With the Christmas/New Year blow-out now consigned to history and resolutions hanging by a thread it’s doubtless the case that many of you have vowed to eat five or more portions of fruit or veg a day as part of your new healthy living regime. But even though this seems like the easiest part of the scheduled new you (well, apart from ‘joining’ a gym) the glossy weekend supplements that have taught us all that five portions a day is the minimum you should be getting (quiet at the back) don’t usually go into details about what constitutes a portion (if I have to come back there, there’ll be trouble). So what is it? Does one orange = 100 peas or 200? Do you have to eat a whole pumpkin if you can’t find a banana?
The breakdown is surprisingly straight-forward but the mantra does miss out a few key points. For a start, potatoes don’t really count (less of that kind of language everyone), OK so with the skin on they’re a good source of fibre but their nutrient value is limited compared to stuff like spinach or broccoli. On the subject of which a handy colour coded guide to follow is that dark green and orange fruit and veg are the leaders in terms of all round nutrition. The form in which you get your fruit and veg is also important, boiling, for example, takes away lots of the nutrients that can be found in vegetables but is a necessary measure, no-one wants to commit to eating raw broccoli daily for the rest of their lives.
So a portion can be any of the following,
180ml pure fruit or vegetable juice,
one medium (slightly smaller than fist size) piece of fresh fruit
60g of dried fruit
125g of cooked vegetables
125g of canned vegetables
250g of raw, leafy veg
So that’s your portion’s sorted out (insert own joke here) but are all fruits and vegetables equally good? Well, no, as we’ve seen orange or dark green fruit and veg are the real goodness heavyweights, conversely potatoes, mushrooms, onions and many others don’t really offer that much other than the standard fibre hit. The following list is a good place to start, perm any five from the following on a daily basis and you’ll be doing OK, or mix and match using the information alongside to make sure you’re getting the RDA in the key vitamin and mineral areas.
Asparagus – rich in folic acid which is vital for maintaining healthy red blood cells
Banana – An excellent source of Vitamin B6 which fights infection and helps with the production of amino acids
Broccoli – Rich in iron for boosting those red blood cells and also a good source of calcium which is essential for keeping bones and teeth in good working order as well as reducing the risk of certain cancers and lowering blood pressure
Carrot - A good source of Vitamin A which ensures good eyesight and healthy skin
Grapefruit, Kiwi, Lemon, Orange, Papaya – Chock full of Vitamin C for healthy teeth and gums as well as helping the body absorb and use iron
Mango – Contains Vitamin A and C
Olives – Excellent source of Vitamin E (as is olive oil) which is a powerful anti-oxidant.
Sweet potato – Both Vitamin A and Vitamin B6 can be found in this little specimen which seems to be coming into fashion again of late
Spinach – Perhaps the most famously ‘good for you’ vegetable. Spinach is a great source of iron, Vitamin B6 and Folic acid
Strawberries – A good source of potassium, essential for muscle contraction and keeping a regular heartbeat
Watermelon – useful amounts of both Vitamin and B6 in this giant fruit, less healthy when filled with vodka, a la Jamie Oliver.
As for the vitamins and minerals themselves, in the UK the Department of Health gave the RDA (Recommended Daily Allowance) for vitamins A, C, and D, three of the B vitamins, and three minerals in 1979, these are the figures used for the appropriate categories, elsewhere the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommendations are given.
VITAMIN A (beta-carotene: RDA 700-900 µg)
VITAMIN B1 (thiamine: RDA 1.2 mg)
VITAMIN B2 (riboflavin: RDA 1.7 mg)
VITAMIN B3 (niacin: RDA 1.3 – 1.8 mg)
VITAMIN B5 (pantothenic acid RDA 4.7 mg)
VITAMIN B6 (pyridoxine RDA 1.3-1.5mg)
VITAMIN B9 (folic acid RDA 200 µg)
VITAMIN B12 (RDA 1 µg)
VITAMIN C (RDA 75-90 mg)
VITAMIN D (ascorbic acid: RDA 30 µg)
VITAMIN E (alpha tocopherol: RDA 8-10 mg)
CALCIUM (RDA 1000 mg)
IODINE (RDA 140 µg)
IRON (RDA 12 mg)
MAGNESIUM (RDA 350 mg)
NIACIN (RDA 14-16 mg)
PHOSPHORUS (RDA 300-400 mg)
POTASSIUM (RDA 3,500 mg)
SELENIUM (RDA 55 mg)
ZINC (RDA 15 mg)
The axiom eating five portions of fruit or veg a day for a healthy diet is a useful starting point for eating healthier but doesn’t give the full story but an obsession with ratios and allowances is will just make you ill with worry. The best advice is to eat a balanced diet featuring a lot of fruit and veg and trust that your body will take what it needs, after all, that’s what it was designed for.