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You have probably heard about eating your ‘five-a-day’ somewhere before. It’s the number of fruits and vegetables that you are encouraged to eat every day for good health. Where does it come from? And is there any good evidence which suggests that just eating 5 fruits and vegetables per day is enough for optimal health?
Even though the government and nutritionists tell people to do this, many people are not consuming enough fresh produce. A survey conducted in 2014 showed that 70% of UK adults are eating less than five portions of fruits and vegetables a day, so there is still a long way to go!
Education about the importance of nutrition from a young age is going to be one of the most effective ways to deal with this problem.
Diabetes is one of the fastest growing chronic conditions in the world right now and it’s primarily caused by lifestyle factors such as diet. It can also be effectively reversed by diet, yet many people prefer to take medications instead.
Eating five servings of fruit and vegetables per day is not enough
Five portions of fruit and vegetables only add up to 400 grams! The British Dietetic Association labeled the ‘5-a-day’ campaign a massive success, but there is little evidence for this.
Eating just 400 grams of fruit and vegetables a day is way too little to make a meaningful difference. And recent surveys suggest that only 30% of adults in the UK even manage to eat 5 a day. And one of those five a day is usually baked beans or the tomato found on a pizza.
Another issue with eating so little fruits and vegetables is that the rest of the diet is usually overwhelmingly bad. To cut the risk of disease, you really have to start removing a lot of the processed and refined foods from the diet and add more healthy food. Otherwise, the balance will still be tipped in the wrong direction.
At a minimum, people should be eating at least 10 portions of fruits and vegetables a day. Imperial College published an article earlier this year showing that 800 grams of fruits and vegetables per day could prevent millions of premature deaths. This is closer to the number of people should be eating for good health.
If you don’t know which foods to include in your diet, check out my article on how to start a vegan diet for some good ideas and inspirations.
Aim for variety in your diet by eating different colored fruits and vegetables
There are many different types of fruits and vegetables which provide different health benefits. This is one of the reasons why I think 5 a day is not enough.
I recommend that people consume between 5 – 7 different fruits and vegetables as a staple in their diet, then rotate other foods that you include in your diet to make sure there is a bit of variety.
Staples in my diet include:
- 1 whole Avocado
- 1 large Banana
- 1 Red Apple
- Spinach (150 g)
- Blueberries (200 g)
- Broccoli (100 g)
- 1 Kiwi
If you eat the same staple foods every day, then no matter how the rest of your day goes, at least you’ll have had better nutrition than most people normally get in an entire week.
Below are some ideas of what color foods you should be eating, as well as some of the health benefits they might provide.
1#. GREEN FOODS
Chlorophyll is what gives certain foods their green color, like spinach and kale. These leafy green vegetables are highly nutritious and low-calorie. They should be a big part of your diet.
Green foods are also high in antioxidants like beta-carotene, lutein, and zeaxanthin. They are also usually high in vitamin C, folate, and vitamin K.
Kale is also a great source of sulforaphane, which improves detoxification in the body and may prevent various types of cancers.
Foods such as spinach might help improve muscle energy and function because it contains a high amount of nitrates.
Benefits: Great for your eyesight and your skin. Beta-carotene provides some vitamin A and can improve immune function. Sulforaphane provides anti-cancer benefits and helps boost the immune system.
#2. RED, PURPLE, AND BLUE FOODS
Anthocyanins (and in some cases lycopene) are responsible for the color of these foods. Foods high in these compounds include blueberries, cranberries, red cabbage, and tomatoes.
Benefits: These antioxidants may help improve eyesight, brain function, protect against cancer, and combat urinary tract infections. Lycopene found in tomatoes has been found to protect against UV damage to your skin, reduce the risk of prostate cancer, and have powerful antioxidant benefits in the body.
#3. YELLOW AND ORANGE FOODS
Beta Carotene is mainly responsible for the color of these foods. Foods high in beta-carotene include sweet potatoes, yellow bell peppers, papaya, butternut squash and more.
Benefits: Improves skin protection against free radical damage and possibly improve attractiveness according to some research. Beta-carotene can also be converted into Vitamin A by the body (some people convert it better than others). Natural beta-carotene found in fruits and vegetables may also prevent certain types of cancer and improve the immune system.
#4. WHITE FOODS
Anthoxanthins are partly responsible for the color of foods such as cauliflower, onions, and garlic.
Benefits: These foods may lower the risk of heart disease and cancer. Onions contain quercetin, which is a powerful antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and helps, improves immunity and boosts the immune system. Allicin is found mainly in garlic and that’s what is mainly responsible for its smell! Allicin is a powerful antibacterial, antiviral, antifungal and there is some evidence that it may prevent stomach and colon cancer.
Green smoothies are excellent for consuming a variety of foods
For people who don’t have much time to be preparing and eating all of these foods, you can easily pack a lot of ingredients into a delicious green smoothie. Green smoothies retain the fiber, and blending the fruits and vegetables can enhance bioavailability of certain nutrients.
When first experimenting with green smoothies, it’s best to start off simple and then add more foods later.
I usually suggest starting off with around 60-70% fruits and 30-40% leafy greens, such as baby spinach as it has a milder taste. After you get used to it, you can then lower the amount of fruit and have a more even ratio of fruits and greens.
If you’re concerned about the rise in blood sugar when you consume green smoothies, make sure you add blueberries! They can prevent the rapid rise in blood glucose when consumed with a green smoothie.
Article reviewed and updated: March 2019.