Recommended 5-a-day now becomes 10-a-day

Why we might need to up our intake again


Emma Thornton
Qualified Nutritionist (ANutr)
@EmmaThornton
Ask Emma


23 March 2017

Why have the recommendations change?

Most of us have just got to terms with the fact that we need to be eating 5 portions of fruit and veg per day (when I say ‘most’ this is being generous, as it’s estimated up to ¾ of us don’t even meet that), but now a new study has been published saying we need to up that to 10! 10? However will we cope? 

First, let me begin by explaining exactly why the recommendations have changed.

Well, this is all based on the results of a recent study, a meta-analysis to be exact, conducted by researchers at the Imperial College London. A meta-analysis is a large study which basically collates the data from a number of smaller studies (95 studies in this case) in an attempt to come to a more reliable conclusion. 

From the meta-analysis it was concluded that ‘increasing the portions of fruit and vegetables consumed each day could significantly reduce the risk of heart disease and cancer’.

But, what exactly should we be taking from this advice?

What are the results of this new research really saying?

So, there’s no denying that fruit and vegetables are good for you, and I’m a big believer in eating the colours of the rainbow – a wide variety of different fruit and vegetables each day means you are more likely to be getting a wider range of essential vitamins, minerals and antioxidants – variety really is key.

But, just how much should we be eating – is 800g, almost one kilogram of fruit and vegetables daily, really necessary? Well let’s delve a little deeper into the results from this new study and find out.

80g of fruit or vegetables is classed as a portion. Now, the study concluded that an intake of 200g per day – that’s just 2 ½ portions, was associated with a 16% reduced risk of heart disease, a 4% lower risk of cancer and a 15% reduction in the risk of premature death – definitely not to be scoffed at!

However, interestingly 800g per day, so 4 times this amount, didn’t perhaps see such a dramatic increase in the reduced risk as one might expect.

Consuming 10 portions daily as opposed to 2 ½  saw an 8% increase in the reduced risk of heart disease at 24%, a 13% reduced risk of cancer (compared to 4%) and a 31% reduced risk of dying prematurely compared to 15%. It also saw a 33% lower risk of stroke. 

So, what’s achievable and realistic?

So, from the results of this study, there’s no doubt that 10 portions of fruit and veg offer the maximum benefit, (with special mentions to certain varieties including apples and pears, citrus fruits, salad, green and yellow vegetables and cruciferous veg including broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower).

But, actually, it becomes apparent from the results that even consuming as little as just over 2 portions per day can significantly reduce the risk of a number of risk factors, and from there on as you up the portions, you gradually have a reduction in the risk of disease.

So, there is no denying that eating as many as 10 portions of fruit and veggies would be beneficial for our health, but I just wonder how achievable this really is – especially as research suggests up to 3 in 4 of us are struggling to hit 5 as it is!

10 portions is definitely an impressive target and yes, it’s always worth aiming high, but in reality, it might take us a little while to get there. Better education and understanding is required first.

Does everyone really know what constitutes ‘a portion’ of fruit and vegetable to start with? Well it’s 80g, but even then, this can be hard to visualize, so let me help to explain.

Some examples of 80g portions include: 5 spears of asparagus, 3 heaped tablespoons of beans, peas or sweetcorn, a 5cm piece of cucumber, 1 medium banana or apple or 2 small satsumas. And guess what, a small sweet potato counts as two! Great baked with a tasty topping for lunch, or as a side with dinner.

Plus, did you also know that all the common, everyday tomato products count too, so 4 sundried tomatoes, 7 cherry tomatoes, 150ml of tomato juice, 1 heaped tablespoon of tomato puree or 2 whole tinned plum tomatoes can all count towards your daily intake. Probably forgot about those, right?

Your fruit and vegetable juices count too, then, not forgetting all your tinned and frozen vegetables, so there’s something else to add to the list.  

So, perhaps some of those examples are reassuring – we may even be hitting more than we originally realised.

This suddenly makes those 10 portions a little less daunting, right? Or at least the 5 for now – my opinion is that we should really concentrate on working together in order to successfully hitting the 5 portions per day first, before reaching for 10 – we will get there though!

Aune, D, Giovannucci, E and Boffetta, P. Et al. (2017) Fruit and vegetable intake and the risk of cardiovascular disease, total cancer and all-cause mortality – a systematic review and dose-response meta-analysis of prospective studies. Int J Epidemiol, DOI: https://doi.org/10/1093/ije/dyw319/

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