Much is made of the 5-a-day phenomenon in the media today. The government, schools, local authorities and commercial entities have jumped on the 5-a-day bandwagon and it seems to be everywhere we turn that we are being told to eat the ‘magic’ 5 portions of fruit and veg each day. But does this number really represent anything meaningful in terms of ensuring that our bodies are getting the right balance of nutrients? Well, not as much as you might think. And where did this ‘magic’ number five come from anyway?
Its origins lie in a marketing campaign that was the brainchild of 20 or so fruit and vegetable companies and the U.S. National Cancer Institute in California in 1991. And countries ran with it. It was a huge success. But more recent research shows that this 5-a-day number is actually not nearly enough to supply our bodies’ nutritional needs and that 8 or 9 a day would be more appropriate. Even then, we need to be careful about just what we are counting towards it.
Fruit, while it can be a useful source of certain substances, is high in sugar and so its consumption should be limited in relation to vegetable intake. Sugary fruit juices should certainly be avoided and you should beware of smoothies and juice drinks that claim to be one of your 5-a-day as these are not as good for you as consuming the entire fruit or vegetable because many of the nutrients will be trapped in the skins and you won’t be getting the benefit of the fibre.
In addition, it is misguided to simply focus on fruit and vegetables, as there are other more nutritious foodstuffs which will provide us with the essentials. It would be better to focus on getting a balance of these into our diets in addition to our fruit and veg quota:
1. Oily fish e.g. sardines, for vitamin D, Omega 3 and calcium
2. Sunflower seeds, for vitamin E, magnesium and zinc
3. Dark-green veg e.g. broccoli, spinach and kale, for vitamins C, K and iron
4. Cocoa powder for magnesium and iron
5. Eggs, for vitamins A, B, D, E, K. iron, zinc, calcium
6. Brazil nuts for selenium and calcium
So don’t just toddle on through life thinking that drinking 5 glasses of apple juice is going to help you live longer. You will be missing out on tonnes of stuff your body really needs. Think 8 or 9-a-day and not just fruit and veg. Try getting at least one of the above list a day into your diet, more if you can. Your body will thank you for it!