FOOD FOR THOUGHT

First it was five a day, then it was 10 – a hefty 20 has even done the rounds. Di­eti­tian Laura Tilt re­veals how much fruit and veg you should be eat­ing for good health

Women's Health (UK) - - CON­TENTS -

Is five a day enough?

As mar­ket­ing slo­gans go, none has been com­man­deered quite as suc­cess­fully as ‘taste the rain­bow’ has by the well­ness in­dus­try. While get­ting your five a day used to feel like a chore – there’s noth­ing ap­petis­ing about a limp salad leaf – the rise of veg­gie feeds on the ’gram and cook­books on the shelves have made the process more palat­able. But is there such a thing as the magic num­ber? The roots of the five-a-day mes­sage can be traced back to a 1990 rec­om­men­da­tion from the World Health Or­ga­ni­za­tion, link­ing a daily dose of 400g of fruit and veg with a lower risk of heart dis­ease and can­cer. Di­vide that into 80g serv­ings and what do you get? Five a day. The UK gov­ern­ment launched a cam­paign around this idea in 2003, but since then, we’ve had claim and counter-claim, with the true num­ber be­ing stated as any­thing from three to 20. Last year, Im­pe­rial Col­lege Lon­don sci­en­tists ex­am­ined 95 global stud­ies look­ing at fruit and veg in­take and the risk of var­i­ous diseases. Though ben­e­fits were noted at mod­est in­takes (about 200g a day – or two and a half por­tions), the risk of pre­ma­ture death from any cause con­tin­ued to drop by 10% for ev­ery 200g in­crease up to 800g (or 10 por­tions) a day. A few months later, Cana­dian re­searchers pub­lished dif­fer­ing re­sults, show­ing that eat­ing three to four large (125g) por­tions a day was enough to get the max­i­mum risk re­duc­tion against heart dis­ease and death from var­i­ous causes, with higher in­takes show­ing lit­tle ex­tra ben­e­fit. The bulk of the ev­i­dence still sup­ports that the big­gest gains seem to come from in­creas­ing fruit and veg in­take from zero up to five a day, with ben­e­fits lev­el­ling out af­ter this. And if three big­ger por­tions feels more man­age­able than five smaller ones, make that your goal in­stead. So, grams sorted. But what about that rain­bow? While a colour­ful plate might make for a great pic, ac­cord­ing to the Bri­tish Heart Foun­da­tion, there’s no ev­i­dence that a bal­ance of colours equals a bal­ance in nu­tri­ents. But we do know dif­fer­ent colours and va­ri­eties have vary­ing ef­fects on your risk of de­vel­op­ing dif­fer­ent diseases. Cru­cif­er­ous veg like cau­li­flower and broc­coli have been linked with a re­duced risk of can­cer, while ap­ples and pears, cit­rus fruits, car­rots and leafy greens can have a pro­tec­tive ef­fect against heart dis­ease. It makes sense, then, to eat a mix of fruits and vegeta­bles for max­i­mum pro­tec­tion. And with ex­perts in­creas­ingly hail­ing the ben­e­fits of diver­sity for the sake of your gut bac­te­ria – 20 dif­fer­ent va­ri­eties a week is thought to be a good amount to aim for – it’s worth re­stock­ing your veg drawer ev­ery Sun­day. By choosing at least three dif­fer­ent kinds a day (an ap­ple, a red pep­per, a good por­tion of but­ter­nut squash) you’ll get a range of ben­e­fi­cial com­pounds, without need­ing to fret about the colour pal­ette.

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