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NHS 5 A Day: How to boost your fruit and veg consumption

The NHS 5 A Day guidelines are a tool for measuring your daily intake of fruit and vegetables.

NHS 5 A Day: How to Eat More Fruit and Veg | Juniper

We all know we need to eat a decent amount of fruit and vegetables to keep our bodies running smoothly. But, how much do we actually need? And how can we make sure we’re consuming enough?

Enter: The NHS’s 5 A Day.

These NHS guidelines are great if you’re looking to monitor your fruit and veg consumption. Although, you might be curious about what it actually entails, what foods count, and how much 5 A Day really is.

Here’s what you need to know.

What are the NHS 5 A Day guidelines?

The NHS 5 A Day guidelines are a tool for measuring your daily intake of fruit and vegetables.

The NHS launched the guidelines back in 2003 as a way to encourage people to boost the number of fruits and vegetables they were eating each day [1]. They based the 5 A Day principle on recommendations by the World Health Organization, which advises that the ideal amount of fruit and vegetables to consume every day is around 400g or 5 portions of 80g [2].

Note that the guidelines cover both fruits and vegetables. This means that the NHS suggests eating 5 portions in total, not 5 portions of each. 

What are the benefits of 5 A Day?

There are so many benefits to upping your fruit and veg intake. Here are just a few of them.

  • Reduced risk of several diseases. Increased consumption of fruit and vegetables is associated with a decreased risk of stroke, cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, eye problems like cataracts and macular degeneration, and several types of cancer [3][4]. There’s also evidence that 5 servings of fruit and veg per day is linked to lower mortality [5].
  • Better immunity. A diet packed with fruit and veg improves your immune system, which is your body’s main defence against all kinds of diseases, viruses, and parasites [6].
  • A healthier gut. Fruit and vegetables are full of fibre, which is essential for your gut health. Fibre helps prevent constipation, encourages the growth of beneficial gut bacteria, and keeps your gut in overall good shape [7][8].
  • Sustained fullness. Fibre is also fantastic because it helps you feel full — meaning you may be less likely to snack on unhealthy foods between meals [9].
  • Weight loss. Fruits and vegetables are typically quite low in calories, making them a great addition to your diet if you’re looking to lose weight. In fact, research shows that higher fruit and veg consumption contributes to effective weight loss in women — particularly because eating more fruit and vegetables correlates with a lower intake of high-energy and high-fat foods [10].

What foods count towards your 5 A Day?

So, what actually qualifies as a serving of fruit or vegetables? As part of your 5 A Day, you can include fresh, canned, and frozen fruit and vegetables. Dried fruit and juices also count, as long as you watch your portion sizes [11].

Here are the foods that make up 1 portion of your 5 A Day:

  • 80g of fresh, frozen or canned fruit or vegetables
  • 30g of dried fruit
  • 150ml of fruit or vegetable juice or smoothie (note that this only counts once per day, so if you consume 300ml, you’re still only getting in 1 portion of fruit and vegetables. Also, go for unsweetened fruit juice rather than sugary drinks)
  • 80g beans or pulses (the same rule applies — these only count once per day)

These portions can come from lots of different sources, such as your regular meals (for example, veg cooked into a casserole) and even some ready-made meals. You might be surprised to learn that base ingredients like onion, tomato paste, and tomato puree are also considered veg.

However, there are several vegetables that don’t contribute to your 5 a day, at least according to the NHS. These include potatoes, yams, cassava, and plantain. Even though each of these foods contains valuable vitamins and minerals, they’re usually served as a starch when part of a meal, which is why the NHS doesn’t consider them vegetables.

There are other foods and drinks that don’t count, too, such as ketchup, olives, pickles/gherkins, fruit yoghurts, fruit drinks/cordial, and wine [12].

What are the recommended 5 A Day portion sizes?

Knowing that you need to consume 400g of fruit and veg is all well and good, but what does that actually look like in reality?

To give you an idea of what to aim for, 1 portion of fruit is equal to [13]:

  • Half a grapefruit
  • 1 banana, apple, pear, orange or nectarine
  • 1 slice of papaya, pineapple or melon
  • 2 slices of mango
  • 2 plums or kiwifruit
  • 2 handfuls of blueberries
  • 3 apricots
  • 7 strawberries
  • 14 cherries
  • 1 heaped tablespoon of raisins, sultanas or currants
  • 2 dried figs
  • 3 prunes

As far as vegetables are concerned, 1 portion equals [13]:

  • 1 tomato
  • 2 broccoli florets
  • 2 heaped tablespoons of spinach
  • 3 celery sticks
  • 3 heaped tablespoons of carrot, peas or corn
  • 3 heaped tablespoons of beans or chickpeas
  • 4 heaped tablespoons of kale or green beans
  • 7 cherry tomatoes
  • 8 cauliflower florets

Portion sizes for fresh, frozen and tinned or canned fruit and veg are more or less the same. This means a 3 heaped tablespoon serving of fresh carrots is the same as 3 heaped tablespoons of tinned or frozen carrots.

