5 a day: why bother with fruit and veg at all?

This week we’ve asked for evidence behind the 5 a day message, whether it’s working and how much it costs and how advice differs across the world. But what are the actual health benefits of eating fruit and vegetables in the first place? David Bender, Professor of Nutritional Biochemistry at University College London gave us a steer on what the current evidence tells us.

  • “There is indeed good evidence that people who eat about 5 servings of fruit and vegetables a day are less at risk of atherosclerosis and coronary heart disease, as well as many cancers. There are a number of reasons for a protective or beneficial effect of a diet rich in fruit and vegetables.

  • A diet rich in fruit and vegetables is likely to be relatively low in fat, and especially saturated fat. Dietary fibre (which comes only from fruit and vegetables) provides bulk in the intestinal tract, so improving bowel function

  • Both dietary fibre and slowly digested and resistant starch are fermented to some extent by intestinal bacteria. The short-chain fatty acids produced provide a significant metabolic fuel for intestinal mucosal cells, and there is some evidence that (especially butyrate) provides protection against colo-rectal cancer.

  • Fruit and vegetables are generally good sources of vitamins and minerals. They also provide a significant amount of potassium with little sodium (unless you add salt in cooking or at the table). Hence a beneficial effect with respect to blood pressure.”

So it’s pretty clear there are proven health benefits to eating fruit and vegetables. This week I’ve been keeping track of my own efforts to hit the 5 a day target. So far I’m averaging a less than impressive 3 portions a day – but that is an improvement on normal. I’d also like to think I can take a little credit for improving the diet in the rest of the office – many of whom have upped their fruit and veg intake as a result of hearing me talk about it every day. So from the admittedly small sample of this office – when the 5 a day message reaches people, they do try and eat more.

Tomorrow in our Q&A with Public Health England I’ll find out whether eating extra portions at the end of the week can bring up my average to 5 a day – or whether that’s cheating.

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