10 a day, keeps the doctor away
You’ve no doubt heard by now that new research suggests we increase our fruit and veg intake from 5 portions to 10 portions a day. To say this has been met with mixed response is an understatement. With 2 out of 3 UK adults failing to meet the current 5 a day guidelines many people are just about ready to throw their hands up in defeat. Is this just another example of media food fad frenzy? Who came up with this new number? How big is a portion? Let’s take a look at how to reach 10 a day, the vegan way.
For most of us the biggest question is “How much extra time and money is this going to cost me?” As a busy, hard-working step-mum with hungry mouths to feed I understand this attitude totally. However as a daughter that lost both parents to premature death from the diseases included in this study I’m compelled to ask the bigger question “Can we really afford not to take action?”
10 a day, what the experts say
Scientists from the Imperial College London have undertaken a massive worldwide meta-analysis of all available research to date. The reason for this is to investigate how much fruit and veg you need to eat to benefit from the greatest protection against certain diseases and premature death.
The study included data from up to 2 million people and the results strongly suggest that the ideal intake for fruit and veg equals 800g or roughly 10 portions a day. Consumption at this level showed:
- 33% reduction in risk of stroke
- 31% reduction in premature death
- 28% reduction in cardiovascular disease
- 24% reduction in risk of heart disease
- 13% reduction in risk of cancer
Whilst its important to point out that these figures are calculated in comparison to eating no fruit or veg the study also showed that an increase of just 200g or 2.5 servings resulted in the following:
- 18% reduced risk of stroke
- 15% reduced risk of premature death
- 13% reduced risk of cardiovascular disease
- 16% reduced risk of heart disease
- 4% reduced risk of cancer
Although further research is needed into the effects of specific fruit and veg and into the relationship between various preparation methods such as raw versus cooked the overall evidence is clear. We would all benefit from increasing our daily intake.
10 a day, yay or nay
I’ll admit I get as confused and irritated as you do over the conflicting messages we’re bombarded with on a daily basis about what we should and shouldn’t put into our bodies. Whilst I’m not quite old enough to remember when your G.P endorsed cigarettes I’ve been around long enough to hear contradictions about most diet and health related topics.
Quite frankly there are very few I credit with my time or attention. Most fall out of the spotlight only to be replaced a year later by a totally opposing standpoint. However one that has stood its ground is the 5 a day rule for our fruit and veg. The results of this new research make for a compelling argument to double this goal, but how exactly does that translate on our plates and in our wallets?
In order to know if its feasible for us to reach this new ideal it’s important to know exactly what counts and how much. Whilst I’m not one to get caught up in weighing and measuring the easiest way to think of a portion is that it’s roughly a cupped handful. As an example most people can comfortably fit 1 apple or 1 banana or 1/2 a grapefruit in their hand and all these are considered 1 portion. Smaller items can be measured in Tbsps but would roughly fill your cupped hand such as 2 plums, 6 strawberries, or 3 Tbsps of peas. You might find this NHS portion guide handy to get you started.
- All fresh, frozen and tinned veg, either cooked or raw. Preferably fresh or frozen. If tinned look for varieties in water with no added salt or sugar. One portion is approx 80g or roughly a handful.
- All fresh, frozen and tinned fruit. Preferably raw either fresh or frozen. If tinned look for varieties in water or natural juice not syrup. One portion is approx 80g or roughly a handful.
- Dried fruit in small portions of 1 Tbsp or 30g due to the concentrated sugars.
- One 150ml glass of fresh fruit or vegetable juice or smoothie counts as one portion regardless of how many fruits and vegetables you use. This is due to the breakdown of fibre and the release of natural sugars when whole fruits are blended into juice. To help protect your teeth consider diluting your juice 50/50 with water and always drink juices through a straw, re-usable of course.
- Legumes though not strictly vegetables are included and 3 heaped Tbsp of any beans, peas or lentils counts as a portion.
- Potatoes, yams, cassava and plantains whilst beneficial to our diet are not counted as these are primarily eaten as starches. However other root vegetables like sweet potato, swede, parsnips and turnips do count as they are usually eaten as vegetables alongside the starch element of most meals.
- Variety is key, aim for as much colour and variety on your plate as you can. Eat the rainbow.
10 a day, the vegan way
As a vegan I think these findings do wonders for supporting the vegan message. What better way to ensure you’re hitting your goal than to ditch the meat and increase the veggies. Although this kind of research brings us hope for future change I’m fully aware that not everyone can or will go vegan and that currently even some vegans do not achieve 10 portions per day.
The most important action you can take is to start wherever you’re at and improve upon that. If you currently eat 2 portions a day then neither your willpower nor your bowels will thank you for attempting 10 a day all at once. If you’re a meat eater cut it out just one or two meals a week and focus on increasing your intake on those specific days. Maybe you think you can’t cook? Then start looking for pre-packed options that include more vegetables or add a quick side salad or extra portion of veg to your plate at every evening meal.
Here are my tips for bringing more fruit and veg into your day:
- Start with a positive attitude. Rather than thinking I’ll never eat 10 portions take each meal and day at a time.
- Take a good look at your food choices and ask yourself what can I change here for the better? Can I add more colour, texture, flavour and freshness to this plate?
- Develop an interest in cooking and meal planning. Being prepared with a freezer full of veg based home cooked meals or simply prepping your fruit and veg the night before makes it much easier to eat well when you’re short on time.
- Take control of your budget. Most people argue that eating this way will cost more. Look closely at how you’re spending and wasting your food budget and you’ll soon see where you’re scrimping on the fresh fruit and veg in order to spend money on less than ideal choices. Branded sugary cereal versus plain oats and bananas. Luxury ice cream and sprinkles over yoghurt and berries.
- Add fruit and veg to whatever you’re already eating. Cereal or porridge for breakfast would benefit from adding a chopped apple, banana or handful of berries. A portion of frozen veg will take only minutes to cook and serve along with your main meal. Add a side salad to your sandwich at lunchtime and you’re already well on your way to doubling your daily intake.
- Adding extra veg to whatever you’re cooking is a great way to up your portions. If your homemade chilli usually stops at onions and peppers try adding lentils and mushrooms instead of meat or soy mince. Make your signature curry with sweet potato, cauliflower or chickpeas.
- Embrace your inner parent and if you or your family are not a fan of certain vegetables sneak them in. Cauliflower makes a great alfredo or cheese sauce and soups can absorb a multitude of veggies once blended. Carrots and courgette can be grated finely into breakfast muffins. Peas mashed into a pesto. You get the idea.
- It’s often the texture and not the flavour of certain veg that people find off-putting. Experiment with how you chop, prep or cook your veggies to see if your opinion of them changes. Use a blender, a grater, or a mandolin to change the size and shape of the vegetable. If you usually steam a certain veg try roasting it instead. If you don’t like something stir fried then slow cook it and see what you think.
- Make veg the star of the show. Broccoli rice, courgette spaghetti, butternut squash noodles. Replace your usual starch or meat/meat replacement element of the meal with one of the 10 a day. Have you ever tried cauliflower buffalo wings? Avocado on toast? Artichoke dip? Now is the time to experiment and have fun.
- Swap sugary snacks for a piece of fresh fruit or chopped veggie sticks with houmous. Keeping them handy and if possible in your eye sight means you’re more likely to eat them throughout the day.
- Move towards a fully vegan, whole foods diet. Your body, the animals and the planet will thank you for it.
Do you get your 5-10 a day? Let me know how you achieve it in the comments below.