The 5-a-day campaign originated from the World Health Organization. Whilst there are similar campaigns pushing for the consumption of seven or 10 portions of fruit and vegetables a day, it is best to aim for five initially and work up from there.
When catering for yourself, the prospect of trying to consume the necessary portions of fruit and vegetables suddenly becomes difficult with many quick fixes not providing the ingredients necessary to get to your 5-a-day. However, incorporating fruit and vegetables into your diet can be easier than it first appears. Furthermore, these foods are often cheaper, making gaining your 5-a-day a budget-friendly option. This is especially true when eating seasonal which not only supports local business, but reduces food miles which helps the planet.
So, what makes getting your 5-a-day so important? Foods which count towards your 5-a-day are often (depending on how they are cooked) low in fat and calories, and are an important source of key vitamins, minerals and a variety of phytochemicals (which occur natural in plants). They also contain dietary fibre which aids gut health. The gut plays a key role in digesting food and absorbing nutrients as well as supporting the function of the immune system. Some nutrients can be lost in preparation of fruit and vegetables, so it is best to eat them raw or chose steaming, roasting, microwaving or poaching over boiling. Most importantly, these foods taste good and with so much variety there is something for everyone.
When it comes to the foods which count towards your 5-a-day, there is an infinite number of choices. Fresh, tinned, dried, and frozen fruit and vegetables all count as do pulses like beans, chickpeas, and lentils. It is important to make the most of the variety of choices available and have different foods each day – the more colourful the plate, the better! This means you can get a wider range of the vitamins and minerals which are central to healthy body functioning. Unfortunately, this means that five apples will not give you your 5-a-day as this does not achieve the variety of nutrients necessary for a healthy diet. It should also be noted that pulses only count once as they contain less nutrients than fruit and vegetables. Similarly, only 150ml of juice or smoothie counts as the production of these squeezes out essential nutrients and releases sugar so drinking too much can affect dental health. Therefore, variety is best.
It can be a little daunting when there seem to be so many things to remember but getting your 5-a-day can simple with the help of these tips:
- Add extra vegetables or a salad to ready prepared food
- Make fruit and vegetables your go to snack
- Top your breakfast with fruit
- Add peppers and mushrooms to scrambled eggs or omelettes
- Bake sweet treats with vegetables like courgette and beetroot
- Try to have one or two portions of fruit and vegetables with every meal
- Replace some or all meat with lentils in meals like spaghetti bolognese
- Swap your usual dessert for a fruit salad
- Don’t be afraid to try new dishes – traybakes can be a quick and easy way of preparing a meal packed with vegetables
- Cook from scratch so you have a clearer idea about what you’re eating. This also gives you more opportunities to add ingredients which count towards your 5-a-day.