Britons groan as they’re told to eat more fruit and vegetables

Most struggle to eat recommended five portions of fruit and vegetables a day, let alone seven

PUBLISHED : Friday, 04 April, 2014, 9:51pm
UPDATED : Friday, 04 April, 2014, 9:51pm

It was with a heavy heart, and some panic, that Britons digested new advice this week that their struggle to eat enough fruit and vegetables had just got harder.

Over the past decade, Britain has absorbed if not adopted the idea of five servings a day, the target endorsed by the state-run National Health Service for a healthy, balanced diet.

[Recommend] unrealistic targets … [and] some people … just give up

But now researchers at University College London have advised this should be increased to at least seven servings to cut the risk of death from cancer or heart disease.

The recommendation is directly aimed at Britain, which has one of the highest rates of heart disease in Europe, a fact blamed in part on a diet high in fat and sugar.

Questions have been raised about the results but they have sparked a flurry of debate in a land which, while no longer fuelled by sausages and fries, still has some way to go.

Only around a quarter of adults currently manage five servings a day, according to NHS data, while other research puts the figure at one in 10.

"Are they having a laugh?" wrote one newspaper commentator in response to the UCL results, echoing people around the country as they surveyed the dismal contents of their fridges.

"I can't even do five a day, let alone seven. It's an early grave for me," said one woman on popular parenting website Mumsnet, where the issue was trending this week.

Britain introduced the five-a- day campaign in 2002, based on a recommendation from the World Health Organisation of a daily intake of 400 grams of fruit and vegetables a day.

The WHO said this amount - equivalent to five 80-gramme portions - would help prevent heart disease, cancer, diabetes and obesity, as well as nutritional deficiencies, and the message caught on and was adapted around the world.

But experts warn that eating well is not just a matter of choice, and there are concerns that moving the goal posts may be counterproductive.

"We're managing to eat two, maybe three portions a day. If you start recommending unrealistic targets, my fear is that some people would just give up," said Azmina Govindji of the British Dietetic Association.

"When you start to give blanket advice to a population, where there are cost issues, there are time issues... we've got to be realistic.

"My advice would be - focus on what you're eating today and try to add one more portion."

The cost of fresh fruit and vegetables has gone up by about 30 per cent in the past six years and is 19 per cent more expensive than the EU average, according to the government.

This increase has coincided with a squeeze on incomes and the poorest households are eating both less fruit and vegetables than the richest and less than they did before the financial crash.



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