7 tips to incorporate more fruits and veg into your diet

You’ll be glad to know that you’re not confined to consuming cups upon cups of spinach in an effort to up your fruit and veg intake.

Instead, all it requires is a bit of forward planning and the occasional food swap.

1. Keep fruit and veg-based snacks on hand

Fruit and vegetables make excellent snacks. If you find you’re always reaching for a mid-afternoon chocolate bar or packet of crisps, opt for these as a between-meal snack instead:

  • Carrot, cucumber, and celery sticks with hummus or guacamole
  • Celery sticks with peanut butter and raisins
  • Kale chips or sweet potato fries
  • Edamame
  • Mini frittatas with different vegetables such as sweet potato, asparagus, broccoli, and peas
  • A piece of toast with avocado and tomato
  • A cup of veg soup
  • A piece of fresh fruit or a punnet of berries
  • Apple slices with peanut butter
  • A small portion of dried fruit

2. Make it interesting

You’re likely to get tired of eating steamed broccoli and carrots with dinner each night. To avoid food fatigue, keep your fruit and veg intake interesting.

This will motivate you to eat lots of different foods and also provide you with a more diverse range of vitamins and minerals. Various fruits and vegetables have their own nutritional profile, which is why it’s good to eat a variety of them.

Look at which fruits and vegetables are in season and plan your meals around those. Branch out and try recipes that incorporate fruits and vegetables you’ve never cooked with before.

You can also approach your fruit and veg consumption with the rainbow method, where you aim to eat fruits and vegetables of different colours across the day. 

3. Have a side salad with lunch and dinner

Adding a side salad or small plate of vegetables to your lunch and dinner is a really easy way to get more veg in. 

Use the tips we mentioned above to consume a wide range of vegetables, and aim to incorporate several different vegetables within 1 salad rather than just settling for a few pieces of lettuce.

4. Replace staple foods with fruit and veg

If you really want to up the ante on your fruit and vegetable intake, use fruits and vegetables in place of other foods.

Ideas include:

  • Lettuce leaves instead of bread wraps or burger buns
  • Portobello mushrooms instead of meat-based burgers
  • Zucchini noodles (zoodles) instead of pasta or noodles
  • Cauliflower rice instead of standard rice
  • Sweet potato fries instead of hot chips
  • Kale chips instead of potato crisps
  • Cucumber slices instead of crackers
  • Banana ‘nice cream’ (pureed frozen banana) instead of ice cream
  • Pancakes or waffles topped with berries instead of sugary sauces
  • Porridge topped with fresh fruit instead of sugar or honey
  • Plain yoghurt with fresh fruit or berries instead of fruit yoghurt

5. Add sneaky veg

If you’re not the biggest fan of eating vegetables on their own or are still working your way up to doing so, you can add ‘sneaky’ veg to your meals. You’re unlikely to notice they’re there — but your body will definitely thank you.

Here’s how to incorporate more fruit and veg into your meals:

  • Grate zucchini or carrot, or blitz some broccoli in the food processor, and add to sauces like tomato-based pasta sauce, bolognese, and savoury mince
  • Use sauteed onion, carrot, and celery as a base for soups, stews, casseroles, and sauces
  • Make muffins or a loaf with grated zucchini, carrot or sweet potato
  • Make burgers that incorporate grated vegetables
  • Blitz spinach, kale or other green leafy vegetables and add to pesto

6. Have a meat-free meal day

Think about having 1 day every week where you don’t eat any meat. Eating less meat is associated with a lower risk of all kinds of health problems, like stroke, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, obesity, and several cancers [14].

By having a meat-free day, you may find that you can up your fruit and vegetable intake. Use vegetables as the hero of your meals (like a mixed vegetable curry or stir fry) or adopt some of the easy swaps we mentioned earlier (such as mushrooms in place of meat-based burgers).

7. Ask for professional advice

Trying to lose weight and having trouble monitoring your fruit and veg intake? Don’t hesitate to look for professional support.

Juniper’s Weight Reset Programme gives you guidance from a team of health professionals, including dietitians who can provide you with the knowledge you need to ensure your fruit and veg consumption is on track.

You also get access to clinicians and health coaches, as well as breakthrough weight loss medication, to help you lose weight and keep it off.