On your way to 10 a day

My top tips to eat more veggies

Last week‘s headlines announced that 10 servings of fruit and vegetables per day was our new goal if we want to live a longer and healthier life.

What’s the truth behind the headline?

A meta-analysis of 95 studies published in the International Journal of Epidemiology looked at the relationship between fruit and vegetable intake and the risk of heart disease, cancer and mortality.
Researchers concluded:

  • Between 7 and 10 portions of fruit and vegetables a day leads to the lowest risk of cancer and heart attacks.
  • Vegetables reduce risk more than fruit
  • Green leafy vegetables (e.g. broccoli, kale, rocket) were most beneficial to overall lifespan.

Simply put, the government-issued guidelines of “5-a-day” are out of date. If you want to live a longer, healthier life one of the best things you can do is increase your fruit and vegetable intake. If 10 a day seems too daunting – don’t give up! Any increase in the amount of veggies you eat will help your health so just add in 1 or 2 extra portions a day to start with.

Meals which are bulked out with extra salad and vegetables take longer to eat, leaving you more satisfied which may help with weight management. You should also see added benefits of better digestion, clearer skin and heaps more energy.

How can you eat more fruit and vegetables?

Start at breakfast
Traditionally Brits are not fond of eating veggies at breakfast time generally preferring a bowl of cereal or a slice of toast. It’s time to change if you want to reach 10 a day. Some ideas:

  • Add a large handful of berries or sliced banana to your muesli or porridge
  • Whizz up a smoothie with a serving of fruit and a large handful of spinach or some avocado.
  • Add a handful of rocket to your poached egg on toast.
  • Cut up some veggies sticks for the children to dip into boiled eggs
  • Gently roast some mushrooms or tomatoes and serve on toast

    Mushrooms on rye toast

Veg-up your lunch
Do you quickly gobble a cheese or ham sandwich for lunch like most of the U.K. population?  You really need at least 2 or 3 servings of veg at lunchtime if you’re going to reach your daily target. Make a salad with lentils, kidney beans or brown rice instead of a sandwich. Opt for a veggie soup, chilli or curry when the weather is cold. Stuff your sandwich with lots of rocket, cucumber or other salad items or better still pack a salad to eat alongside. My new book written with Becky Alexander, PACKED is full of easy and delicious lunch ideas to help you on your way to 10 a day.

PACKED is full of quick healthy lunch ideas

Eat seasonally
Not a fan of vegetables? Perhaps you’ve not been eating them at their best. Seasonal food is much more flavoursome than produce which has been flown halfway around the world often refrigerated for several weeks or even months. British asparagus in May is infinitely more delicious than asparagus from Peru in January. Markets, farm shops or vegetable box deliveries are the best options for local, seasonal fruit and vegetables. Eating this way often works out cheaper too. Fresher produce is higher in healthful nutrients. Carpenter’s nursery in St Albans has a wonderful choice of reasonably priced homegrown produce.

Make veggies the star of the show
Change the way you plan your meals and base them around vegetables rather than meat or carbohydrates. For example an aubergine or pepper stuffed with a little minced lamb or turkey, rice & onions served with a large salad makes a delicious vegetable packed meal. At least half your plate should be vegetables and always include some greens. Cut down the meat or fish in your favourite curries, chillis and stews and bulk them out with added veggies. Not only will you up your intake but you’ll save money too.

Beans and pulses
Three tablespoonsful of chickpeas, lentils, kidney beans or other pulses count as a maximum of one portion a day, however much you eat. This is because, while pulses contain fibre, they don’t give the same mixture of vitamins, minerals and other nutrients as fruit and vegetables. Always have a few tins of beans and pulses in the cupboard when you’re fridge is running low. A snack of half a tub of houmous with some carrot sticks will give you 2 servings.

Packed lunch with lentils, peppers, tomatoes, spinach & spring onion

Smart shopping
If you struggle to keep your fridge stocked with fresh vegetables keep a good supply in your freezer. Freezer bags filled with pre-chopped fruit and spinach make it easy to whizz up a smoothie in the morning. Edamame beans, peas and sweetcorn are great to throw into stir-fries or salads. Simply place in a colander and run over some boiling water if you don’t have time to defrost them. Jars of preserved peppers, artichokes and sundried tomatoes also make an interesting addition to salads and past sauces.

Eat the rainbow
Choose differently coloured fruit and vegetables to get your full range of nutrients. Think orange peppers and carrots, white cauliflower and onions, green rocket and kale, purple berries and aubergine, red tomatoes and chilli peppers. We eat with our eyes; a plate which is bursting with colour looks much more inviting than a bland plate of meat and potatoes.

Don’t like veggies?
Don’t give up. Research shows that if you keep trying small amounts of the same thing you will eventually overcome your dislike. You can also blend up vegetables into pasta sauces or soups. Try adding a little spinach to a breakfast smoothie and gradually increase the amount each day as you get used to the flavour. Cook vegetables in different ways – gently roasting cauliflower, carrots or squash in spices and olive oil might be more appealing to you.

To juice or not to juice?
A 150 ml glass of unsweetened juice will count as 1 portion. Avoid drinking more than this as it won’t count towards your daily intake and you’re likely to be consuming far too much sugar. Vegetable juices are the better then fruit but are still low in fibre.

No time to chop?
Opt for pre-prepared veg. Bags of ready prepared veg are available in most supermarkets. They have to be used pretty quickly once opened and probably won’t have as good a nutrient content as buying whole veg but they’re a better option than not having any at all.

Cooked or raw?
Aim to have a variety of cooked and raw fruit or vegetables. Whilst raw fruit and veg tends to have a higher nutrient content they can be harder to digest. Some vegetables such as tomatoes benefit from cooking as their nutrient levels become more concentrated and easier to absorb.

Don’t forget the other food groups
Although fruits and vegetables are powerhouse of vital nutrients it’s still important to make sure you are eating enough fat, protein and starchy carbohydrate whether you follow a vegan, vegetarian or omnivorous diet. In fact combining different food groups often aids absorption of nutrients. Extra virgin olive oil in your salad dressing will aid absorption of fat soluble vitamin K in your spinach.

What’s a serving?
1 portion of fruit (80g) is roughly equivalent to:
• a slice or half a large fruit e.g. a slice of melon or half a grapefruit.
• 1 medium size fruit e.g. an apple.
• 2 small size fruits e.g. 2 plums or satsumas.
• Generous handful of berries

1 portion of dried fruit (30g) is roughly equivalent to:
• a heaped tablespoon of dried fruit (limit to one serving per day as high in sugar)

A portion of vegetables (80g) is roughly equivalent to:
• 3 heaped tablespoons of peas, beans or pulses.
• 3 brocolli florets
• 2 handfuls of spinach, rocket, watercress or other leafy vegetable.


About Michelle Lake

Hi, I run Mission Nutrition, and I'm a nutritional therapist/ nutritionist helping people all over St Albans & Hertfordshire feel happier & healthier. If your diet needs an overhaul, come and see me for a nutrition consultation! Tel: 01727 893 042 / 01727 869 929 or email michelle@mission-nutrition.co.uk