Five reasons to get five portions
You should eat five portions of fruit and vegetables a day because:
- fruit and vegetables are delicious
- fruit and vegetables provide vitamins and minerals, including folate, vitamin C and potassium
- fruit and vegetables provide dietary fibre, which helps maintain a healthy gut and prevent constipation and other digestion problems - a diet high in fibre can also reduce your risk of bowel cancer
- fruit and vegetables can help reduce the risk of heart disease, stroke and some cancers
- fruit and vegetables contribute to a healthy and balanced diet
Fruit and vegetables are also usually low in fat and calories (provided you don’t fry them or roast in oil).
'Five a day' is based on advice recommending eating a minimum of 400g of fruit and vegetables a day to lower the risk of serious health problems, such as heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and obesity.
To get the most benefit out of your 'five a day', your five portions should include different fruit and vegetables. This is because different fruits and vegetables contain different combinations of fibre, vitamins, minerals and other nutrients.
Almost all fruit and vegetables count towards your 'five a day'. Potatoes, yams, cassava and plantain are vegetables but don’t count towards your 'five a day'. This is because they contribute mainly starch to your diet.
Other root vegetables, such as sweet potatoes, parsnips, swedes and turnips, are usually eaten as a vegetable along side the main starchy food in a meal. These count towards your portions.
Getting the most from fruit and vegetables
Some vitamins and minerals can be lost when fruit and veg are prepared or cooked. To get the best health benefits:
- eat fresh fruit and vegetables as soon as possible rather than storing for a long time, or use frozen instead
- don't overcook - start with boiling water and cover tightly to keep in the steam because this speeds up the cooking
- use a steamer or a microwave
- use as little water as possible when you cook fruit or vegetables - if you use the cooking water for sauce or soup, you'll recapture some of the lost vitamins and minerals
- avoid leaving any vegetables open to the air, light or heat if they have been cut - always cover and chill them don't soak because vitamins and minerals can dissolve
- don't keep food hot for too long because vitamin levels start to drop within a few minutes
Five portions every day
There are different ways to add more fruit and vegetables to your everyday eating habits.
Options for reaching your 'five a day' target include:
- at breakfast, add fruit to cereal, porridge or lower-fat yoghurt - try a handful of berries or a chopped banana or add mushrooms or tomatoes to scrambled eggs
- frozen fruit and vegetables, these also count towards your 'five a day'
- canned fruit and vegetables, it’s healthier to choose fruit canned in juice rather than sugary syrup, and veg canned in water without added salt or sugar
- add fresh, frozen or canned fruit and vegetables to meals , sprinkle sweetcorn or pineapple chunks on top of a thin-based pizza, or liven up soups and sauces with a handful of kidney beans, peas or sweetcorn
- add fruit and vegetables to your meals, for example chopped carrots to Bolognese sauce, sprinkle chopped red peppers on pasta, or mixed vegetables in a stir-fry
- add lettuce, tomatoes, cucumber or grated carrots to sandwiches
- dip cucumber, peppers, carrot, cauliflower or broccoli florets in salsa or lower-fat cheese spread
- add beans, lentils and pulses to stews, bakes and salads, beans and pulses count as one portion a day
- have a salad or vegetable side dish with your main meal
- drink one glass (150ml) of unsweetened 100 per cent fruit or vegetable juice
- make a quick smoothie in a blender using your favourite fresh or frozen fruits - a smoothie containing all of the edible pulped fruit or vegetable can count as up to two portions a day, depending on how it's made
Pureed fruit and vegetables make great weaning foods and are easy to prepare. Weaning is an ideal time to introduce your baby gradually to a variety of fruit and vegetables so that, by the age of one year, their diet is mixed and varied.
Aim for at least five portions (a total of 400g) of a variety of fruit and vegetables each day. One portion of fruit is roughly 80g, which could be half a large grapefruit, a slice of melon or two satsumas.
One portion of dried fruit is around 30g, about the same as 80g of whole fruit. One 30g portion could be three dried apricots or one tablespoon of raisins.
A portion could be:
- three heaped tablespoons of cooked carrots, peas or sweetcorn
- one cereal bowl of mixed salad
- three heaped tablespoons of beans and other pulse vegetables, such as kidney beans, lentils and chickpeas
Portion sizes for children
Portion sizes are different for children and depend on their age and size. As a rough guide, one portion is the amount that fits into the palm of their hand.
Smoothies, takeaways, supplements and vitamins
Smoothies, takeaway food, dietary supplements and vitamins can contribute to your 'five a day' recommended intake of fruit and vegetables.
One smoothie containing all the edible pulped fruit or vegetable may count as more than one 'five a day' portion, but this depends on:
- the quantity of fruits or vegetables or juice used
- how the smoothie was made
For a single smoothie to count as being two portions, it must contain:
- at least 80g of one variety of whole fruit or vegetable and at least 150ml of a different variety of 100 per cent fruit or vegetable juice
- a minimum of 80g of one variety of whole fruit or vegetables and at least 80g of another variety of whole fruit or vegetables
Smoothies can only count as a maximum of two of your 'five a day', regardless of how much you drink.
Fruit and vegetables in takeaways can count towards your 'five a day'. As takeaways and other ready-made convenience foods can be high in added fat, salt and sugar, only eat occasionally or in small amounts.
To find out the fat, salt and sugar content of many ready-made meals, check the label.
Taking dietary supplements such as vitamins does not have the same health benefits as eating more fruit and vegetables. Fruit and vegetables contain additional substances which are good for the body, such as fibre.
For most adults, a healthy and balanced diet containing at least five portions of fruit and vegetables a day will contain all the nutrients needed.
Some people are advised to take supplements by their doctor, as well as eating a varied, balanced diet. For example, women who are trying to conceive or who are likely to become pregnant are advised to take daily 400-microgram supplements of folic acid until the 12th week of pregnancy.