5-A-Day Simplified

You often see on packaging of certain foods that it “counts towards your 5-A-Day.” But what does that really mean? First of all, what is 5-A-Day? And do you realistically get your 5-A-Day? As a Nutritionist, I don’t whole-heartedly agree with all the statements made about what counts towards the 5-A-Day and I will explain why according to Functional Nutrition. This article, is of course, an introduction to the concept of ensuring you get your 5-A-Day, because at its core, the principles are correct. But once you start involving packaged goods and certain statements, which I shall point out shortly, it all becomes quite complicated.

The 5-A-Day is a programme that the World Health Organisation (WHO) has adapted to ensure that the public eat at least a total of 5 servings a day of a combination of fruits and vegetables. If you are interested in reading about the history of it, you can check it out here. WHO recommends that you eat at least 400 grams of fruit and vegetables a day, which would reduce your chances of getting heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, and obesity. Here is what the NHS states on their website:

Five reasons to get five portions

  • Fruit and vegetables taste delicious and there’s so much variety to choose from.
  • They’re a good source of vitamins and minerals, including folate, vitamin C and potassium.
  • They’re an excellent source of dietary fibre, which helps maintain a healthy gut and prevent constipation and other digestion problems. A diet high in fibre can also reduce your risk of bowel cancer.
  • They can help reduce the risk of heart disease, stroke and some cancers.
  • Fruit and vegetables contribute to a healthy and balanced diet.

Now you know why you should ensure you get your 5-A-Day. But what counts as a part of your 5-A-Day? Well, I’ve created the chart below, which contains on the left side what the NHS says. And in the right column, is what Functional Nutrition  says and why.

NHS Functional Nutrition
Fresh fruit and vegetables.- Excluding Potatoes because “the main nutrient in potatoes is starch (carbohydrate). Also, when eaten as part of a meal potatoes are generally used in place of other sources of starch, such as bread, pasta or rice” Without a doubt, fresh fruits and vegetables all count as a part of your 5-A-Day, which includes potatoes. As long as you don’t eat it everyday, potatoes are quite nutritious because “They are a good source of energy, fibre, B vitamins and potassium.”
Frozen fruit and vegetables. Frozen is never as good as fresh, but frozen has scientifically the same amount of nutrients (as long as it was frozen very soon after being picked). But if it has added sugars, sodium, salt, and preservatives, they are immediately less nutritious than fresh fruits and vegetables. If you are freezing your own vegetables make sure that you freeze it within hours of bringing it home and in an air tight container. Refrain from using plastic bags (that’s another topic for another day).
Tinned or canned fruit and vegetables. Buy the ones tinned in natural juice or water, with no added sugar or salt. Again, watch out for preservatives, sugars, sodium, and salt content. Preserved in water is fine, but remember that “concentrated juice” isn’t what it appears to be.
Dried fruit, such as currants, dates, sultanas and figs. Dried fruits are excellent to have (even though they are higher in natural sugars). However, watch out for sulfites, which are often use to preserve the foods. Read more about sulfites here.
Fruit and vegetables cooked in dishes such as soups, stews or pasta dishes. There is no actual scientific proof about cooked foods being less nutritious. But yes, if you overcook your food, then the nutrients do “burn” away.
A glass (150ml) of unsweetened 100% fruit or vegetable juice. Juice counts as a maximum of one portion a day, however much you drink. That’s mainly because juice contains less fibre than whole fruits and vegetables Don’t be misled when “concentrated” juice boxes say, “counts toward your 5-A-Day,” because technically it does, but officially not because you are only get a tiny amount of actual fruit. And of course, if you are using a powerful blender and not a juicer, then juice can count as more than one portion as a part of your 5-A-Day. Juicers and bottled juices eliminate fibre from your juice, but if you use a blender such as a vitamix, then you still get all the fibre that is naturally there in your fruits and vegetables.
Smoothies. A smoothie containing all of the edible pulped fruit and/or vegetable may count as more than one portion but this depends on how it’s made. Smoothies count as up to a maximum of two portions per day. The same principle from juicing applies here. It all depends on how the smoothie is made and what kind of juice and fruits are used.
Beans and pulses. These only count as one portion a day, no matter how many you eat. That’s because they contain fewer nutrients than other fruits and vegetables. Not true. Some beans and pulses contain just as much nutrients as some vegetables and fruits do. I say that you can have more than one-portion of beans and pulses a day that counts as your 5-A-Day. Most beans and legumes are high in potasium, calcium, and magnesium, and may also contain iron. Furthermore, beans and legumes are also a healthy source of vitamin B.
Fruit and veg in convenience foods, such as ready meals and shop-bought pasta sauces, soups and puddings. Some ready-made foods are high in salt, sugar and fat, so only have them occasionally or in small amounts. You can find the salt, sugar and fat content of ready-made foods on the label. Don’t be fooled, most ready made meals have hidden sugars, preservatives, starches, and are often high in sodium and fat content. Keep in mind that there is nothing natural about “natural flavourings” or “low-sugar” or “no-sugar” usually means that there is a hidden artificial sweetener, which is worse than having sugar.

To summarise, all of this comes down to eating your fruits and vegetables every day and to eat as fresh as possible. As long as you eat fresh and you make your own drinks, snacks, and meals, you don’t have to read labels or worry about what is inside your food. I’ll discuss portion control another time, but for now, its best to keep in mind that you should only eat until you are full and not stuffed.

The 5-A-Day concept is actually quite good as long as you eat fresh fruits and vegetables and have a balance of it with healthy protein and fat sources so that you have a balanced meal every day. When in doubt, always buy and eat as fresh foods as possible and make your own meals. If you can’t make your own meals, at least know what is inside your meal.

Enjoy your fruits and vegetables!

Health and Happiness,