Three vegetables, Two Fruits For Five-A-Day

A fruit market in Barcelona. A source of five-a-day.
All these fruit and vegetables are prone to browning through peroxidase enzymes. Photo c/o FoodWrite Ltd

Nutritional advice has always been to make sure we got our ‘five-a-day’. The idea was that we needed a regular daily intake of both fruits and vegetables because this was associated with a lower risk of early death and disease. Now a new study says it needs to be the right fruit and vegetables.

Previous to the findings in this research, the type of fruit and vegetable was largely down to our own choice. It didn’t really matter if they were raw, processed or found in a can. All fruit and vegetables were seen as healthy.

The latest research from researchers at Harvard University in the USA now say that five-a-day needs to be made up of two fruits and three vegetables if we are to obtain the maximum benefit from the five-a-day idea.

The Study

The research comes from studying two million adults across the world (29 countries)  on their dietary habits. Sifting through this data led to the following findings:

  • eating two portions of citrus fruit and berries and three helpings of leafy green and orange vegetables every day represents the optimal ‘5-a-day’ diet.
  • the portion size was about 80 grams
  • eating more than five portions a day continues to benefit your health but the benefit starts to fall away as more fruit and vegetables are eaten. A case of diminishing returns according to some editorial comments.

Other findings were that consuming five portions of fruit and vegetables per day, of any kind, had a 13 per cent lower risk of death from any particular cause than those who had just two portions. These people also had a 12 per cent lower risk of dying from heart disease and stroke, a 10 per cent lower risk from cancer and a 35 per cent lower risk of dying from respiratory diseases, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

The lead author,  Dr Dong Wang, who is an  epidemiologist and nutritionist at Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston stated that:

“While groups like the American Heart Association (viz. health experts) recommend four to five servings each of fruits and vegetables daily, consumers likely get inconsistent messages about what defines optimal daily intake of fruits and vegetables such as the recommended amount, and which foods to include and avoid.” 

He also commented:

“We found that not all fruits and vegetables offer the same degree of benefit, even though current dietary recommendations generally treat all types of fruits and vegetables the same.”

In the UK, the current guidelines from the National Health Service (NHS) states categorically that one portion of a five-a-day diet is 80 grams of fresh, canned or frozen fruits and vegetables.

What else can be included? Juice and smoothies can be drunk up to 150ml every day. Likewise, dried fruit can also be added to 30 grams to increase the quota.

In the USA, only about one in ten adults can eat enough fruits and vegetables based on data from the  U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

What Are Great Five-A-Day Foods

The best type of fruits and vegetables can be based on their colours. 

Most nutritionists recommend a good portion of green leafy vegetables such as kale, calabrese and broccoli, cabbage, spinach, lettuce, beet greens and leaves, collard greens, watercress,  Swiss chard, rocket (arugula), endive and bok choy.

Brightly coloured yellow-orange vegetables include carrots, butternut squashes, peppers, swede, chili, sweet potatoes.

The fruits are usually red/black such as blackcurrants, blueberries, apples, citrus, grapes, cranberries.

Not all fruit and vegetables though are as protective. For example the starchy vegetables like potatoes, corn and peas were not linked to a particular lower risk of death and from certain chronic diseases.

The research is published in the journal, Circulation (2021)

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