You probably saw the news last week that you should “Forget five a day: You need SEVEN portions a day for a long life”. Yes you read that correctly, research now tells us that should eat seven – or possibly even ten – portions of fruit and veg every day to help keep disease at bay. I’m guessing the prospect of getting that much leafy stuff every day leaves you a little green about the gills. And if not, then I dare say you are getting a little irate about yet another example of joyless ‘experts’ telling us to “eat this” and “don’t eat that”. Don’t they realise how hard it is to get the family eating more carrots and peas as it is? But I’ll let you in on a little secret… most doctors weren’t in the least bit surprised at the news. For we have long known that ‘5 a Day’ was never really enough to ward off the worst of disease.
Origin of ‘5 a Day’
It was way back in 1990 that the World Health Organisation first came up with the ‘five a day’ recommendation. They didn’t call it that, though: a committee of experts estimated that eating no less than 400g of fruit and vegetables every day would help prevent nutrition-related diseases. It was only later that the UK’s Department of Health chose the natty ‘5 a Day’ approach. What everyone quickly forgot was that 400g was always intended as an absolute minimum (and quite a conservative one, even in 1990). And so, in the twenty-odd years since, as more evidence has further proved the benefits of eating our greens, official healthy eating messages haven stayed 25 years old. Hopefully until now.
On the face of it, eating seven to ten portions of fruit and vegetables sounds like a lot of effort. (That’s 800g of plant-based produce.) But I think our general attitude to veg is all wrong, and often the ‘5 a Day’ marketing initiatives are at fault: we are told to “try to eat more fruit and veg” in a way that suggests to do so is a woeful chore. Why, may I ask, do we have to think of eating nature’s produce as an onerous activity? Denmark certainly don’t: instead of ‘5 a Day’, the Danes chose ‘6 a day’, because the Danish word for ‘six’ sounds a lot like ‘sex’… Now there’s something people won’t forget easily!
So rather than think of a salad as a few limp leaves and a cherry tomato squeezed next to the chips, let’s make veggies sexy! Think: kebabs with succulent chunks of pepper and onion sandwiched between hunks of chicken. Think: big bowls of salads with lots of nice tasty things and a zingy dressing. Think: five bean chillis that are packed with more flavour and texture than a greasy mince-only ones. Think: delicately roasted vegetables slathered in gravy. And in an evening, why not consider tempting your partner some asparagus? Haven’t you heard they’re an aphrodisiac? Well, they aren’t really, but you don’t need to tell them that…
Thanks for reading – all opinions expressed are my own. Feel free to add your thoughts in the comments below.
Healthy eating suggestions and official guidelines can be found at: www.nhs.uk/livewell/healthy-eating
WHO (2009). Diet, Nutrition and the Prevention of Chronic Diseases* A Report of the WHO Study Group on Diet, Nutrition and Prevention of Noncommunicable Diseases** Nutrition Reviews, 49 (10), 291-301 DOI: 10.1111/j.1753-4887.1991.tb07370.x
Oyebode, O., Gordon-Dseagu, V., Walker, A., & Mindell, J. (2014). Fruit and vegetable consumption and all-cause, cancer and CVD mortality: analysis of Health Survey for England data Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health DOI: 10.1136/jech-2013-203500
Image: Mark Magnusson, on Flickr