independent

Friday 20 September 2019

The message is simple - taking your five a day really pays

The food pyramid, as per the Department of Health and Children

Are you one of the 79% of men or one of the 81 % of women who are not eating your five-a-day of fruit and vegetables from food?'

If the answer is 'yes' then you are missing out on huge health benefits by not getting enough from the Fruit and Vegetable Shelf of the Food Pyramid (www.fsai.ie).

Why is the Fruit and Vegetable Shelf so Important?

By eating your recommended five portions of fruit and vegetables every day you can reach your daily fibre target. As they are low in calories and fat, they're a great snack when you're watching your weight, this will also cut down on your sugar intake from snack foods, which can contribute to tooth decay.

The reason why fruit and vegetables are so beneficial is because of the many compounds they contain. As well as vitamins and minerals, fruit and vegetables also contain many complex plant components called phytochemicals, including flavonoids and phyto-oestrogens which mop up the harmful free radicals which are harmful to your health.

While getting your full five-a-day daily is the ideal, even a moderate increase in your fruit and vegetable intake reduces the risk of coronary heart disease and stroke.

Increasing your fruit and vegetable intake by one portion a day has been shown to lower your risk of coronary heart disease by 4% and the risk of stroke by 6%. In the case of stroke getting your five-a-day can reduce your risk by 26%. Evidence also suggests an increase in fruit and vegetable intake can help lower blood pressure.

There has been lots of evidence to show that cancer of the stomach and the lower bowel can be significantly reduced if you take your five-a-day.

There are many other benefits such as helping to control your blood sugars if you are diabetic, reducing the symptoms of asthma as well as improving bowel function.

What is five-a-day?

Many people think five portions of fruit and five portions of vegetables! No, it's a very manageable combination of both. You can include frozen and tinned vegetables as well as dried and tinned fruit.

What is a portion?

A portion is about 80g of fruit or vegetables. No need to start weighing! This is roughly equal to:

An apple, orange, banana, or similarly-sized fruit; Two plums, nectarines or similarly-sized fruit; A handful or grapes or berries; A slice of melon, pineapple or large fruit; One tablespoon of raisins or other dried fruit; Tinned fruit, roughly the same quantity of fruit that you would eat as a fresh portion: 2 pear or peach halves, 6 apricot halves, 8 segments of tinned grapefruit; Two serving spoons of cooked vegetables frozen or fresh - e.g. broccoli, peas or carrots; A dessert bowl of salad; Two serving spoons of beans and pulses fresh or tinned;

A 150ml glass of fresh fruit juice or smoothie (only one portion per day). Fruit juice can also only count towards one portion a day because they are high in nutrients but low in fibre. And extracting the juice releases sugars which are bad for your teeth.

Getting the most out of your fruit and vegetables

Some vitamins and minerals can be easily lost when fruit and veg are prepared or cooked, so try to remember:

Eat fresh fruit and vegetables as soon as possible rather than storing for a long time. Remember frozen vegetables are just as good as fresh.

Don't overcook. Start with boiling water and cover tightly to keep in the steam, because this speeds up the cooking. You could use a steamer or a microwave

Use as little water as possible when you cook fruit and veg. If you use the cooking water for sauce or soup, you'll recapture some of the lost vitamins and minerals

Avoid leaving any vegetables open to the air, light or heat if they have been cut. Always cover and chill them. But don't soak, because vitamins and minerals can dissolve away

Don't keep food hot for too long because vitamin levels start to drop within a few minutes

Remember fruit and vegetables that are in season are cheaper.

Handy Hints

If you are trying to get pregnant you need to take extra folic acid above the amount that you get from your five portions of fruit and vegetables. You need to take a supplement of 400 micrograms pre conception and up to week 12 of your pregnancy

Watching your weight? Try to avoid adding fat or rich sauces to vegetables (such as carrots glazed with butter) or adding sugar or syrupy dressings to fruit (such as stewed apple)

When you feel like a snack, go for fresh or dried fruit instead of crisps or chocolate or try vegetable sticks with a low-fat dips. Dried, tinned or frozen vegetables can all count towards your 400g or five portions of fruit and vegetables per day. Liven up the food you already eat with crunch or colour - put tomatoes, lettuce and cucumber in sandwiches, berries and bananas in yogurt and cereal, or vegetables in pasta, stir-fries and soups.

Make fruit and vegetables fun for children. Cut them into funky shapes, make a smiley face with fruit pieces, and get the kids involved when you're cooking. Potatoes are nutritious but are classified as starchy foods, so for these purposes, don't count towards your portions. And chips certainly don't count either! Never force children to eat fruit and vegetables instead offer and encourage!

For further information contact Siobhan.Julian@gmail.com or www.indi.ie or fsai.ie

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