Raise your hand if you’ve ever felt sceptical about the health benefits of having 5-a-day fruits and vegetables. You’ve heard the spiel many times over but you’re not convinced and don’t have the time or care enough to find out more. It’s daunting enough trying to figure out what you are going to eat for each meal, let alone how you are going to incorporate all those fruits and vegetables – and that’s without even considering the expense of it all.
Well, there’s good news: eating all of those fruits and vegetables each day doesn’t have to be difficult or daunting. With the right knowledge and advice at your disposal, you will understand why they are so beneficial and how you could easily hit your daily target - all before you have even left your house in the morning for work.
Here, I’m going to walk you through the main benefits and show you how to incorporate ALL FIVE in one simple step. When we are done, you’ll know exactly how to easily hit your daily target. Ready? Let’s get started.
10 Easy Steps to Eating More Fruits & Vegetables
Before you start diving straight in, let’s get down to the ‘nitty gritty’ of why you need to eat more fruit and vegetables and what you need to know about how to achieve this easily.
1. Why are fruits and vegetables so important?
Evidence clearly shows that regularly consuming fruits and vegetables reduces your risk of developing chronic diseases, such as obesity, type-2 diabetes, heart disease, stroke and some cancers. But why is this? Put simply, the vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients contained within these foods are essential raw materials for the body to use as co-factors or protective nutrients within all the different bodily systems. They act in concert to perform hundreds of roles within the body.
Your body is made up of fundamental building blocks: amino acids (from proteins), sugars (from carbohydrates), fatty acids (from fats), vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients and water. For your body to function properly, each of these nutrient groups is required.....and they must come from your foods.
The current Western diet does not generally lack in proteins, carbohydrates and fats. But because vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients are found mainly in plant foods, these nutrients tend to be lacking. As a consequence, we miss out on some of these essential fundamental building blocks. And it’s these missing pieces of the jigsaw puzzle that often leads to health conditions.
2. Why 5-a day?
In a nutshell, the 5-a-day campaign is based on advice from the World Health Organisation, which collected evidence that eating a minimum of 400g of fruit and vegetables per day were needed to meet our nutritional requirements and protect us from the development of chronic diseases.
In reality, five portions is the minimum, as the evidence suggests that the more fruit and vegetables we eat, the greater our protection against diet-related disease. Nevertheless it is a good starting point given that here in the UK a YouGov survey carried out for BBC Good Food found that 64% of the UK population does not get their 5-a-day.
3. Will I feel any immediate benefits?
You might think that chronic conditions are associated with aging and that you don’t need to do anything about this just yet - but what about right now? Can you really expect to experience noticeable benefits straight away? Well, you may just want to think again. What if you could improve your energy, skin, sleep, digestion and concentration just by regularly eating fruit and vegetables? Would you reconsider? My 1:1 nutrition clients certainly have because this is just what happens to them. And this can happen to you too when you start.
4. How do I easily incorporate them in my diet?
My number one secret in how to easily incorporate your 5-a-day is to drink them. Yes, that’s right drink them! It can be very hard for people at the beginning to eat this amount and many people don’t especially like fruit. But almost everybody can drink them in the form of a smoothie. It’s so simple and so quick to do. It’s usually one of the first things that I get my clients to do to increase their nutrient intake. The best time to do this is at breakfast time. Simply, drink a smoothie each morning alongside your normal breakfast and you will have hit your target before you have even left the house for work.
5. What foods can I use?
You can use any fruits and vegetables. Mix and match them to suit your taste. Here’s an idea of what you can use:
Other – natural or coconut yoghurt, green barley grass, spirulina, coconut flakes, maca powder, cacao powder, hemp powder.
6. What doesn’t count?
To clear up some common misunderstandings, the following don’t count as a portion of fruit and vegetables:
Potatoes, yams, cassava and plantain - these contain more starch than anything else, so they don't count as a portion.
Fruit yoghurts - these contain little fruit and also have added sugar, fat and other ingredients. So we should be trying to keep these to a minimum in the diet.
Fruit-flavoured soft drinks/juices - these usually contain minimal fruit and are high in sugar.
7. What is one portion of fruit or vegetables?
There’s no right or wrong about how much to include in your smoothie. There’s more benefit in getting diversity than sticking rigidly to an arbitrary set portion measure. That said, for ease of reference, one portion size is generally classed as follows:
One large fruit such as an apple, pear, banana, orange, or a large slice of melon.
Two smaller fruits such as plums, kiwis, satsumas, clementines, etc.
One cup of small fruits such as grapes, strawberries, raspberries, cherries, etc.
Two large tablespoons of fruit salad.
Two tablespoons of any vegetable.
8. How do I put the foods together?
You can put the fruit and vegetables together in any way you choose – it depends upon your taste. The KEY thing to remember is to use a sweet fruit alongside a more bitter vegetable. Here are some examples of fruits and vegetables that work together in smoothies:
Getting at least five portions of fruit and vegetables each day doesn't have to be expensive. However, it may mean that you need to plan a little bit more carefully to keep the costs down. Some ways to cut the cost are:
Markets - you can often get much cheaper deals and bargains.
Supermarket Offers - Look out for offers such as 'buy one, get one free'.
Loose Fruit and Vegetables – can sometimes be cheaper than the packs. Check the price labels and compare how much they are per kilogram (kg).
Supermarket Reduced Section - sometimes you'll find price cuts on fruit and vegetables that are on the shelves for their last day.
Evening Shopping – you can often get a bargain on fruit and vegetables at local stalls and supermarkets that may otherwise go to waste.
Buy in Season - this is when fruit and vegetables tend to be cheaper.
Frozen Fruit and Vegetables - can be cheaper and you don't need to worry about them going off too quickly.
Grow Your Own - many fruits and vegetables are easy to grow yourself, even if you don't have a big garden. There are some, which can be grown on a kitchen windowsill. Herbs are especially good for this.
10. Case Study
But is it really that simple? Let's take a look at one of my clients: Sharon came to me in despair after being diagnosed with osteoarthritis in her foot. As a former athlete, she was used to being very active but the pain from the osteoarthritis was preventing her from running or doing any other type of sporting activity. She thought that there was nothing that could be done and that she would just have to accept that being sporty in her youth meant that she would just have to deal with the ‘wear and tear’ on her joints in later life. I was her last resort. This is what she has to say:
"Four months after first seeing Jan, with virtually no pain and significantly less swelling I am back running again. Not only has my condition reversed but the experience has completely altered my outlook towards nutrition as a whole. Jan not only reversed something I never thought possible in easy manageable steps but also ultimately changed my whole attitude towards food. The sceptic has turned believer!" Sharon, R.
And that very first step that Sharon took was to include a smoothie with her breakfast every morning.
The Final Word....
Last, but certainly not least, all you need to do is to start with one small manageable step – just like Sharon. Once you have got used to the routine and started to notice the benefits, then you will be keen to try more changes. Just take one step at a time.
Now that you know that a daily smoothie can give you your 5-a-day in one simple and easy step, you can start to reap the benefits straight away. And you know what the best part is? Next time that you want to make changes to your diet, it won’t feel quite as daunting. So, go ahead and have fun experimenting. Drink your way to better health!