Fruit and vegetables
Fruit and vegetables should make up just over one third of the food you eat every day. Try to eat at least five portions of various fruit and vegetables each day.
Benefits of fruit and vegetables
Fruit and vegetables:
- provide vitamins and minerals, including folate, vitamin C and potassium
- provide dietary fibre, which helps maintain a healthy gut and prevent constipation and other digestion problems
- can help reduce the risk of serious health problems, such as heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, obesity and some cancers
- are usually low in fat and calories (as long as you don’t fry them or roast in oil)
Getting the most from fruit and vegetables
To get the most benefit, include different fruit and vegetables, ranging in colour.
This is because different fruits and vegetables contain different combinations of fibre, vitamins, minerals and other nutrients.
This can include fresh, frozen, tinned, dried and juiced fruit and vegetables.
Potatoes are not included in the fruit and vegetable food group.
Some vitamins and minerals can be lost when fruit and vegetables 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 or use the cooking water for sauce or soup to 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
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
- 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 - but remember a smoothie should be limited to 150ml and can only count as one portion
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.
Intake of dried fruits should be restricted until meal times to avoid tooth decay.
A portion of vegetables 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.
For further tips and details on portion sizes, see:
Supplements and vitamins
Taking dietary supplements such as vitamins does not have the same health benefits as eating more fruit and vegetables.
Your body uses the vitamins and minerals in food much more efficiently than those found in supplements.
Fruit and vegetables also 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.
However, it is recommended that you consider taking a vitamin D supplement during the winter months.
Healthy Start Scheme
Healthy Start is a scheme to help expectant mothers, new parents and their children to eat healthily.
For those that qualify, families can get access to free vitamins and vouchers towards milk, fruit and vegetables.