5 a day - this is the number of portions of fruit and vegetables recommended daily by the World Health Organisation. Unfortunately, the recommendations are still far from reality. So how can people include more fruits and vegetables in their diets? How to consume more of them than we are used to? What should an appropriate intake look like? Nutritionist Neringa Gorelė talks about the peculiarities of fruit and vegetable consumption and shares her tips.
Diversity is the most important thing
Many people mistakenly imagine that in order to meet the recommended goal of “5 portions a day”, is enough to eat, for example, 5 apples. However, the variety of fruits and vegetables is just as important as their quantity. According to Gorelė, it is important to include as many different types of fruits and vegetables as possible in the diet.
“At least 400 grams of fruits, berries, and vegetables should be consumed. It is not worth focusing on individual products - how many grapes or how much spinach to eat each day. Variety is the most important thing - it is a nutrition rule that is essential. People should also choose what they like so that they can feel the pleasure of eating. If we force ourselves to eat broccoli when we do not like it very much, in the long run, we are confirming the myth that a healthy diet is not delicious. Therefore, we should not blindly follow the dietary rules,” says Gorelė.
She stresses that no miracle fruit or vegetable can solve all health problems, so it is a good idea to include a variety of fruit and vegetables in the diet, which should be chosen individually according to taste, financial resources, and digestive issues.
“Broccoli is healthy to eat, but if you have a bloated stomach, it is not for you. Perhaps you suffer from iron deficiency? Then choose more spinach. If you suffer from reflux, tomatoes are not for you,” says Gorelė.
Making a fundamental mistake
The nutritionist adds that people often make one fundamental mistake: they eat a lot of fruit and not enough vegetables. Of the 400 grams needed, she says, 200 grams should be vegetables and the same amount should be fruits.
“People often eat more fruit than vegetables because they are tasty and sweet, but they are not a substitute for vegetables, so we should eat both. The reverse, consuming more vegetables and less fruit, is more acceptable and maybe even more effective for weight loss because we consume less sugar. However, I would like to emphasise here once again the importance of variety. The more flavours we have in our diet, the longer and better we will be able to stick to a healthy diet,” says the expert.
Helps improve health and protect against diseases
Gorelė says that fresh, seasonal vegetables grown in Lithuania should be preferred. However, frozen, dried or lyophilised produce can also be eaten. Canned products are the least useful, she says, and should not be expected to offer much nutritional value. Consuming the right amount of fruit and vegetables can make a significant contribution to well-being and health, she adds.
“Fruits and vegetables are essential for the body because they contain vitamins C, PP, A, K and B, as well as minerals such as potassium, calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, and iron. Vegetables and fruit also contain high levels of fibre and antioxidants, which help to improve health and prevent disease. Studies show that countries with high vegetable and fruit intake have lower rates of cardiovascular and oncological diseases. Eating the right amount will also give you more energy, better digestive health and more radiant skin,” says Gorelė.
People lack imagination
When asked what are the reasons why many people do not consume the recommended amount of fruit and vegetables, the nutritionist says there are many.
“The reasons can be different. Not tasty enough, not having proper knowledge about healthy eating, vegetables and fruit are not always available if, say, a person lives in the countryside and cannot buy them in a small shop during winter. Another reason is that it may be too expensive for some. I was just in a small café at the weekend, where a small portion of salad cost EUR 7.99 and a piece of cake cost EUR 2.49. It is also difficult to keep vegetables and fruits fresh. People lack imagination and do not know or do not think of how to include these food groups in their meals,” she says.
The diet should include as many colours as possible
For those who want to include more fruit and vegetables in their daily diet, Gorelė recommends developing a few key habits that will help to consume more than people are used to.
“The first thing is to set a goal to eat more fruit and vegetables from now on. Bring fruit as a snack to work or school every day. For lunch, devote half of the plate to vegetables. For dinner, choose salads or vegetable stews. Keep vegetables in plain sight until the habit of eating more of them develops. This will help to remember to eat them every day and even several times a day. For those in a hurry, fruit and vegetable smoothies are useful as they are convenient to drink even when driving. Experiment and get creative. Try a new vegetable or fruit every day. It is said that the more colours are on a plate, the healthier the diet. Challenge yourself to eat fruits, berries, and vegetables in green, yellow, orange, red, purple, and other colours. Find someone in your circle who will be a role model and learn from them,” advises Gorele.