According to research by the Ministry of Health, only 6% of Lithuanians comply with the recommended intake of fruit and vegetables. Meanwhile, studies by the World Health Organisation show that insufficient consumption increases the risk of various diseases. So how much fruit and vegetables should be consumed per day to maintain proper health? What is important to know when choosing it? And what are the consequences for those who do not consume enough? These and other questions are answered by dietician Ieva Laukytė-Gaulė.
Fruits will not replace vegetables
The World Health Organisation recommends eating 5 portions of fruit and vegetables a day. According to dietician Ieva Laukytė-Gaulė, this is the amount of fruit and vegetables necessary to maintain a normal state of health.
“The minimum recommendations are at least 200 grams of vegetables and 200 grams of fruit per day. 200 grams is about the size of a medium fist-sized vegetable or fruit. If we need to eat at least 200 grams of vegetables daily, we need to consume at least a fist-sized portion or a cup of chopped vegetables. When choosing leaf vegetables, it should be two cups,” says the dietician.
Laukytė-Gaulė also emphasises that although fruit is tasty and sweet, it is not a substitute for vegetables, so we should eat both.
It's important to maintain a variety
The expert adds that there is no one fruit or vegetable that can solve all health problems. A wide variety and balance of fruit and vegetables is essential for good health.
“There are times when people read about the benefits of a specific fruit or vegetable and start eating it every day. It is important to remember that vegetables of one colour accumulate certain vitamins and minerals, while others contain different ones, so people should not stick to one fruit or vegetable. Each product is rich in different nutrients, so if a person only eats one, they will not get the other vitamins that the fruit or vegetable doesn't contain,” says the doctor.
Laukytė-Gaulė points out that it is particularly useful to rely on the season: when a product is in season, that is when it is the most nutritious and the best in taste and quality. One may indeed be tempted to overeat certain fruits and berries during a particular season, but they should not be abused. The dietitian points out that the most common foods people tend to overeat are strawberries, watermelons, cherries, and apples. In this case, different ways of preparing fruit, berries, and vegetables can help to prevent overeating and to maintain a healthy limit. She recommends drying, freezing or boiling them so that these treats can be enjoyed after the peak of the season.
Serious consequences may follow
Insufficient fruit and vegetable intake increases the risk of chronic non-infectious diseases. The risk of intestinal and cardiovascular diseases and various forms of cancer can increase, leading to higher blood pressure or cholesterol levels. According to Dr Laukytė-Gaulė, not getting enough fibre-rich fruit and vegetables can lead to poor digestion and difficulty with bowel movements.
Various scientific studies confirm the benefits and importance of fruit and vegetables in preventing chronic illnesses. Fruits such as pineapple, mangoes, and kiwis improve the functioning of the digestive system and therefore are ideal for certain digestive disorders. Ginger has anti-inflammatory properties and may be useful in treating infectious diseases. Turmeric can improve brain function and carrots and tomatoes, often found in everyone's kitchen, can help minimise the chances of heart disease.
If a person is experiencing certain health problems, it is recommended that they see a dietician who can provide a detailed history of the person's condition, select the right fruits and vegetables, advise on how to identify products that may be reducing or intensifying symptoms, and provide dietary recommendations.