There’s so much written about fruits and vegetables and how much we should be eating. The advice is generally to eat as much as you can, but there is also some confusion around balancing your intake of fruits and vegetables –so what is best?
To help cut through the clutter, Clinical Nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, gives us her easy-to-understand guide on the best ways to balance your fruit and vegetable intake.
FRUIT AND VEG – WHAT SHOULD YOUR DAILY INTAKE LOOK LIKE?
The ‘five-a-day’ message has been clearly communicated over the years. It’s the number of portions of fruits and vegetables that we should aim to be eating every day. However, nutritionists (myself included) will always recommend that this should be the minimum amount, but some people struggle with getting enough in their diet on a daily basis. This is why juicing is a great way of increasing your intake (more on this later!)
So, firstly, how much is a portion?
This varies considerable by fruit or vegetable, but as an example, one portion is:
Two small fruits such as satsumas
Three heaped tablespoons of cooked carrot
It’s not an exact science but this at least gives you a good idea to get started. And of course, we’re talking about eating 5 portions over a period of one day, not all at one mealtime.
Fruits and vegetables actually carry similar nutrient profiles, it’s just that the concentrations are higher in vegetables than in fruit. For example, spinach tops the chart for calcium content, sweet potatoes come out in first place for vitamin A and yellow peppers win hands-down for vitamin C. Spinach is also a winner when it comes to iron.
When it comes to the all-important fibre, avocados (which are technically a fruit) come out high, as do dried apricots. Fibre is essential for keeping the bowels moving, and releasing toxic waste from the body, but both fruits and vegetables contain good amounts – another good reason to up your intake.
Whilst individual nutrient levels are higher overall in vegetables than fruit, so many of the amazing health benefits found in both are bound up within their beautiful colours. It’s the colourful pigments in fruits and vegetables that contain numerous health benefits, including anthocyanins, and other wonderful health-giving antioxidants. These fantastic compounds help protect the body from the ageing process as well as our serious chronic diseases.
So, sometimes, it’s easier to look at the colour variety on your plate; if you’ve ‘eaten a rainbow’ over the course of the day, you’ll certainly be achieving your minimum ‘five-a-day’ and maybe even more than that!
When it comes to sugar content, fruits contain more sugar than vegetables. The highest sugar content is actually found in dried raisins and apricots! And although fruit provides many nutrients there is no such thing as ‘healthy’ sugar. Fruit contains fructose which is a type of sugar; the main difference between fructose and other sugars such as sucrose, is that fructose has to be processed by the liver which means it doesn’t have such a negative effect on blood sugar levels.
Fruits such as strawberries, are lower in fructose and have a low glycaemic index; that means that you could actually eat a punnet of strawberries before the sugar content would be anywhere near that of a banana! So as you can see sugar content also varies considerably from fruit to fruit – and always remember that dried fruits contain more sugar than fresh fruit.
Vegetables are the real winner, even though fruits deliver some wonderful health benefits. The advice is to try to eat more vegetables than fruit where possible but we should certainly not discourage our children from eating fruit if they won’t eat vegetables.
The National Diet and Nutrition Survey has shown that, as a nation, we are still falling short of the minimum ‘five-a-day’ so are there any easier ways of getting more into the daily diet? Juicing vegetables and adding some low glycaemic fruits such as apples or pears is an excellent way of rapidly increasing intake: think apple, carrot, beetroot and ginger and you’ve got an amazingly healthy and colourful juice that really packs a punch!
So increase your vegetables, think about which fruit you eat (and try and stick to fresh) and aim for a colourful plate of food at every meal.
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