Last week headlines and news reports announced to the world: “Forget five a day: You need SEVEN portions of fresh fruit and veg per day to live longer, says new research.” (Green, 2014; Walton, 2014).
Even the announcers on Sky News who are renowned for their sang froid, looked rather bemused when this news flashed on the screen. “Seven portions of vegetables and fruit a day? I don’t know if I can reach that target” was the general consensus.
Most South Africans probably felt the same when they read or heard this news. We as a nation don’t even manage FIVE portions a day of veg and fruit, and now we are being pushed to eat even more of these foods – a dilemma indeed. Nothing could be closer to my heart as a nutritionist and ardent fruit and veggie fan, but I am fully aware of the difficulties involved.
Read: Fruit, veg goals still not being met
This good advice is probably not going to be achievable for the vast majority of South Africans.
The results of a study based on the Health Survey data for England to determine if eating vegetables and fruit benefits health and reduces cardiovascular diseases, cancer and deaths from all causes, was published last week (Oyebode et al, 2014).
The researchers found that data gathered from more than 65 000 subjects older than 35 over a follow-up period of 7.5 years, showed that eating 7 or more servings of vegetables and fruit per day reduced the risk of dying from all causes by 42%, when compared to eating one serving per day.
The risk of dying of cancer was reduced by 25% and deaths due to heart disease were lowered by 31% in those who ate 7 or more servings of fruit and vegetables, with vegetables having an even more protective effect than fruit.
South Africa lagging behind
The majority of food intake studies conducted in South Africa have indicated that most of us don’t reach the target of 5 portions or servings of vegetables and fruit a day. For example black rural populations tend to eat only two portions of wild green leafy vegetables (marog) a day, when such foods can be found. Urban populations eat even less. In general women eat more plant foods than men do.
Despite the fact that we are a fruit and vegetable producing country, most of our market garden produce is sold to earn foreign exchange, while our own people can either not afford to buy vegetables and fruit, or don’t like eating them in the first place.
But keep in mind that one of the new, revised Food-Based Dietary Guidelines to keep our population healthy states: “Eat plenty of vegetables and fruit every day.” (Vorster, Badham & Venter, 2013)
Tips to increase fruit and veg intake
Make a conscious effort to try a new fruit or vegetable every week. Think about how often you eat vegetables and how you could increase your intake – for example add vegetables to stews, bake them in the oven or use them in casseroles or fritters or salads, and before you know it, you will be eating three servings a day.
Now that winter is coming, low-GI fruits such as apples, pears and plums, and fruits rich in vitamin C, like oranges, grapefruit, naartjies, guavas and lemons will be readily available, so that you can have at least 2 servings a day.
Read: How to eat more fruit and veg
This will help you to reach your 5-a-day goal. And once you're there, it won't take much effort to get to 7-a-day!
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(Green C (2014). Forget five a day: You need SEVEN portions of fresh fruit and veg per day to live longer, says new research. Published on 31 March 2014 in The Independent. http://www.independent.co.uk/news/science/ ; Oyebode O et al (2014). Fruit and vegetable consumption and all-cause, cancer and CVD mortality: analysis of Health Survey for England data. J Epidemiol Community Health, March 31, 2014. [Epub ahead of print]; Vorster HH, Badham JB, Venter CS (2013). Revised Food-Based Dietary Guidelines for South Africa: an introduction. Personal communication; Walton, AG. (2014). Eating more fruits and veggies daily may reduce risk of death. http://www.forbes.com/sites/alicewalton/2014/)