5, 7, or 10 portions of fruit and veg a day?

In the UK it is recommended that we should be eating 5 portions of fruit and vegetables per day. Fruit and vegetables are a wonderful source of fibre, vitamins, and minerals. Their consumption has been shown to have great benefit to our health. These benefits include reducing the risk of heart disease, stroke and some cancers. The fibre content of fruit and vegetables also helps to keep our digestive system healthy and prevent constipation.

The 5-a-day recommendation, however, is not universal, and each country has its own set of guidelines. As shown in the table below, these guidelines do vary quite considerably. While the UK suggests 5 portions each weighing 80g, Austria recommends 5 portions where one portion of vegetables weighs 100-200g and one portion of fruit weighs 125-150g – which could equate to a total of over 1kg per day! This poses the question – how much fruit and veg should we really be eating to achieve optimal health?

Fruit and vegetable intake of 2 million people from 95 different studies conducted in four different continents was collated and analysed in a study conducted by Imperial College London.

The lowest risk of cancer was seen in individuals who consumed 550-600g/day of fruit and vegetables, and there was little reduction in risk when higher amounts were consumed. For cardiovascular disease and all-cause mortality however, the lowest risk was seen at 800g/day. This equates to around 10 UK sized portions.

Although this data suggests that eating between 7 and 10 portions of fruit and vegetables per day have the most protective effect against disease, it is important to note that increasing fruit and vegetable intake by any amount significantly reduces risk of lots of conditions. In fact, the steepest reduction in risk was seen between 0 and 400g/day, which equates to between 0 and 5 UK portions.

For each extra 200g/day of fruit and vegetables consumed risk of the following conditions was reduced:

  • Cardiovascular disease: 8% reduced risk per 200g/day of fruit and vegetables
  • Total cancer: 3% reduced risk per 200g/day of fruit and vegetables 
  • All-cause mortality: 10% reduced risk per 200g/day of fruit and vegetables

The majority of people living in the UK currently struggle to consume their 5-a-day. My advice therefore is to aim to increase your fruit and vegetable intake by an amount you feel is achievable and sustainable.

If you feel you can eat 10 or more portions of fruit and veg per day, then go for it! But at the same time if you can only increase your intake by 2 portions then that is great too. Once you’ve managed to get 2 extra portions in the bag, who knows, you may be able to increase your intake by another.

Some simple ways you can do this include adding diced up vegetables like carrot, peppers or courgettes or pulses such as cannellini beans or chickpeas to your chilli, stew, pies or even bolognese. Having a piece of fruit or some vegetable sticks as a snack is also a great way to increase your intake. Leafy greens such as spinach or kale are a great source of vitamins and minerals and can be easily added to almost any meal. They only take a few minutes to cook so can be added towards the end of cooking to increase your vegetable intake. Remember, tinned and frozen fruit and vegetables count too! 

So, to round up, the more fruit and vegetables you eat, the better! Each different fruit or vegetable has its own profile of nutrients so eating lots of different varieties is important too.

Hannah is a Final Year Nutrition student at the University of Nottingham, who aspires to go on a study a Masters in Dietetics. Her interests include nutrition education and maternal and child health. Follow her on Twitter at @hlj_jones