Despite recent government awareness campaigns, it is estimated that only 15% of UK adults are getting their “five a day” intake of fruit and vegetables; on average we are managing to consume less than three portions. But how important for our health is it really? Well, there are some conflicting opinions on this but evidence suggests that getting your five a day could protect against strokes and some cancers and may even delay the development of cataracts in the eye and help improve bone health. It is not always easy to make a change for the better today when the potential health issues that could be prevented might be so far in the future, so I would rather focus on what upping your intake of fruit and veg can do for you now!
Fruit and vegetables are a good source of dietary fibre and tend to contain carbohydrates that provide slower-release energy than starchy foods such as bread, pasta and potatoes (unfortunately spuds don’t count towards your five a day), which means healthier bowel function, feeling fuller for longer, better management of diabetes and maintenance of a healthier weight. In fact, a study of people who simply added a bright red-coloured variety of apple to a balanced diet every day for a year without any other change actually lost weight. Aside from that added bonus, apples and other fruits and vegetables are also a great source of vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals - essential for growth, repair and maintenance of a healthy immune system; some of these also act as anti-oxidants, protecting the body from free-radical damage that can cause diseases and may be involved in the ageing process. As a rule of thumb, dark green leafy vegetables and deeply-coloured fruits tend to contain the greatest concentrations of beneficial nutrients, but try to get as much variety as possible as that will ensure you get a good balance of different vitamins and minerals.
Substituting some of the starchy foods in your diet for fruits and vegetables can only be a good thing, regardless of exactly how beneficial fruit and veg are in improving long-term health risks. But don’t neglect the other food groups in your quest to increase your fruit and veg intake – as well as the carbohydrates we also need a healthy balance of proteins fats and other vitamins and minerals that can be found in meat, fish, dairy, mushrooms, nuts and pulses!