighed in at 104g. Adding mango and lemon juice took it to 242g – the fruit was 138g.

Lunch was my main meal for that day. For this, I roasted and boiled a selection of vegetables. I drizzled the vegetables with toasted sesame seed oil, and sprinkled over the top, chunks of feta and a few walnuts. The vegetables weighed in at 300g. For dessert, a bowl of blueberries with a dollop of natural yoghurt and a sprinkling of pumpkin seeds. The blueberries weighed in at 106g.
At 4 pm, I had a snack of half a banana with 7 almonds. For tea (dinner!) I had a large mixed salad to which I added a hard boiled egg and a home-made French salad dressing. The salad itself weighed in at 190g.

Total fruit and vegetable portions

In total, I ate:
594g vegetables just under 7.5 portions
302g fruit slightly over 3.5 portions
It felt like I had eaten a lot of food on this day, but surprisingly, the food on this day totalled only 1,400 calories.
I was on a mission on this day to maximise the vegetables I ate, as I was trying to meet the Japanese target! BUT, in reality it isn’t unusual for me to have days similar to this. I easily eat more than 5 portions every day and I suspect that it’s more like 7–8. I’m not a vegetarian. But at least 2 or 3 days a week, my food is only plant based. I eat fish or shell-fish 2 or 3 times a week and once a week I usually have one meal with chicken or turkey.

Choose to eat more vegetables and fruit

I believe everyone has to decide what mix of foods works for them. Choice of diet is determined by personal taste, beliefs, values and lifestyle. No matter whether you choose to be a vegetarian, pescatarian, to eat meat, or like me, to become a flexitarian, I recommend that you eat at least 5 portions of vegetables and fruit a day and aim for 7. And if you’re wondering if I missed out vegans – I trust that those of you who have adopted a vegan diet are already doing this!

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