The 5 A Day scheme has aimed to encourage us to increase our intake of fruit and vegetables to benefit our health, the target being to eat at least five portions daily. However, a certain amount of confusion still exists around what can contribute towards a person’s fruit and vegetable intake. This article aims to provide clarity on what constitutes a portion of fruit and vegetables.
Do fruit and vegetables have to be fresh?
No. Fruit and vegetables can be fresh, frozen, tinned, juiced or dried. Frozen fruit and vegetables can actually have a higher vitamin content, as their nutrients are “locked in” on freezing, compared with fresh versions where it may have been days or even weeks between harvesting and being eaten. If choosing tinned fruit, select those in natural juice rather than syrup, and try to choose vegetables canned in unsalted water – this will help to reduce your intake of sugar and salt. Finally a note about fruit juice; ensure that it is 100% pure juice, as “juice drinks” often have a higher sugar content due to the addition of extra sugar.
What is a portion?
A portion weighs approximately 80g. You aren’t expected to weigh your fruit and vegetables; think of it in terms of a handful. The following are equivalent to one portion:
• For a medium sized fruit e.g. apple, banana, orange, pear – 1 fruit
• For smaller fruits e.g. kiwis, plums, satsumas – 2 fruit
• For berries and grapes – 1 handful
• For larger fruits e.g. melon, mango, papaya – 1 large slice
• For tinned or stewed fruit – 3 tablespoons
• For dried fruit – 1 heaped tablespoon of small fruits e.g. raisins; 3 apricots or prunes; 2 figs
• For pure fruit juice – 150ml
• For pure fruit smoothies – these actually count for 2 portions as long as they contain 80g of whole fruit and 150ml of pure fruit juice
• For vegetables – 3 heaped tablespoons
• For salad – a small cereal bowlful
Should the 5 portions all be different fruit and vegetables?
It’s best if they are, as different fruit and vegetables provide different nutrients. If you can, try to eat a variety of different coloured fruit and vegetables, as it is their nutrients that are responsible for the colour of their skin.
Don’t potatoes count as a vegetable?
Unfortunately, although we might think of potatoes as a vegetable, they don’t count towards the 5 A Day. There’s no denying that potatoes are nutritious, but nutritionally they have more in common with other starchy foods such as rice and pasta than they do other vegetables.
Are pulses classed as a vegetable?
Peas, beans and lentils can count as one portion daily. However, as they have a different nutritional profile to other vegetables, they only count once. That said, they are a very good source of low fat vegetarian protein, with the added benefit that they are also high in fibre.
If a ready meal contains vegetables, can that count as a portion?
Although it has not always been the case, fruit and vegetables found in convenience food can now count towards a portion. However, it must still contain at least 80g to count and remember that a lot of convenience foods can be high in fat, sugar or salt.
Do fruit flavoured yoghurts count towards a fruit portion?
Unfortunately, the answer is no. The reason for this is that a fruit yoghurt just does not contain enough fruit to count as a portion – the same applies to jams and sauces. However, if you were to add a portion of fruit as detailed above to your yoghurt, then that would certainly count.
If I drank three different types of fruit juice in a day, would that count as three portions?
Fruit juice is one of the exceptions to the rule, as no matter how much you drink, it would still only count once. This relates to the removal of the flesh and fibre by the juicing process, so you don’t receive the same benefits as eating the whole fruit. Fruit juice is also concentrated in sugars, which in large quantities can damage teeth and contribute to weight gain. You will however notice from the list of portions that smoothies can count towards two portions, as long as they contain one portion of pure juice and one portion of whole fruit.
Hopefully the answers to the above questions have helped to smooth out any uncertainties that you may still have had and with this new information the task of meeting the 5 A Day target for fruit and vegetables will be that little bit easier.