The Department for Environmental, Food and Rural Affairs produced a report in 2013 suggesting that in the UK we consume an average of 4 fruit and vegetable portions each day. This has fallen from an average of 4.4 in 2005. The study also found a strong correlation with socioeconomic status and differences associated with gender. Despite this variation among different groups, the fact is that only 30% of people actually eat their 5 a day.
We are all used to the standard ‘5 a day’ advice which has been around since 1990, but recently there have been several attempts to promote the importance of ‘7 a day’. This could soon become the new NHS recommendation in the UK, fuelled by new research findings.
A 2014 study carried out at UCL found that people who ate 7 or more portions of fruit and vegetables each day had a 42% lower risk of death from any cause than those eating less than one portion. Both cancer and heart disease were highlighted as key factors in this trend. This research also suggested that vegetables have a greater impact on health than fruit. It was stated that each vegetable portion per day reduced ‘overall risk of death by 16%’, whereas the figure for each portion of fruit was 4%.
There is no internationally agreed figure on how much fruit and vegetables we should be eating. Not only do the recommendations here in the UK vary between different organisations, but the suggestions given by each government differ around the world. For example, in Australia it is recommended to eat 5 vegetable portions and 2 of fruit each day, whereas France suggests that people should aim for 10 portions per day in total.
The average consumption also varies hugely between different countries. The mean intake of fruit and vegetables is 33% higher in France than in the UK. This intake is also, shockingly, 2.2 times greater in Poland than in the UK.
The high sugar content of fruit is often discussed, and leads some people to limit their intake. However, the NHS has produced separate recommendations on the amount of ‘free sugars’ that should be consumed, therefore excluding the amount of naturally occurring sugars in our diet. These recommendations state that less than 5% of our energy intake should come from ‘free sugars’. This has nothing to do with the amount of sugar we are consuming in foods like fruit, vegetables and milk products. Currently the average intake of these ‘free sugars’ is greater than double what it should be in every age group, and around triple the guideline amount for teenagers. Therefore it is safe to say that we have greater issues with our diets than the sugar content of a slice of orange or bunch of grapes.