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Should you eat 10 fruit and vegetables a day?

Forget five a day – recent research claims that we should be eating 10 fruit and veg every day for optimal health. Is that achievable – or even necessary?

One small thing: Before you go shopping, plan your weekly menu – this will help avoid wastage and spoilage.

You know you should be eating your fruit and veg every day, and for years Mom – and other experts – have been saying you must eat at least five a day. But then the Imperial College London released research, which created a lot of fuss. its study found that five portions of fruit and veg a day are good for you, but 10 portions are much better and could prevent up to 7.8 million premature deaths from stroke, cancer and heart disease worldwide every year.

The dietitians weigh in

According to registered dietitian Leanne Kiezer this information is hardly revelatory. “Up until now the World Health Organization (WHO) has recommended an intake of 400g – that’s five 80g servings – of vegetables and fruit per day in adults, to protect against certain cancers and cardiovascular disease. Research found that eating less than 200g of veg and fruit a day increased risk for disease, where 400g per day represented a peak in benefits for its dosage. This quantity was believed to supply sufficient micronutrients like vitamins A, C and E, folate, potassium and fibre in the diet.”

She adds that it was also found that higher intakes – 600g in adults (7.5 servings of 80g) – would result in the lowest population health risk, but eating these volumes was viewed as not being attainable in practice.

“In short, we always knew that eating more veg and fruit would be better, but recommendations needed to be realistic and attainable – 400g per day represents the ‘sweet spot’ where it’s the lowest amount of veg and fruit required to achieve significant reductions in disease risk.”

What counts towards 10 a day?

Fortunately, legumes (lentils, beans and chickpeas), frozen fruit and veg, and dried fruit count towards your 10 a day. As do canned fruits and vegetables, although Kiezer cautions that one should check these do not contain an excess of added salt, fat and sugar.

The same fruit or veg could double your quota – a large banana or grapefruit, for example, can count as two portions.

Fresh juice also counts towards your daily intake – with a caveat: “Fruit juices made from 100% pure juice provide most of the micronutrients that are present in the original fruit, but fibre is lost, and in some instances sugar sugar is added,” says Kiezer. “Many products branded as ‘fruit drinks’ contain only small quantities of the original fruit juice. Consequently, eating fruit is preferable to drinking fruit juice because of its higher fibre content.”

So, homemade or freshly squeezed is best, and it shouldn’t be consumed as a substitute for more than one whole fruit.

Is all this fruit and veg affordable?

Adding more fruit and veg to your usual monthly purchases is going to impact your shopping bill. But if you swap less healthy items like fizzy cooldrinks, sweets, chips, pies, biscuits and cakes for fruit and veg (cost-effective options include apples, oranges, sweet potato, butternut squash and carrots), then it becomes affordable. Plus, you’ll be upping the overall health quotient of your diet significantly.

The bottom line

There can be no question that more is more when it comes to eating plant-based foods and boosting health, but there’s no need to get too neurotic about it – just try your best to include more fruit and veg where possible. Yes, eating 10 portions each day is better for you in the long term than eating five, but it can be difficult to reach this goal every day.

What should be cause for concern, however, is if you’re falling short of your five a day. This seems to be key, and if you are struggling to make this minimum it could be time to think about adopting healthier dietary habits.

If you have a question for our dietitians, click here, or to find a dietitian in your area, visit adsa.org.za. To get in touch with us, email healthhotline@pnp.co.za.