5 a day - fruit & veg, the facts

Fruit and vegetables - we know they’re good for us and that we’re supposed to eat 5 a day, but why?

It’s all to do with disease prevention. Research has shown that there is an association between people who eat lots of fruit and veg and low incidence of heart disease, stroke, cancer and premature death. Conversely we also see higher rates of all of these health problems in people who don’t eat much fruit and veg! 

The recommendation from Public Health England is for adults to have 5 portions weighing 80g each, of fruit and vegetables each day. However results from the 2016 national Diet and Nutrition Survey found that only 27% of the population managed to achieve this target. Furthermore in 2017 a meta-analysis of all the research in this area concluded that the greatest benefits came from consuming 10 portions per day! An unrealistic expectation for the vast majority of the British public.

However, all is not lost. We also know that just a small increase in fruit and veg consumption lowers risk, and this risk is reduced further with every 2.5 portions consumed. Therefore every change is worthwhile. 

It’s not just about the amount of fruit and veg we eat. Research as shown that certain types are associated with prevention of certain diseases. This is because different varieties and colours of fruit and veg contain different nutrients. For example the blue pigment in blueberries is a powerful antioxidant which is known to be cardioprotective. Diversity is key, mix it up, my advice to you would be to eat a rainbow of colours.

So what is a portion? Typically for adults a portion is 80g but in real terms this means:
An apple, a pear, a banana, an orange
2 smaller fruits such as plums, satsumas, kiwi fruits
Half an avocado
Half a grapefruit
Large slice of melon or pineapple
1-2 handfuls of blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, strawberries or grapes.
1 heaped tablespoon of dried fruit or 2 dried apricots
150ml glass of fruit juice or smoothie (you can only count once even if you have more)
3 heaped tablespoons of veggies, 
3 heaped tablespoons of beans and pulses (you can only count once even if you have more)
A cereal bowl of salad leaves

I love fresh, frozen, tinned, dried, preserved - all versions of fruit and vegetables – they all count, and often frozen fruits and veggies are more nutritious than fresh ones as they are preserved by freezing.

But as this blog is about nutrition for children, we should talk about how much kids need to have. There is no official guidance on what constitutes a child size portion, however the consensus among paediatric specialists is that around half an adults portion would seem realistic, so 40g or half an apple, pear, banana etc. This will get bigger as the child gets older and by adolescence an adult portion is entirely realistic. 

During weaning its important to expose your baby to a wide variety of tastes and textures and this includes both fruits and vegetables. The 5 a day rule doesn't apply though till they are 1 year old and don't forget that although packed full of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, fruit and veg are often very low in energy, something that little ones need an awful lot of when they are learning to eat. Between the ages of 1 and 5 you could adopt the useful guide of the amount that fits into the palm of a child’s hand as a rule of thumb.

Children should also be encouraged to eat a variety and at least five different kinds of fruit and veg a day. Adult food preferences are formed during childhood, so children who eat a good range of fruit and vegetables are more likely to have a diverse palate as teenagers and adults.

So the take home message is eat a rainbow, eat 5 a day and if you can manage even more than that, fantastic!

If you would like to keep up to date with all aspects of nutrition for children, sign up to my newsletter here.

Sarah Almond Bushell MPhil, BSc (Hons) RD MBDA - Registered Dietitian & Children’s Nutritionist

Sarah Almond Bushell MPhil, BSc (Hons) RD MBDA - Registered Dietitian & Children’s Nutritionist