First it was 5, then it was 7 and now it’s 10. I investigate if the latest fruit and veg recommendations are realistic.
If you’re reading this thinking: “isn’t it supposed to be 5-a-day?” – sorry, but times are changing. In 2014, my very own UCL broke the news that it should really be 7-a-day. Then, Imperial said no, it’s more like 10-a-day. Given that only 25% of the UK meet the target of five, with most people barely managing one, how useful can these campaigns be? Curiosity got the better of me and I wanted to find out for myself if setting ourselves these targets is worthwhile – really, how hard could it be?! Here’s what happened when I completed the challenge of eating 10 portions of fruit and veg everyday for a week…
– I considered going Fruitarian
I wasn’t even entirely sure what a Fruitarian was, but I thought I was going to have to become one for the next seven days. I didn’t know how else I could fit that much fruit and veg into one day. I googled: a fruitarian is someone who eats mainly fruit, with the occasional portion of nuts and seeds, too. Given that ‘10-a-day’ recommends upping your veggies over fruit (veg has greater health benefits plus, fruit is higher in sugar) this didn’t seem necessary, or a good idea.
– I planned meals in advance
Comforted by the fact that I wouldn’t be forced to live on a diet of raw vegetables for the next week, I began to look at things more rationally. Dividing 10-a-day into less daunting numbers was my first step. If I ate three portions at each meal with the final portion as a snack, that seemed more achievable. Next, I thought about how I could sneak in three portions into every meal. Once again, I turned to google. But, in truth, I didn’t find much inspiration (Yes really, google wasn’t much help!) The answer was simpler than cooking up exotic recipes – I just added an extra potion or two to normal meals that I would eat.
Admittedly, this has a lot to do with meal planning and batch cooking. But if that’s what the 10-a-day challenges encourages you to do, then that can’t be a bad thing. On the other hand, it’s very easy to create food waste from optimistically buying lots of fruit and veg at the beginning of the week, that only goes off before you get round to eating it. Frozen fruit and veg are the saviours for this, and are equally beneficial as opting for fresh. Of course, you must choose wisely. Filling up on avocados, pineapples and any other tropical or out-of-season produce won’t be kind to your weekly food bill.
– I became best friends with the kitchen scales
One portion of fruit and veg must equal 80g. But how many people know what 80g looks like? Probably very few, given that the supermarkets can’t even agree. Usually you’ll find portion guidelines on the packaging, but where one brand will tell you it’s two spears of broccoli, another will say it’s three. Of course, not all fruit and vegetables are packaged either, so the scales became a necessity. I must admit, there was something very strange about weighing out ‘health’. It’s basically saying there’s a formula that must be followed with precision if we are to live a healthy life; and formulas are never fun.
– I know portion sizes by heart
… and just how many rules there are! With dried fruits, forget the 80g, a tablespoon is considered plenty. But don’t eat them as they are, eat them as part of a meal for ‘dental hygiene reasons’. Having one satsuma is also pointless, as you need to eat two for it to be considered one portion. The same goes for kiwis and plums. Beans and pulses do count towards your daily target, but no matter how much you eat, they only be one portion. And remember, fruit juice is a no-no towards your 10-a-day target. If all this sounds super exciting, feel free to read the nineteen page document of guidelines on the government’s website.
– I worried about eating out
When food-related social plans came up for this week, I automatically panicked. Can I find something on the menu with at least 3 portions of fruit of veg? If I could, would there be another dish I would definitely rather be eating? Would I get food FOMO? I did have to be more careful of my choices when eating out, and it made me feel like I was on a restricted diet rather than trying to eat more vegetables. I love visiting the health cafes and they do make it much easier to achieve. But you can’t always eat in these kind of places, and I don’t think keeping up the 10-a-day could work in most restaurants. Whilst happy to make the sacrifice for the 10-a-day challenge, I don’t think I would be so willing if I was forced to keep it up forever. In fact, I would be pretty miserable.
– I felt better about myself
It has to be said, there is something about eating lots of fruit and veg that makes you feel almost virtuous. I can’t help but feeling slightly smug about having succeeded in the 10-a-day challenge, even if it was only a week. But actually, I think it had more to do with what I didn’t eat, rather than all the extra vitamins and minerals I consumed. Focusing on fruit and veg forces you to be mindful about what you eat and automatically directs you towards healthier choices.
Did I succeed in eating 10 portions of fruit and veg everyday day? Surprisingly, yes. Do I think it’s sustainable? Absolutely not. There are always going to be days when this just isn’t realistic and that’s totally fine, if not healthy. Even the experts say so. The scientists found that eating 800g of fruit and veg everyday brought the maximum health benefits, with a significantly reduced risk of premature death from conditions such as cancer, and heart disease. But if you delve a little further into these studies, what they’re actually saying is ‘the more the better’. So really, what we should do is forget the numbers and ditch the scales… but maybe think about eating just a few extra veggies.