Struggling to get 5-a-day, you’re probably wondering how on earth you’re going to meet the new recommendation of 10-a-day? Nutritionist Rob Hobson has a complete guide
The 5-a-day fruit and vegetable message feels as though it’s been around for a very long time but it was only introduced in 2003. The evidence is strong that eating fruits and vegetables is associated with a lower risk of all caused mortality especially cardiovascular disease (1) so it’s a no-brainer that we continue to eat more of this food group in our diet to ward of disease and prolong the number of healthy years lived. However, just when you thought you were managing to eat your 5-a-day, new research by the Imperial College London (2) shows that we should be eating 10-a-day to gain the greatest benefit to our health.
The evidence is very strong that eating fruits and vegetables is associated with a lower risk of all caused mortality especially cardiovascular disease
What makes fruits and vegetables so beneficial for health?
As well as vitamins and minerals that are essential for life, fruits and vegetables also contain a good source of fibre, which has been shown to help reduce the risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol and balance blood sugar levels as well as maintain a healthy weight and promoting good digestion (3). Fibre is lacking in the average UK diet, with most only achieving 75% of the recommended intake (4).
Fruits and vegetables also contain phytonutrients, which are not essential to life but have an added health benefit. These plant compounds act as antioxidants in the body that help to reduce inflammation and the damage caused by excess free radicals that can build up because of a poor diet, environmental factors and stress. Such compounds give plants their bright colours such as beta carotene (found in orange and green varieties), anthocyanins (found in blue and purple varieties) and lycopene (found in red varieties).
if you’re eating 10-a-day then the chances are you have a very healthy diet and are more likely to lead a healthier lifestyle
Certain phytonutrients have also been linked to specific health conditions such as lutein and zeaxanthin (found in yellow and green vegetables), which have been shown to help protect against age related macular degeneration (leading cause of blindness in older people) (5).
Of course, the other significant factor here is that if you’re eating 10-a-day then the chances are you have a very healthy diet and are more likely to lead a healthier lifestyle, which will increase your protection against diseases as well as help you maintain a healthy weight (a risk factor for many diseases).
How much do we currently eat?
The last National Diet and Nutrition Survey (4) showed that the average intake of fruits and vegetables is only 4 servings per day. If you take fruit out of the equation, then this drops to 3.4 servings per day. On average, it seems that only 27% of adults manage to eat 5-a-day.
only 27% of adults manage to eat 5-a-day
Whilst most people enjoy eating fruit, the greater benefits lie with increasing intake of vegetables so it’s this that we need to focus on to glean the greatest advantage to health.
Is 10-a day completely unachievable?
Absolutely not! You could even be eating more than you think. In relation to the 5-a-day guidance, the NHS says, “evidence shows that there are significant health benefits to getting at least five 80g portions of a variety of fruit and vegetables every day. That’s five portions of fruit and vegetables in total, not five portions of each (6).” So, the new 10-a-day goal is 800g of fruit and vegetables, not necessarily 10 individual servings of each, although including lots of different varieties means you’re more likely to glean a wider range of nutrients.
Some people may feel that cost is an issue but frozen vegetables can provide a cheaper way to add these foods to your diet
This may help to ease the daunting thought of 10-a-day as composite dishes add up. A simple chilli could in fact provide you with 2-3 servings when you count the canned tomatoes, red kidney beans, peppers, onions and garlic. Serve with guacamole or a tomato salad and you could get as much as 4 servings in one meal.
Some people may feel that cost is an issue but frozen vegetables can provide a cheaper way to add these foods to your diet. Canned pulses are also a cheap way to add a serving of vegetables as well as bulking out meals and adding protein and key minerals such as iron, calcium and zinc to your diet. You can also source cheaper vegetables from local markets and buying in season helps as well.
So, what counts?
A serving of fruits and vegetables is 80g (40g of dried fruit). All fruits and vegetables count and but as we are talking about weight and not servings, some portions may be heavier than 80g such as a whole pepper (160g) or half an aubergine (150g). Smoothies are classed as 2 servings and juices as 1 serving but only once in the day. A single portion of pulses and beans (even baked beans!) are classed as 1 serving but only once in the day. Cook-in-sauces can also count if they’re tomato-based so if you chuck in a few handfuls of frozen peas into your pasta sauce you’re already getting 2 servings.
Potatoes don’t count but sweet potatoes do.
Top tips to achieving 10-a-day
1. Frozen and canned is fine!
Keep frozen vegetables and canned pulses to hand as they’re a quick way to add a serving of vegetables to your dishes. Just remember to grab a few handfuls when you’re cooking. Frozen spinach is great for smoothies too.
2. So is dried…
Dried fruit makes for a great healthy snack and 40g counts as one of your five-a-day.
3. Get creative
Especially with toppings at breakfast by adding fresh or dried fruits to cereal or yoghurt. Mix vegetable together so yo9u Geta colour feast as well as a nutrient explosion
4. Put it on toast
Toast can either be a breakfast option or a snack and you can add a serving of fruit and vegetables by topping with mashed banana or guacamole (try jazzing this up with lime juice, chillies and spring onions or even a sprinkle of chill powder).
