This week you may have noticed a few news stories circulating sharing a report by University College London researchers about how ten portions of fruit and veg -not five -are the optimal amount to reduce premature deaths. This isn’t the first time that recommendations of 10-a-day have circulated, but this latest study is a meta-analysis: a study of other studies (in this case, 95 others across the globe). This makes the report a more reliable source of information, being less likely to contain bias or anomalous data, and also assesses the reliability of other reports. Although latest findings suggested that any intake of fruit and veg is better than none, adults should ideally be taking in 800g, which equates to around ten 80g portions. Laura Thomas Phd explains what the NHS guidelines state as a portion:
“Remember one portion is ~80g; a few spinach leaves isn’t going to cut it. That’s about 7 strawberries on your porridge, two kiwis or one banana. Dried fruit can count as max 1 portion a day (30g)
For you kale freaks – 1 portion of cooked greens is 4 fat tablespoons. Other cooked veg like carrots is 3 fat tablespoons. For salad it’s like one juicy tomato or 7 baby toms. Beans count as a max of one of your 5 a day. But I think beans are ace way of getting fibre in so I usually have a couple portions a day. Green juice/ orange juice, same shit – only counts as a max of one of your 5 a day. Because fibre.
Smoothies MIGHT count as one of your 5 if you’re making them at home and adding loads of different fruit & veg, not blending too hard, and not adding juice. Shop bought usually have juice added and that’s not cool.”
Portion sizes in mind, how do you actually go about it?
Fill your plate with vegetables, and then add the rest – Whilst I’m not telling you to throw away your pasta and rice to replace them with vegetable alternatives (nothing wrong with courgetti, but no need to demonise pasta either!), basing your meals on veggies ensure that they get the space on the plate, and everything else fits in with it. So bulk up curries and stews with a variety of fresh produce, add a portion of peas to your dinner.
Know your cheap staples – One of the biggest obstacles that many people report about eating healthily is the cost of fresh produce. Get to know which foods are purse friendly: carrots in particular will be your friends! Also look to broccoli (try and add the stalk to meals too!) cabbages, apples and other staples. And don’t forget the value of tinned and frozen foods. Keeping a stash of frozen peas, cauliflower, berries and tinned tomatoes and beans to hand will majorly slash your food bill and ensure that you always have plenty of extra fruit and veg to add to any meal -I like making a batch of pesto pasta for work lunches with lots of peas and french beans.
Rethink breakfast – Who says we can’t have vegetables for breakfast? Add a bit of variety to your morning meal -try egg on toast with some steamed broccoli. Or grating in a carrot into your oats with fruit to make a cake-inspired porridge. You can even get creative with leftovers and include those into your breakfast. There’s no real reason for us to eat the sweet cereals and breakfast foods typically offered to us, so step outside your comfort zone with a different kind of breakfast, and see if you can start your day with at least a couple of portions.
Snack smart – Okay, so there are a host of yummy whole food snack bars and energy balls to chose from now. But that doesn’t mean you should go for them all the time -simple is often better. Try vegetable sticks and hummus or apple slices dipped into peanut butter. It’s an easy way to get one or two extra portions in, alongside a bit of fat and protein for a well-rounded snack.
Bulk up your sauces – Whenever you are making a bolognese or other sauce, finely chop up some carrots and celery and add them in. You’ll barely notice that they’re there, and they will give your sauce a subtle extra richness in taste. Win win!
Add a side soup or salad – having a side salad or cup of soup alongside one meal a day can add two extra portions, with little effort. Easy and tasty.
Cook in bulk – To avoid weeknight takeaways or toast-for-dinner situations, cook more portions than you need and then freeze or refrigerate them.
Be creative with salads – Keep salads interesting and packed full of a variety of different foods -try tossing together spinach, peas, broccoli and asparagus or french beans with pesto and chickpeas. Or try mixing roasted mediterranean vegetables with salad leaves and goats cheese. Salad doesn’t have to be boring!
Pick your juices and smoothies carefully – Having a green smoothie or juice can be a quick and easy way to add a few extra nutrients and portions of fruit and vegetables in, but don’t go crazy. Try to keep your fruit to vegetable ratios as low as you can, and be mindful that you may be missing out on fibre -something that is essential for gut health, and can reduce blood sugar spikes.
Separate out your produce – So you’re getting close to the 10-a-day goal, but worried that you are eating the same few foods? Instead of just looking at fruits and vegetables, divide them further up into berries, leafy greens, cruciferous veg, root vegetables, legumes etc. You’ll be more likely to consume a wider range of nutrients and it might just encourage you to expand your shopping list.
So how do you actually implement these times into a daily meal plan? Here are a couple of suggestions to get you started -remember, I’m not a qualified nutrition or dietician, so these are just suggestions.
Breakfast – 2 poached or scrambled eggs on toast with mushrooms and spinach.
Lunch – homemade vegetable burger with a salad and hummus.
Dinner – stir fry with 3-4 portions of vegetables, tofu and rice.
Snacks/dessert – apple and peanut butter, yoghurt and frozen berries.
Breakfast – green smoothie made with banana and spinach, or mango and kale
Lunch – veggie bowl made with rice, roasted vegetables, lettuce and avocado, with a lime dressing.
Dinner – 3-bean chilli with sweet potato wedges
Snacks/dessert- carrot sticks and hummus, medjool date and dark chocolate.