Does it really matter if your 5-a-day is all fruit or all vegetables?

by sophie on February 15, 2011 · 391 comments

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It seems like just days ago that we were talking about the surprising knock-on effects of really concentrating your efforts into eating plenty of fruit and veg.  It’s a great way to make healthy eating incredibly simple.  The idea prompted a lot of discussion and also this question on Twitter – does it matter if your five a day includes just fruit or just vegetables?

Most of the research that backs our eat 5-a-day campaign here in the UK is based on the rationale that eating at least 400 g of fruit and veg every day (five portions of about 80g each) helps reduce the risk of developing a whole host of chronic diseases.  The guidelines are not so prescriptive about what this should include, suggesting just that we aim for a variety across the day.  Some countries are more structured about this, for example in Australia the advice is to have 2 portions of fruit, 5 of vegetables.  While it’s true that fruits and vegetables have slightly different nutritional properties (this Nutrition Facts on Fruits and Vegetables article is a good primer), with most of us not meeting our five-a-day it seems churlish to get critical about not having the correct ratio of fruit to veg.  That said, I have noticed some trends among those eaters I’ve met who eat only fruit or only vegetables and it seems that limiting your choices in this way can have an unwanted effect on the rest of your days eating.  Here are a few habits to look out for:

Unhealthy habits to watch out for if you eat vegetables but no fruit

I’ve spoken to many people who absolutely love their vegetables, regularly eating 3 portions with their main meals, and yet they don’t like fruit.  What I’ve noticed is that people who don’t eat fruit tend to struggle with their snacks, either having a limited choice of energy dense options or skipping snacks completely. Snacking isn’t compulsory but it’s a useful strategy for avoiding overeating and ensuring that your body gets everything that it needs.

If this sounds like you, think about:

  • Experimenting to find a few fruits that you can grow to love, starting with dried or cooked fruit if this helps
  • Including some snacks that are vegetable-based such as fresh crudités with houmous or salsa
  • Eating a rainbow and carrying on enjoying those veggies!

Unhelpful habits to watch out for if you eat fruit but no vegetables

Some people aren’t keen on vegetables at all but will happily munch on juicy, fresh fruit all day.  Healthy snacks aren’t a problem for these folk. What can go astray is the proportions of their main meals. A well-balanced meal is around one-third to half of the plate filled with vegetables or salad with the remainder divided between protein and carbohydrate.  This can become really distorted if you don’t have any vegetables taking up space on your plate.

It’s true that fruit also contains more calories per portion than vegetables but for most people increasing your fruit intake will still help to avoid, not cause weight gain.  The calories in fruit might become worth worrying about only if your portion sizes are very large or if you eat a lot of energy dense fruit options such as dried fruit or juices.

If this sounds like you, think about:

  • experimenting with recipes and cooking methods until you find some vegetables that you enjoy. Think outside the box – soups, salads, beans and pulses all count, as do veggies incorporated into stews, ragus and curries.
  • Making sure that your main meals aren’t out of proportion
  • Keeping an eye on your fruit portion sizes for more energy dense fruit options such as fruit juice, smoothies and dried fruit
  • Eating a rainbow and carrying on enjoying your fruit!

The bottom line is that if you manage five portions of fruit every day but no vegetables (or vice versa), you’re still way ahead of most people. These ideas are refinements that you might want to consider – most important is that you enjoy what you are eating.

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