5. Potatoes don’t count but sweet potatoes do
Swap sweet potatoes for your usual baked potato or add them roasted and chopped to salads. They also make great dips!
to make a dish go further cut down on meat by replacing half the meat in a recipe with canned lentils
6. Replace half the meat with pulses
If your trying to make a dish go further or reduce your food bill by cutting down on meat then replace half the meat in a recipe with canned lentils or beans, which are a good source of protein and key minerals as well as adding a serving of vegetables to your daily intake.
7. Stick them in soups and stir-fries
Remember it’s the sum weight of the vegetables that count. Homemade soups and stir fries can add as much as 3 servings to your daily intake.
8. Choose vegetables that are the least hassle to prepare.
There’s no point buying squash and beetroots if you don’t know what to do with them and they just end up going off in the fridge. Green beans, Tenderstem broccoli, frozen peas or soya beans are easy to chuck in a pan of boiling water.
There’s no point buying squash and beetroots if you don’t know what to do with them
9. Explore ethnic
If you find vegetables boring, then explore cuisines such as Indian that make the most of vegetables by using tasty spices. Dried spices also help to boost your intake of minerals such as iron and have been shown to hold some interesting anti-inflammatory properties.
If you have picky eaters, then try blending vegetables before adding to dishes. There are also lots of recipes on the internet that provide inventive ways to add vegetables to dishes such as parsnip muffins or beetroot and chocolate cake.
What does 10-a-day look like?
Poached eggs with spinach (1 serving)
Fruit smoothie (2 servings)
40g Dried apricots (1 serving)
Mexican chicken wrap with peppers (1 serving)
Small side salad (1 serving)
Fruit salad (1 serving)
Chopped cherry tomatoes with olive oil and lemon juice (1 serving)
Vegetable stir fry with quinoa (1/2 red pepper, 1/4 onion, 80g frozen soya beans, 4 mushrooms) – 3 portions
This equals 11 servings!
Meeting the new guidance is not as difficult as you think and using the simple tips above can help. Also, try searching the internet for recipe ideas that float your boat using your favourite flavours and cuisines. Try this recipe below for inspiration! This is a nice alternative to a traditional Sunday chicken dinner and offers 3 servings of vegetables. You can add another portion by adding a serving of blanched kale, Tenderstem broccoli or green beans, which would work well.
Roast chicken with spicy tamarind lentils recipe
This dish provides 3 of your daily servings of vegetables and is high in heart-healthy fibre. High in protein, this dish will keep you full through to your next meal and help to reduce cravings and the desire to snack. You can also glean 69% of your recommended intake of iron as well as 32% of magnesium and 86% of B6, which are required to help convert food into energy within the body.
Nutrition per serving
- 483 calories
- 13.3g fat
- 4.2g sat fat
- 41.2g carbs
- 12.2g sugar
- 44.7g protein
- 0.6g salt
- 9.6g fibre
Rich in: vitamin C, B6, thiamin, niacin, potassium, magnesium, iron and zinc
- 1 medium sized whole chicken
- 360g dried puy lentils
- 2 tsp coriander seeds
- 2 tsp cumin seeds
- 1 tsp yellow mustard seeds
- ½ tsp ground cardamom
- 3 green chillies, deseeded
- 2 medium red onions
- 3 garlic cloves
- 1 inch piece of ginger, skin removed
- 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 300g cherry tomatoes, halved
- 1 yellow pepper, deseeded and finely chopped
- 50ml tamarind liquid
- ½ lime, juiced
- 150ml coconut milk
- 1 tbsp palm sugar
- Sea salt
- 1 large handful coriander, chopped
1. Roast the chicken (this should take about 1 hour 30 mins)
2. Whilst the chicken is roasting, place the lentils in a pan of cold water. Bring to the boil and simmer for 15 minutes until tender then drain.
3. Add the spices and chillies along with 50ml water to a food processor and whizz until combined. Remove and set aside.
4. Add the onions, garlic and ginger to a food processor and pulse until finely chopped.
5. Heat the olive oil in a large non-stick frying pan. Add the onion, garlic and ginger mixture and cook over a medium heat for 5 minutes until softened.
6. Add the spice mixture and cook for another 2 mixture.
7. Add the cherry tomatoes and pepper to the pan and cook gently for 5 minutes.
8. Add the tamarind, lime juice, coconut milk, sugar, lentils and a pinch of salt to the pan and simmer for 5 minutes.
9. After 5 minutes turn the heat off and stir through the coriander. Set aside and wait for the chicken to finish roasting.
10. Once the chicken is done remove from the oven and slice.
11. Divide the lentils between four bowls and top with sliced roast chicken
The Detox Kitchen Bible is available from Amazon on paperback for £11.98
Visit Rob’s website
Nutritionist Rob Hobson runs consultancies RHNutrition and HOPE (Helping Older People to Eat Well) and has built a reputation as a trustworthy and inspirational source of information working for the NHS, private clients and leading food and nutrition companies including supplements provider Healthspan. An obsessed foodie and skilled cook, Rob regularly cooks for celebrity clients and contributes to national press including Stella, Daily Mail, Grazia, Harpers Bazaar, Runners Fitness, Healthy magazine and Women’s Health.