Recent research has recommended that we increase our fruit and vegetable intake to ten-a-day. This study from the Imperial College London looked at all studies ever carried out assessing disease risk versus intake of fruits and vegetables. This is called a meta-analysis and is a powerful tool to analyse groups of studies, where findings may differ for various reasons such as population differences. This research looked at the diets of almost 2 million people and concluded that while five-a-day is beneficial to our health, ten-a-day is even better.
Eating ten-a-day reduces risk of heart disease, stroke or dying prematurely by approximately one third. Evidence was particularly strong when it comes to eating apples, pears, citrus fruits, salads and green leafy vegetables such as spinach, lettuce and chicory, and cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower. Cancer risk is reduced by 13%, with more benefits from brightly coloured fruits and vegetables including green vegetables and yellow/orange vegetables, such as peppers and carrots. The evidence also suggests that food sources carry much greater advantages than supplements, likely due to the complex of nutrients, vitamins and antioxidants that can be obtained when eating a wide variety of plant foods.
Make at least five-a-day, mostly veg
So how do you go about eating ten-a-day? The current recommendation of five-a-day is already a struggle for a lot of people already. According to the most recent Healthy Ireland survey (October 2016), only one in four Irish people routinely take in five fruits or vegetables per day. In addition, we need to focus on vegetable intake more. When you are on a ‘health kick’, it is often easier to increase fruits or swap treats for fruit. However fruit has a higher sugar content than vegetables. Any day, fruit is a better choice than a chocolate biscuit, but we recommend limiting fruit intake to two or maximum three per day.
If you want to eat more than three vegetable portions per day, you can’t leave it all until dinner. Vegetables go well with eggs for breakfast, for example spinach, tomatoes or mushrooms in an omelette. Trying to ensure you always have vegetables at lunch is a good benchmark to set. Then you will be well on your way to your target by the time the evening comes around. Aim to eat a vegetable-based soup or salad at least 3 or 4 days per week, as these typically include about three portions of vegetables.
Eat a rainbow
Eating a variety is also important. Different coloured fruits and vegetables contain a different array of nutrients and antioxidants. Be sure to get some from blue/purple, green, red, orange, yellow and white throughout the week. We recommend going to your local store and standing in the fruit and vegetable aisle. Take a look around and try something new each week which perhaps you haven’t had in a long time. Think of adding fennel, radish or red cabbage to your next salad or grab some pak choi or chard to add to a green smoothie or stir fry.
The bottom line is that eating vegetables is undoubtedly good for your health. Putting in a concerted effort here is going to pay dividends in the long run.
Suggested menu for a vegetable and fruit-rich day
Breakfast: scrambled egg with tomato and baby spinach, slice wholegrain bread
Snack: carrot sticks / sugar snap peas and hummus
Lunch: Vegetable and lentil soup or mixed salad with salmon
Snack: apple and palmful almonds
Dinner: Chicken / prawn and vegetable stirfry with wholegrain rice, mandarin for dessert
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