Updated: Nov 14, 2022
Most of us are aware of the recommendation to eat at least 5 portions of fruits and vegetables daily. But how much is a portion? This seems straightforward when referring to an apple or an orange but what about the handful of berries on your cereal, the lettuce in your sandwich, or the broccoli florets on your dinner plate? What does 80g of fruit or veg look like?
The World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF) has produced this fabulous poster giving a guide to what counts as a portion.
And here are some common fruit and veg questions that I am asked in my cancer nutrition workshops:
Q. Are organic fruits and vegetables nutritionally superior to non-organic alternatives?
A. This is a hotly debated topic and, to date, the evidence is mixed. A major stumbling block to buying organic fruits and vegetables can be the price. It is much more important to eat your 5-a-day than to restrict fruits and vegetables to organically produced only and miss out on a healthy, varied diet.
TIP: buy fruits and vegetables that are in season. Look for loose fruits and vegetables rather than pre-packed and shop for deals at a local market to keep the price down. Even better is to grow your own if you can!
Q. Are fresh fruits and vegetables better than frozen?
A. No, not necessarily. The minute a fruit or vegetable is picked, it begins to lose nutrients, so the sooner after harvesting that you eat them, the greater their nutritional value. On the other hand, as most frozen fruits and vegetables are frozen shortly after they're harvested, freezing "locks in" many of their nutrients.
TIP: having some frozen fruits and vegetables in the freezer can be a brilliant short cut. It means there will always be some fruit and veg on hand, without worrying about waste. Simply cook or thaw what you need when you need it.
Q. Do baked beans count towards my 5-a-Day?
A. Yes, they do, BUT beans and pulses can only count as a maximum of 1 portion of your 5-a-day, which equates to around 3 tablespoons in total.
TIP: stir some spinach into your baked beans or chop an extra tomato into them to boost your fruit and veg intake, and lower the sugar and salt per portion.
Q. Does fruit juice count towards my 5-a-day?
A. Yes, a small (150ml) glass of fruit juice counts as 1 of your 5-a-day. However, I recommend that you stick with whole fruit where possible. When fruit is juiced, the fibre is removed, and the sugar content is released much more quickly into the blood stream causing a sugar spike - this is not good for health in general.
TIP: juicing can be a nice way to bolster your nutrient intake if you are struggling with digestive issues. Add veg like cucumber, celery, kale, and spinach. Herbs such as parsley and mint, and spices such as ginger and turmeric, and a small amount of fruit for sweetness. Smoothies are also a good option as they retain more fibre.
Q. Do potatoes count towards my 5-a-day?
A. No. White potatoes, yams and plantain do not count because they contain a lot of starch and should be counted as the carbohydrate part of your meal instead. Sweet potatoes on the other hand are classed similarly to butternut squash, parsnips, swede, and turnips and DO count towards your 5-a-day!
TIP: Try sweet potato wedges or root veg wedges e.g., celeriac as a healthy alternative to chips.
Q. Is 5 fruits and vegetables a day enough, or should I be eating more?
A. Government guidelines are still set at 5-a-day, but up-to-date research shows that it should be more like 10 portions of fruit or vegetables a day to reduce the risk of cancer, heart attack and stroke. The Government has not changed its recommendations because only 1 in 3 people eat the recommended 5-a-day, so 10 will be an unrealistic health message. Remember though that 5-a-day is still pretty good!
For people who are going through treatment and struggling with digestive issues, 10 portions may also seem hugely unrealistic. You are likely to have special nutritional requirements, and this is not the time to put undue pressure on yourself. The message is simply: Do your best. Any extra nutrients gained from fruit and vegetables will bolster health and, of course, something is better than nothing.
Every person is different and ideally, nutrition and diet advice should be customised to your specific needs. I am here to help provide individual advice and support. You can find out about my services here: https://www.thecancerdietitian.com/services
You can find the WCRF poster here: https://www.wcrf-uk.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/07/5-A-DAY-Poster-A3-2019-WEB-1.pdf
If you would like support and encouragement to put these recommendations and more into practice, please get in touch with us at The Cancer Dietitian for a consultation.
T: 020 8064 2865