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For years now we have all been reciting the mantra, “5-a-day of fruit and vegetables”. However, it now seems that 5 portions daily of our favourite fruits and vegetables is no longer enough.

The latest news is that we should all be consuming at least 7 portions every day of different fruits and vegetables in order to enjoy optimum health and wellbeing, as well as helping to prevent all manner of unwelcome illnesses and diseases, including certain cancers, type 2 diabetes, stroke, heart disease, high blood cholesterol levels and high blood pressure.

A number of studies have been conducted and it appears that eating a diet rich in fresh vegetables and salads is the healthiest choice as they offer the most protection against diseases (they are rich in many antioxidants). Fruit also boasts many health-giving properties, but when it comes to increasing life expectancy vegetables are our best friends. As part of these recent studies, it has been deduced that the risk of death from certain cancers, heart disease and stroke, as well as premature death, decreased considerably as intake of fruits and vegetables increased. The overriding message here is that the more fruits and vegetables you can eat every day, then your chances of living a longer and healthier life will increase.

However, with many of us struggling to even manage the recommended 5-a-day portions of fruit and vegetables, how can you achieve a further 2 servings on a daily basis? Here are some suggestions to help you on your way to 7-a-day:

1. Well, to begin with one portion can be defined as either an 80g serving which is generally one large handful (so something like peas, sweetcorn, broccoli, grapes, blueberries etc.), or one large piece of fruit or vegetable (so a banana, an apple, a pear, one large sweet potato etc). So it is important to become portion aware for a start.

2. Breakfast is the most important meal of the day, so it is a great time to include a few portions of your five a day. Why not have a bowl of (unsweetened) porridge with a chopped banana and a large handful (one 80g serving) of blueberries. A glass of freshly squeezed apple or juice will take your total up to 3 portions.

3. Mid-morning it is important to have a snack in order to keep blood sugar levels constant, and to prevent the inevitable munchies from kicking in. However, rather than reaching for the crisps or chocolate, why not enjoy a 6cm piece of cucumber chopped into sticks, one large carrot chopped into batons and some houmous. That’s a further 2 portions which takes your total to 5 – and it’s only mid-morning!

4. Now for lunch. Why not have a baked sweet potato instead of an ordinary potato with a serving of salad and some cheese or tuna for protein. That’s a further 2 portions which takes your total to 7 – and it’s only lunchtime!

5. Mid-afternoon is snack time again. So how about an apple or a pear with a handful of unsalted nuts to help stabilise those blood sugar levels until dinner time. Plus, if you are working out in the evening then you will be grateful for the energy boost. That is a further one portion which takes your current total to 8 portions!

6. And finally it is dinner time. A stir-fry is a brilliant way to combine 2 or 3 portions of vegetables with protein (fish, prawns, chicken, turkey, tofu etc.) and carbohydrates (brown rice). Be creative and choose colourful vegetables such as peppers and broccoli, and remember bean sprouts are pretty nutritious too. Alternatively, casseroles are a great choice for topping up your daily vegetable quota, as are roast dinners. The options are endless, but it does just require a little creative thinking.

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