Confused about what and how much fruit & veg to eat? You’re not alone, according to Standford Magazine. Many of us wander the aisles of the grocery store, reading labels and wondering what is the right food to put into our cart. In fact, some of us don’t do that at all as it’s too much to think about.
We can generally agree that most people need to eat more fruit & veg, so let’s keep it simple and just talk about how much and what types to include. In clinic I ask every client to describe their diet in a food diary, with portion sizes. Many clients tell me about how much vegetables they are getting…but when we look at it on paper, they are often surprised that it’s lower than they thought.
How much fruit & veg should you eat?
Each country tends to make their own recommendations…based on getting the amount of vitamins and minerals the average person needs to ward off disease. Here are some examples of what different countries call the recommendations:
- United Kingdom: The Food Standards Association (FSA) in the UK advises eating 5 portions of fruit and vegetables per day (2019)
- Netherlands: The Voedingscentrum in the Netherlands advises 2 portions of fruit and 250g of vegetables (~2 portions) per day (2019)
- Canada: The Canadian Food Guide suggests including ‘plenty’ of fruits and vegetables (~7-10) per day (2019)
- Spain: The Spanish Society of Nutrition Community (SEDCA) advises 2 or more vegetables and 1-2 fruit (2012)
- France: The French Ministry of Health recommends 5 portions (80-100g) of fruit and vegetables per day (2012)
- Sweden: The Swedish National Food Agency recommends 250-350g fruit (2-3) and the same for vegetables (2012)
As you can see, and may already know, guidance on food varies a LOT. That also means that it’s not a black and white issue.
Advice on what and how much to eat for many countries came from the World Health Organisation (WHO), whom were monitoring malnutrition and other health risks all around the world. They were advising on what was needed to help prevent malnutrition and the serious diseases that resulted from it.
New research and greater understanding, as well as new health concerns that vary by country to a certain degree, were emerging. Therefore, as we learn more, we alter and improve our advice. Each country has a method of review and updates their advice.
Take for example Canada’s Food Guide, which was updated in January of this year. Canada used to advise 5 portions of fruit and vegetables per day, but now has basically doubled that. New knowledge, new advice.
As a Nutritional Therapist people often ask me what we should be eating. My question to them is:
Do you want to thrive, or just survive?Joyce Bergsma
If the WHO suggests that you need 5 portions of fruit and vegetables to SURVIVE, then it makes sense that 10 portions of fruit and vegetables might be more likely to help you THRIVE, right?
This is what I advise my very keen and motivated clients, and what I try to encourage in my own life. Everyday I try to eat 7-10 portions of fruit and vegetables.
For some of my clients, and maybe for you, it would be a HUGE change. So how do you approach it? Here’s where you start.
Three steps to eating more veg
- Keep a food diary for a week, either weighing your food or reading the labels
- Count how many portions you do eat per day (see below on portion sizes)
- Aim to up the number you eat per day, by increasing it by one portion per week. For example: if you eat 4 portions per day, then aim to eat 5 portions per day in week 1. Then increase to 6 portions per day in week 2 and so on.
Don’t stress if you don’t eat well one day, but just aim to do better the next day. I always find this quote from Adele Davis, an early nutritionist, helps keep me on track:
As I see it, every day you do one of two things; build health or produce disease in yourself.Adele Davis
What is a portion?
Although it’s very useful to have standard measurements, don’t get too hung up on this. There are different sources and different opinions that may be based on multiple factors we are not aware of.
What I advise my clients is to use their hand as a measurement in general. For a large man, who may need more nutrients for their size, it makes sense that their hand measurement may result in more vegetables than a petite woman with small hands.
Other factors that may influence how much nutrients you need, may include:
- Illness – when you are sick, you may need more of a nutrient boost than when you are well
- Deficiency – this may be a genetic polymorphism (you are born with it), a result of disease or long-term illness
- Sports – when training hard your body will use up nutrients more quickly, increasing your need
- Stress – under stress your body uses up certain nutrients, resulting in symptoms that indicate a greater need
- Age – babies, children and the elderly have different needs to adults
- Sex – men and women may have different nutritional needs, especially during certain life stages (puberty, pregnancy, menopause, etc)
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Additional resources: LiveWellGuide