You have probably heard of ‘five-a-day’ somewhere before. It’s the number of fruits and vegetables that you are encouraged to eat every day for good health. But where does it come from and is there any good evidence that just eating 5 fruits and vegetables per day is enough for optimal health? You have heard this before, but it’s also important to eat a wide range of colorful fruits and vegetables.
Even with this advice, many people are not eating that many fruits and vegetables every day. A survey conducted in 2014 showed that 70% of UK adults are eating less than five portions of fruits and veg, and so there is still a lot of work to do to change people’s eating habits.
Education from a young age is going to be one of the most effective ways to deal with this problem. If nothing is done, then it will become a much bigger issue. Diabetes, for example, is one of the fastest growing chronic conditions in the world and is primarily caused by diet. It can also be effectively reversed by diet if the diet is changed within a few years of being diagnosed.
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. I’d call it a massive failure.
First of all, I think that 400 grams of fruit and vegetables a day is way too little to make a meaningful difference. And secondly, only 30% of adults in the UK even manage to eat 5 a day. And one of those five a day probably includes the tomato on pizza!
Another issue with eating so little fruits and vegetables is that the rest of the diet is usually overwhelmingly bad. To get the best health and cut the risk of disease, you really have to start removing a lot of the processed and refined foods and add even more healthy foods.
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.
You number you need to aim for at minimum is ten portions of fruits and vegetables per day. It’s common for people who are eating a raw food diet or calorie restricted diet to consume way more than this number.
You will want to tip the balance where the vast majority of the food you eat is healthy, and then just treat yourself every now and then to something small if you feel the need to.
If you don’t know which foods to include in your diet, check out my article on how to start a vegan diet for a list of foods that you could choose from.
Aim for variety in your diet: Eat 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 was is not enough. To get the benefits of these foods, you must be consuming them on a regular basis and also have variety.
What I do is have a staple of about 5 – 7 different fruits and vegetables, then rotate other foods so I’m not always eating the same thing every day. It’s not uncommon for me to have 10-15 different fruits and vegetables each day.
The 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
Once you create a foundation of staple foods, then you can build from that and experiment by including other foods in your diet. You could also include things like nuts, olive oil, a limited amount of whole grains, and legumes into your diet.
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 probably get in a week! You should always aim to eat the highest quality foods, but sometimes that isn’t always possible.
Below are some ideas of what color foods you should be eating and some of the benefits they might provide.
Chlorophyll is what gives certain foods their green color like spinach and kale. These leafy green vegetables highly nutritious and low calorie and should be a staple of your diet.
They are typically high antioxidants like beta-carotene, lutein, and zeaxanthin. They are also usually high in vitamin C, Folate, and Vitamin K.
Benefits: Great for your eyesight and your skin. Beta-carotene help provides some vitamin A and improves immune function.
Kale is also a great source of sulforaphane, which improves detoxification in the body and may prevent various types of cancers. According to some research, foods like spinach might also help improve muscle energy and function because of its high levels of nitrates.
RED, PURPLE, AND BLUE FOODS
Anthocyanins and in some cases Lycopene are responsible for the color of these foods. Foods high in these are blueberries, cranberries, red cabbage, and tomatoes.
Benefits: These antioxidants may help improve eyesight, improve brain function, protect against cancer and infections (UTI). Lycopene has also been found to slightly reduce sun damage when exposed to UV rays.
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.
Benefits: Improve skin protection against free radical damage and possibly improve attractiveness according to some research. Beta-carotene can also be converted to Vitamin A by the body (some people convert better than others). Natural beta-carotene found in fruits and vegetables may also prevent certain types of cancer and improve the immune system.
Anthoxanthin is (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 and anti-inflammatory and helps prevent infections and improves the immune system. Allicin is a good antibacterial, antiviral, antifungal and there is some evidence it may prevent certain types of cancer-related the stomach.
Green smoothies are good for getting lots of good Nutrition
For people who don’t have much time to be preparing and eating all of these foods, you can easily pack a lot of good foods 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 things later.
I would usually suggest starting off with around 60-70% fruits and 30-40% leafy greens vegetables like baby spinach. After you get used to it, you can then lower the amount of fruit and have a more even ratio.
If you’re concerned about the rise of blood sugar when you consume green smoothies, then make sure you add blueberries! Berries can blunt the risk of a rapid increase in blood sugar when drinking smoothies.
See the video below for more information on Green Smoothies.